We typically only ever see racehorses when they are galloping in all their glory at tracks around the country. Serious horse enthusiasts may occasionally visit a stable to see how racehorses live but for most punters, interest in a horse wanes once it is retired.
Approximately 5,000 racehorses are retired in the UK each year; this can be due to old age, injury or simply a failure to make the grade. If a horse doesn’t show signs of being competitive in events by the time it reaches the age of 3, it is hard for trainers to justify the expense of keeping them on.
Paul Nicholls points out that racing is only half of a horse’s lifetime so what happens to our equine friends once they are no longer gracing the track? The higher class horses can expect a life of relative luxury on stud farms but what about the rest? As it happens, there are a number of different fates that await retired horses and sometimes, the truth can be devastating. Below, we take a look at the different paths taken by retired racehorses.
There is a robust breeding program in place for thoroughbred horses as a means of maintaining and improving the bloodlines of premium quality horses. Thoroughbred Mares can only be mated (covered) by a Stallion that has been carefully selected and licensed.
The breeding industry is absolutely huge in the UK as these figures from a 2014 PricewaterhouseCoopers report show:
- Approximately 3,100 breeders in Britain.
- Annual economic contribution of £281 million.
- Supports almost 10,000 jobs.
- £150 million foreign investment in thoroughbreds.
- 34,000 acres of land in use for breeding purposes.
- 2,500 recreational breeders (entities with 1-2 Mares) and 75 commercial breeders (entities with 10+ Mares).
Britain has been producing a large quantity of the world’s best thoroughbreds for centuries and owners of world class horses can really cash in. For example, Galileo was the champion sire of the UK and Ireland in 2015 with total prize money of £5.8 million! The stud fee for Frankel is reportedly £125,000.
The National Stud in Newmarket has been owned by the Jockey Club since 2008. It provides a range of services and facilities and also offers public tours. The breeding season runs from the middle of February until June. As soon as the vet believes the Mare is ovulating, she is brought from the ‘boarding stud’ (where Mares only are housed) to the covering shed of the stud which is where the Stallions stand.
Without going into too much detail, the Stallion will have 4 Coverings a day. The Mare will always be checked for inoculations, have her tail bandaged up and get washed down. She also has a big pair of boots placed on her back legs to prevent her from kicking the Stallion!
The Artificial Insemination (AI) industry has not been embraced by the UK National Stud due to worries about a significant increase in foals which would lead to a disastrous narrowing of the gene pool.
Given how lucrative the industry is, the horses involved in breeding are typically treated exceptionally well. While some may disagree, a life on a Stud Farm is not a bad retirement fate.
Unfortunately, some racehorses are ‘put down’. It is important to note that the scores of charities within the UK along with the BHA are doing everything within their power to reduce the number of slaughtered animals every year.
However, with 5,000 horses being retired annually (there are 15,000 racehorses in training at any one time), the death of horses by unnatural means is deemed to be a necessary evil by some as there isn’t enough room to house them.
According to UK government figures, almost 8,000 horses were slaughtered for meat in 2010. Animal rights groups believe over-breeding is one cause; many of the horses that are ‘put down’ are aged 5 or under; horses can live to be 30 years of age so the ire of organisations such as PETA is certainly understandable.
Euthanasia is defined as ‘painless killing to relieve suffering’ and while some horses are peacefully put to sleep in this manner, it would be a lie to suggest there are not some grisly methods used also. Examples include a metal bolt into the side of the brain or a bullet through the temple. Typically, the carcasses of the horses are then loaded onto freezer Lorries with the meat sent to France.
What is the solution? The obvious answer is more investment in charities and sanctuaries capable of giving ex-racehorses a good standard of living in retirement. There are also calls for the huge breeding program within racing to be cut back. Certainly, the BHA is responding and attempting to help vulnerable horses while a wide range of other charities are also doing great work as you’ll see below.
