BY DIANA BEZDEDANU
There is a saying that “the eyes are the windows to the soul.” For my OTTB mare, her teeth are a window to her true age.
When we first inquired about her in late May 2021, we were under the impression that she was 3 ½ years old. She only had a handful of races under her belt across three different geographical regions of the United States and was being retired due to her unwillingness to gallop. All she desired was a quiet, relaxed retirement with her person. Having only three previous owners, including her breeder, I was thrilled at the prospect of providing a forever home. I never quite imagined owning a Thoroughbred, let alone one fresh off the racetrack, but I instantly fell in love after our first interaction post-shipping—sight unseen.
That being said, we have hit some bumps in the road over the past couple of months. The long-term goal is to bring my mare home to our backyard, but we have had to settle for boarding while she is training for her second career as a pleasure mount.
A week after she arrived at her boarding barn, the barn vet came out to do a physical exam and noted that my mare still had a few caps on her teeth. She proceeded to float her teeth, remarking that this process was to be done twice a year. She then proposed a diet change, as my mare had been having some difficulty chewing. The vet recommended the removal of all grain. The new diet consisted of only soaked alfalfa pellets in corn oil and hay.
Over the course of the next month, I began to notice a difference in my mare’s coat thickness and color, but most importantly, her personality. She was constantly tired, depleted of all nutrients. It was not apparent to me that she was losing a drastic amount of weight until someone who hadn’t seen her in a month remarked to me that she looked like she had lost 150 pounds since their last visit.
Unhappy with this observation, I reached out to an OTTB trainer in a neighboring town for advice. When she saw the before and after photos, she declared that my mare looked 250 – 300 pounds underweight. Immediately, she offered a stall at her barn, so we moved to a new facility two months into the ownership journey. With the move, came a new vet and a new diet of much-needed grain and supplements.
Last month, the new barn vet came out for annual Fall shots and another physical exam. Despite her teeth being done by our previous vet two months prior, my mare needed to be floated again. Upon closer inspection, the vet remarked that her matured 3rd incisors have yet to erupt. Most of her caps are still on (caps usually fall off between 2 ½ – 4 ½ years old). We proceeded to scan her microchip number to look up her Jockey Club registration, but nothing came up, as we were a number short.
Next, a radiograph of her knees was taken to determine if they were fused (this phenomenon typically occurs around 2 years old). They were fused; however, given the results from her teeth x-rays, the vet concluded that my mare is most likely not turning 4 at the end of January 2022 as we originally thought, but rather, she is closer to 2 ½, or may have just turned 3.
While most owners typically learn that their horse is older after purchase, we were now facing the opposite scenario. To me, this felt like another crushing setback in our seemingly never-ending rehab journey. I was extremely worried that our goals would continuously be pushed further back.
We did not do a pre-purchase vet check. In hindsight, should we have? Maybe. Perhaps we would have discovered her true age sooner. Nevertheless, age is simply just a number. My mare, whether she be 2 ½ or 3 ½, is really smart. Like me, she is a youngster hungry for knowledge, having picked up lunging in both directions far quicker than most OTTBs that my trainer has previously worked with. To date, she has had no issues taking the bit when being bridled, and stands quietly when polo wraps or sport boots are put on. She retired from the track one hundred percent sound and has no back issues. Since our transition to the new barn 2 ½ months ago, she is a completely different horse, both physically and psychologically.
Since we may never know her true birthday, we are instead choosing to celebrate her “gotcha day” — July 2 — each year. The day she became a part of our family, our lives were forever changed.
Diana Bezdedeanu (Massachusetts) is on par to graduate from The HERD Institute in January 2022 as a Level 1 Equine Facilitated Learning (EFL) Practitioner. Her blog, Horses Offering People Education, details the many lessons learned along her first-time horse ownership journey and aims to break down the industry stereotypes associated with OTTBs.