Six joys of having an ex-racehorse
BHA Communications Graduate, Michael Andrews, went to the Goffs UK Retraining of Racehorses (RoR) National Championships at Aintree last weekend.
The Championships offer 90 different classes, from arena eventing to showing, for any racehorse that raced in Great Britain.
Talking to just a handful of the hundreds of connections there last weekend, he came to six conclusions regarding former racehorses in their life after racing.
1 – They love human attention
Racehorses are accustomed, by the environment they have grown up in as a racehorse, to have almost constant contact with humans. Whether it’s mucking out, riding out, feeding or travelling to a racecourse, horses grow up with the persistent presence of a human handler. Reluctantly, it should come to no surprise to last week see the real connection between horse and rider and the mutual respect they share.
Few could put it better than Lucy Watson, owner of former Michael Bell and Donald McCain charge, Aussie Berry, who said ‘he’s like my pet dog.’ For others like Jessica Westwood, owner of one-time Somerset National winner Monkerty Tunkerty, they can pull you through the real tough parts of your life. Whether on two or four legs, a best friend is a best friend.
2 – They are quick learners
Even if a horse lacked aptitude on a racecourse, they are not one trick ponies. Although Aussie Berry never won, and veteran showing competitor, Comin Fromthewest, was described to me as a horse who ‘didn’t like being in front’, they have adapted to new disciplines. Lucy said ‘Berry’ in fact learns very quickly, taking just the one explanation to learn the dressage manoeuvres she has been teaching him.
3 – They are comfortable travelling and being away from home
Whilst the prospect of taking any horse to a strange yard away from home may be daunting, former racehorses – used to frequenting racecourses around the country – are right at home.
Bridget Mackwood, owner of ex-Ron Harris inmate, Trigger Park, said he was entirely comfortable in Aintree’s stables, an observation echoed by many.
4 – The reward of successfully retraining a racehorse
Like many long-term projects, the sense of personal accomplishment after retraining a racehorse into their new career is euphoric. The results of that commitment – as exemplified by all of the participants at Aintree last week – should not be understated.
Peering into the collecting ring, I couldn’t help but notice how calm many of the equine stars were – some even chilling a few feet away from their owners.
5 – Times have changed
According to connections of Lampos, racehorses are now being broken-in better. They said the groundwork is much stronger in the younger horses they own, in comparison to eighteen-year-old Lampos, and they haven’t come across as many former racehorses with vices or high stress-levels.
Lampos won just once on the all-weather for Julie Camacho, but last week he swooped the prize of the TBA Retrained Racehorse Challenge Series 2018 Championship. The competition involved jumping and a showing assessment.
6 – They’re the athletes of the horse world
In the words of Jessica Westwood, ‘they’re the athletes of the equine world: they’re the best.’ You are working with a species specifically bred for speed and athletic prowess and there is certainly something particularly awesome about that. The presence of Don Cossack, 2016 Cheltenham Gold Cup winner, was enough for all visitors to Aintree last week to realise we were in the company of equine royalty.
However, the chief conclusion from the RoR National Championships was that the royal treatment racehorses received in racing hadn’t stopped. Racehorses, whether they won the Cheltenham Gold Cup like Don Cossack or remained a maiden like Aussie Berry, Comin Fromthewest and all the others I met last week, were treated to the same excellent standards of love, care and attention that they received in their previous career.
It was a pleasure to see first-hand how far that love could go. Jess revealed to me the following day how she’d bought Monkerty Tunkerty a rug that I can only describe in human terms as an electric blanket. For Monk, the royal treatment has clearly not just continued, but expanded.