British racing’s duty of care to its horses extends beyond their racing careers.
After their racing careers are over, many of the best horses will be retired to stud to breed the next generation of racehorses. However, thoroughbreds are versatile, highly intelligent creatures that can adapt well to retraining outside racing. Many have long and successful careers in other equestrian disciplines such as Showing, Eventing, Dressage, Polo and Showjumping, whilst many others happily take part in Riding Club activities and hacking.
Testament to their adaptability is the fact that former racehorses competed at the 2016 Rio Olympics in three-day eventing and were part of the gold medal winning Team GB at the 2018 World Equestrian Games.
The sport also operates its own charity – Retraining of Racehorses (RoR) – to raise funds from within the industry, with the purpose of finding fulfilling second careers for racehorses after racing and ensuring the welfare of any vulnerable former racehorses.
What happens to horses who leave the sport?
Upon leaving British racing some horses go for breeding, some go to race abroad, some go point‐to‐pointing, others go on to a career in an alternative equestrian discipline (polo, dressage, showing, eventing), others become hacks, enjoying exercise without competition and some are retired to a life at grass. Most horses, however, prefer an active life.
In the majority of cases, owners and trainers take a great deal of time and trouble to find suitable new homes for racehorses leaving their care. Retraining may be done privately by a competent equine re-trainer, or through specialist centres, which have extensive experience both in retraining former racehorses and placing them in suitable new homes.
Tracking our horses
Traceability and tracking of horses is an essential element of the BHA’s welfare strategy, as it helps us to ensure that any racehorse is cared for throughout its whole life.
In British horseracing we require the microchipping of horses. This aids traceability, as horses can be identified throughout their lives using the chip, alongside the equine passports which are also required for all horses.
Any thoroughbred foal intended for British racing must be registered within 30 days of its birth. This assists tracking and traceability from a very early age.
The BHA is also developing an all-encompassing and integrated thoroughbred database as part of its “whole life” approach to equine welfare. This database will combine information gleaned from 30-day foal notification, throughout a horse’s racing career and post-retirement.
The database will allow the BHA to make defined, appropriate, evidence-based welfare decisions for thoroughbreds. It will also enable us to identify any gaps through which animals are being lost from the industry.
Retraining of Racehorses (RoR)
The aim of RoR is to raise funds to help support the charitable retraining and rehoming of former racehorses; and to raise the profile of ex-racehorses to promote their versatility for other equestrian disciplines.
RoR’s work primarily revolves around three key areas:
– Promoting versatility of former racehorses: through staging of classes and competition open exclusively to former racehorses in over a dozen different equine disciplines. For example, over 300 showing classes a year nationwide and National Championships held in showing, dressage, eventing, showjumping and elite prizes also in endurance and polo.
– Education and clinics: Including a nationwide regional network of coordinators staging educational events and training for owners of former racehorses covering techniques to improve their retraining and diet and so on
– Welfare provision: RoR employs an experienced vet as its welfare consultant working in conjunction with a nationwide network of RoR accredited rehoming centres. In the event of a former racehorse being deemed vulnerable or at risk of its welfare being compromised, RoR will provide funding for the horse to be cared for, rehabilitated and rehomed by an accredited centre to a suitable new owner. On average around 80 horses per annum benefit from the Vulnerable Horse Scheme and, as a result, successfully rehomed.
RoR also has emergency funding available for caring for more serious cases. This is very rarely used.
RoR has established close working relationships with the RSPCA and World Horse Welfare to ensure a coordinated approach to dealing with cases that involve former racehorses. As far as we are aware, thoroughbreds are the only breed of horse to have a designated charity providing funding for their care. This is at odds with other equine pursuits where the lack of support for horses whose original careers are at an end has resulted in a nationwide “horse crisis” which the RSPCA and World Horse Welfare are working desperately to address
From every one of the 200,000+ entries made for every runner in every raced in Britain, a financial contribution is made to the funding of the sport’s mechanism for rehoming and retraining racehorses. In this manner it is the sport’s owners who help fund the charity.
In addition, every jockey and every trainer makes a contribution to RoR through their licence fees, and every race run results in a contribution from racecourses.
Further funding comes through sponsorship and fundraising, investment income, registrations and legacies
On some rare occasions, certain horses cannot be rehomed, perhaps because they do not have a suitable temperament for another career or a suitable home cannot be found. On those occasions euthanasia may be considered the most humane outcome for a horse to prevent it falling into neglect or living an unsuitable lifestyle.
The BHA has a euthanasia policy which is provided as guidance to owners and trainers to ensure that euthanasia is only used in the correct circumstances and that the industry is consistent in when euthanasia is resorted to.
International Forum for Aftercare of Racehorses (IFAR)
British racing is among the world leaders in providing aftercare provisions for racehorses. RoR and the BHA helped establish and provides the chair person for the steering group of IFAR, the International Forum for the Aftercare of Racehorses, an organisation set up to share best practice in aftercare among racing jurisdictions around the world.