Thoroughbred census launched by British racing’s Horse Welfare Board and Hartpury University

28 Jun 2023 BHA Features Welfare

  • Britain’s first ever thoroughbred census launched to help improve traceability of former racehorses after they retire from the sport  
  • Census to be carried out by equine research experts at Hartpury University
  • All owners of former racehorses will be encouraged to complete and submit the census between 28 June – 31 December 2023
  • Data will help build a wealth of intelligence on the lives former racehorses go on to lead
  • Census will help fill an identified gap in data due to low levels of equine identification document (passport) updates being undertaken once thoroughbreds go into private ownership  
  • Initiative part of British Racing’s Horse Welfare Board’s five-year welfare strategy ‘A Life Well Lived’ and its commitment to improve traceability for all horses bred for racing
  • Equestrian communities to be asked to share the census far and wide to encourage participation  
  • The census can be completed online HERE
  • Video can be viewed HERE

British Racing’s Horse Welfare Board is launching the first ever thoroughbred census in Great Britain, in collaboration with research experts at Hartpury University.

All owners of former racehorses are being asked to submit a completed census between 28 June – 31 December 2023. The census will help build an improved thoroughbred data bank about former racehorses and the lives they go on to lead.

The project’s primary objective is to help improve traceability of thoroughbreds after they have been retired from racing. With improved data, British Racing and its aftercare charity, Retraining of Racehorses (RoR), can better support owners with access to educational resources and routes to compete if desired, as well as continue to build informed and helpful communities.

Improved data at this stage of a thoroughbred’s life can also help the Horse Welfare Board and RoR improve and adapt welfare initiatives and will, most importantly, enable fast and effective contact in the event of an equine disease outbreak.

The census will request information on each horse’s equine identification document (passport) number, microchip number, age, current residence, second career, and more to provide a robust view of the 2023 British retired racehorse population.

The six-month census has been launched in partnership with Retraining of Racehorses (RoR), British Racing’s official aftercare charity, funded by the Racing Foundation, and is supported by World Horse Welfare and Weatherbys General Stud Book.

Helena Flynn, Programme Director, Horse Welfare Board, said: “Improving the traceability of thoroughbreds after they retire from racing is a fundamental part of the Horse Welfare Board’s five-year welfare strategy. The launch of this census is a significant project to help increase the depth, quality, and volume of data about thoroughbreds at this important stage of their lives.

“Just as importantly, this campaign will help us talk about responsible ownership and the critical part every thoroughbred owner plays in ensuring their equine identification document (passport) is up to date. We are delighted to be working with Hartpury University on the census and hope that between us we can encourage as many owners as possible to participate.” 

Jane Williams, Head of Research at Hartpury University, added: “We’re delighted to be part of this proactive initiative as Hartpury is committed to supporting the equine sector to improve the quality of life of the horses’ we all love. The census will present an opportunity to understand more about the lifetime care of thoroughbreds, generate evidence to safeguard against future disease outbreaks, and showcase the huge benefits thoroughbreds bring to so many people.”

The primary source of traceability for all horses in Great Britain is the equine identification document (passport), which new owners of any horse are required to update within 30 days of new ownership. During their racing careers this information is meticulously maintained with the Weatherbys General Stud Book via breeders, owners, and trainers.

However, data for former racehorses reduces significantly when they go into private ownership after their first step out of racing, with general equine identification document (passport) compliance at an average of 20% across the equestrian world.  The reasons for this are presumed to be a lack of understanding of the importance of this step, confusion on costs, the desire to hold on to the document after a horse has died and general apathy to engage in the process.

As a result, an additional objective of the census will be to communicate to private owners and encourage them to take action, to check their horse’s equine identification document (passport) and if needed, to get it updated.  At the same time, owners of horses who were registered with a licenced British trainer in their past will be encouraged to register their horse for free with Retraining of Racehorses (RoR).

David Catlow, Managing Director, Retraining of Racehorses, added: “We are pleased to be teaming up with the Horse Welfare Board and Hartpury University to encourage owners of former racehorses to participate in the census survey. The ‘social licence’ for the use of horses in sport is under increasing scrutiny and what happens to former racehorses after they retire from racing is identified as a particular concern. This is a significant step towards ensuring thoroughbreds enjoy a healthy and caring existence during their lifetimes and will provide the racing industry with the relevant data to guide future decisions”.

RoR is a thriving community which provides thoroughbred owners with access to education, advice, and an established series of events to support the ongoing healthy, happy lives of former racehorses. By registering horses with RoR’s free membership option, owners can help racing ensure future traceability through its annual check on their horse’s status.

Roly Owers OBE, CEO, World Horse Welfare, said: “This is an excellent initiative along the road of improving the traceability for all thoroughbreds. Full traceability lasts a lifetime as a horse bred for racing will always be a racehorse in the eyes of the public, and they rightly hold the industry responsible for them throughout their lives.  There really is a collective responsibility to make this work towards the much needed goal of full traceability, both for the sake of the horses and the reputation of the industry.”

The 2023 Thoroughbred Census can be completed online HERE , as well as at key equine events throughout the rest of the year, before closing on 31 December 2023. Completion of the census is not compulsory, but owners are strongly encouraged to join the community and participate. Full results will be reported during the first quarter of 2024.

Notes to editors:

  1. For further information, please contact:

    Horse Welfare Board
    Gabi Whitfield, Head of Welfare Communications, [email protected], 07566 248172

    2. About The Horse Welfare Board

    British Racing’s goal has always been to lead the way in setting the best welfare standards in the world, both on and off the racecourse. The Horse Welfare Board was established in 2019 and is responsible for overseeing the single overarching strategy for equine welfare in the racing industry. The five-year strategy, “A life well-lived”, was launched in February 2020 and considers the whole of the racing industry, including sectors not currently fully regulated by the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) and looks across the lifetime of all horses bred for racing. Multiple workstreams are underway covering projects ranging from traceability, training, obstacle improvement and development, through to welfare funding. The strategy can be read in full HERE

    3. About Hartpury University

    Hartpury is marking its 75th anniversary this summer, having first opened its doors as an agricultural education centre with just 50 students shortly after World War II. Today, Hartpury University and Hartpury College has 4,600 students from more than 60 countries studying PhDs, postgraduate and undergraduate degrees, and diplomas in our specialist subjects, including agriculture, animal, equine, sport, and veterinary nursing, as well as A-levels.

    Hartpury University promotes the highest standards in its research and teaching practice and conducts world-leading applied research across the agriculture, animal, equine, veterinary nursing and sport and exercise sectors. An ever-expanding research and knowledge exchange directly informs taught programmes and real-world practice. In 2022, research from Hartpury was recognised as ‘world leading’ and ‘internationally excellent’ in the Research Excellence Framework (REF) results. Hartpury University ranks 1st in the South West and 6th in the UK for Teaching Quality, according to The Times and The Sunday Times Good University Guide for 2023.

    4. About Retraining of Racehorses

    Retraining of Racehorses (RoR) is British Horseracing’s official charity for the welfare of horses that have retired from racing. The charity’s four core roles and responsibilities can be summarised as follows, RoR:

  • Creates a demand for former racehorses through opportunities to participate and compete in a range of equine disciplines and therapeutic activities;
  • Educates owners and riders who take responsibility for former racehorses;
  • Facilitates the transition to a second career for horses leaving racing; and
  • Protects the welfare of former racehorses, in particular those in need of charitable support and care.

RoR annually stages over 40 separate competition series across 15 different disciplines, catering for all levels of ability, from grassroots to elite. The disciplines include dressage, showing, polo, eventing, show jumping, endurance, hunting and horseball. For more information please visit: