Synonymous with racing the Thoroughbred is one of the fastest horses in the world (although there are other breeds which can be faster in certain situations). It is also popular for other forms of competition or in any situation where an elegant mount is preferred.
The Thoroughbred is a relatively modern horse, tracing its origins back to three Arab stallions called the Byerley Turk, the Darley Arabian and the Godolphin Arabian. These were brought to England from the Middle East in 1680, 1704 and 1729 respectively and cross-bred with local mares of various breeds. Their progeny were then inter-bred and cross-bred with other refined animals until the modern Thoroughbred emerged in the late 18th Century. By the middle of the 19th Century the Thoroughbred was established as the breed for speed overtaking even the fleet Arab literally and metaphorically. Unlike many other breeds, the Thoroughbred’s existence was never really threatened either by mechanization or by the two World Wars of the early 20th Century. Put quite simply the Thoroughbred was never a working horse in the traditional sense of the phrase. Although racing is physically demanding it is a leisure activity and horse-racing in one form or another has been popular for millennia and shows every sign of continuing to be popular into the future. Of course, the Thoroughbred population did suffer in the early part of the 20th Century as pretty much the whole of the human and animal population of the world did during this troubled time, but it was never in danger of extinction as some of the native ponies were. On the contrary, the Thoroughbred has long been one of the UK’s most successful exports and has provided racing animals, pretty much across the world.
Thoroughbreds generally stand between 15.2HH and 17HH. They may be any whole colour and it is permitted for them to have white markings on the face and lower legs although white markings further up the legs are considered undesirable. Their coats, manes and tails are fine and silky all year round. They are a pleasure to touch and stroke but provide no protection whatsoever in winter. Thoroughbreds have elegant heads on long necks coming down to deep chests, which enable them to take in plenty of oxygen to fuel their bodies when running. They have compact, slim bodies with muscular quarters to provide both speed and jumping ability. Their legs are long and slender. This is beneficial in terms of speed, but can cause issues in terms of absorbing weight and impact over jumps.
Even their greatest admirers would probably admit that Thoroughbreds can often be divas. Very few of them are suitable for riders with only a moderate degree of experience and those that there are tend to be older animals, usually geldings. Thoroughbreds were bred as performance horses. In the racing industry, riders are chosen to suit the mount rather than vice versa and riders looking for top-level competition animals, by definition, tend to be experienced and capable of dealing with behaviours which would simply be unacceptable in a horse for general riding. They may also be more prepared to put up with them in a horse of exception ability. There is a very good reason why horses intended for general riding including lower-level competitions are often Thoroughbred/Native crosses. The native breeds tend to have much more sensible and easy-going natures. In short, generally speaking, purebred Thoroughbreds are best suited to experienced riders who plan to make the most of their athletic abilities. Inexperienced riders could get themselves into serious trouble with such a sensitive breed and experienced riders who simply want a horse to have fun on have a variety of cheaper, lower-maintenance options.
Leaving aside issues caused by racing, the Thoroughbred is a delicate breed. It is at particular risk of problems with its heart and lungs, which is arguably very odd for horses which were bred for racing. Many Thoroughbreds have relatively small hearts, which basically means that their hearts have to work much harder to pump the blood around their body. This could prove fatal during strenuous exercise. Another common issue for the breed is Exercise-Induced Pulmonary Haemorrhage (bleeding from the lungs caused by exercise). Thoroughbreds also tend to have thin, delicate hooves which are very poor at absorbing shock and can result in an animal going lame very easily. As a final point, those with a possible interest in breeding should be aware that not only do Thoroughbreds have issues with low fertility, but there process for breeding registered Thoroughbreds is probably more expensive and complex than for any other breed. This is all in addition to the fact that as Thoroughbreds are thin-skinned animals in every sense of the phrase, they are exceedingly liable to minor injuries such as cuts and bruises.
Caring for a Thoroughbred
At this point it will probably come as no surprise to learn that the Thoroughbred is a high-maintenance purchase. They will need stabling in all but the best of weathers and even in good weather it may be best to keep animals stabled overnight for security reasons as their high value makes them a target for thieves. Legally all horses in the UK must have passports but this will not necessarily deter thieves since documents can be forged. Notwithstanding, Thoroughbreds do need time in the field and this means equipping them with suitable protection as temperatures drop. It will also mean providing them with plenty of food for body heat as well as fuel. Thoroughbreds need to have their diet managed carefully to avoid an attack of Equine Exertional Rhabdomyolysis, better known as Azoturia. This is a complex disorder, which tends to affect high-performance animals in general rather than Thoroughbreds specifically, but Thoroughbred owners would be well advised to understand it since prevention is vastly better than cure. Given their combination of delicate hooves and delicate natures it is also hugely beneficial to have a farrier who is understanding as well as efficient. Finally, although worming is important for all horses, it is critical for the Thoroughbred since they have particularly delicate constitutions at the best of times.
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