You can donate to these charities below by clicking here
Retraining & Rehoming
There are approximately 10,000 racehorses currently registered with the BHA’s Retraining of Racehorses official charity. These horses are active in other capacities outside racing including Polo, Dressage, Showing and Eventing. Obviously, certain horses will be more adept at specific equine pursuits than others but typically, thoroughbreds are intelligent, durable and athletic enough to handle a wide variety of pursuits in retirement.
There are a host of organisations and companies dedicated to the retraining and rehoming of retired racehorses and we look at a few below.
Retraining of Racehorses (RoR)
This is the BHA’s official charity for horses that have been retired from racing. It:
- Uses funds from within the industry to rehome and retrain ex-racehorses.
- Offers ‘vulnerable’ racehorses a safety net.
- Assists in the program of switching ex-racehorses to other equestrian activities.
- Provides information to trainers and owners so they know where to turn when horses retire.
Star jockeys Frankie Dettori and Richard Johnston have been named as ambassadors for the RoR as they try to spread the organisation’s message. The charity was launched in 2000 and has received many generous donations from big names within the industry including Sheikh Mohammed and the estate of Paul Mellon.
Godolphin Thoroughbred Rehoming
This scheme comes from the legendary Godolphin stable and operates on the outskirts of Newmarket at Badlingham Manor Stud. It only accommodates geldings; many of whom have had racing careers but some simply never made the grade. Each horse is given a minimum of 2 months to relax and socialise while injured horses can get up to 6 months.
After the holiday, the horses can begin the process of retraining which includes teaching the horse to stand at the mounting block; lots of basic handling is also involved. Horses that go on to jump as part of their new career will do some pole work and start jumping. Once the Godolphin team becomes aware of what the horse can do physically, they will help find it a new home.
The organisation goes through a stringent selection process and only considers applicants best suited to the needs of the horse. Once a new home is found, there is a 3 month trial period to ensure the horse is happy in its new surroundings; it also provides advice to the new owners. Only when both parties are happy will Godolphin allow the horse to leave. Prospective owners must also sign a Weatherby’s Non-Racing Agreement.
The Thoroughbred Rehabilitation Centre
Founded in 1991, this charity was the first in the UK dedicated to the welfare of former racehorses. It works tirelessly to rehome and retrain horses from its base in Lancashire and looks to secure the future of these horses for the remainder of their lifetimes.
This organisation takes horses directly from training and racing or from post-racing homes and every horse is individually assessed by the team before they create a tailor-made rehabilitation program. Once a horse is deemed to have received a high level of retraining, they are entered into the organisation’s Loan Scheme.
Also known as the Homing Ex-Racehorses Organisation Scheme, HEROS is a well-known charity which gives ex-racehorses a home when their career is finished. Grace Muir set up the charity in 2006 and is on a mission to help unwanted and vulnerable racehorses that leave the racing circuit each year.
To date, HEROS has rehomed hundreds of horses and has established a well deserved reputation for matching horses with the right owner.
This charity manages to help ex-racehorses and disadvantaged & special needs children at the same time; it is the only organisation in the UK with this distinction. Greatwood does not turn away horses that are suffering and in danger of neglect as it has no specified criteria for entry.
If you wish to give a horse a new home, Greatwood has a set list of criteria for owners; you also need to make a donation of £750 to the charity. If you want to read some heart-warming success stories, click here.
There are a wide range of livery yards in the UK; these are stables where horse owners can keep their horses in return for a weekly/monthly fee. A livery yard is a great option for people who love their horses but have no more space for them.
You can donate to the above charities by clicking here
The above only scratches the surface; there are a huge number of charities in the UK eager to give ex-racehorses a good home and prevent them from suffering a worse fate. High quality horses tend to enjoy relative luxury in the surroundings of a stud farm where they are very well treated.
Sadly, this only accounts for a small percentage of retired racehorses. The reality is that horses DO get slaughtered in the UK after their racing career is over. Yet there are various measures in place to prevent this from happening; hopefully investment will continue to increase and these noble creatures will enjoy the retirement they richly deserve.
PricewaterhouseCoopers “The British Thoroughbred Breeding Industry: Economic Contributions & Opportunities (Volume 1) 2014”