People are more interested in the elaborate hats worn by the spectators to the race track than what happens to racehorses once they’re not in the spotlight anymore.
The racing industry is big business, valued at $115 billion globally.
The Equine Fertility Unit conducted research into the industry and found that 66% of thoroughbred foals were never entered for a race and that more than 80% of horses were no longer in training after four years.
The racing industry produces approximately 5,000 foals and 4-5,000 racehorses are retired each year. Of these, only a fraction is taken into retraining programmes.
It’s not always a happy retirement for former racehorses
Racehorses are a bit like ballerinas: they start young and peak early. They’re also at great risk of severe injury during their short, intensive careers.
Even healthy horses don’t tend to race for very long (compared to the fact that horses can live into their 30s) and are retired sooner or later, depending on how successful a career they have.
Once a horse is no longer running races for profit, their future hangs in the balance, even though they often still have more than half their lives ahead of them.
Sometimes, former racehorses can go on to a second career in some other athletic field, such as show jumping or cross country racing, or find a new lease on life as a leisure horse.
More often though, the truth of an industry that revolves around large amounts of money and costly risks, horses are seen as more disposable than we’d like to admit.
An investigation in 2006 by The Observer found that each year 6-10,000 horses are slaughtered for consumption globally and that a significant portion consists of horses bred for racing.
Where a racehorse ends up after retiring from the track depends on many things, mostly their success on the track and the decision of the owner.
Successful horses can go to breeding farms
Breeders will pay high premiums for top-tier Thoroughbreds in order to use them for breeding.
Retired female Thoroughbreds can find a second career as broodmares on breeding farms, producing the next generations of runners. Very successful stallions may be taken to stud farms in hopes that they’ll sire more winners.
Moving to other sports
Some racehorses have made successful transitions from racing to other equestrian sports, such as show jumping, dressage, polo and more.
There are a number of charities and adoption programs that help retrain retired racehorses.
The goal is to find the horses a new forever home where they can live out the rest of their days being someone’s beloved companion or even a great eventer.
Getting a retired racehorse isn’t something a beginner rider or inexperienced horse owner should do. Racehorses are bred for speed and temperament and require an experienced trainer to learn new skills.
In some cases, a good retirement simply means moving to a sanctuary and not being used for work at all.
If you want to support and organisation that’s retraining and rehoming former racehorses, you can look up a local charity and make a donation or ask if they take volunteers.
How to research a retired racehorse’s pedigree
While the stories of many famous racehorses have been glamorised in books and movies, the reality for most retiring Thoroughbreds – also known as off-track Thoroughbred (OTTB) – is humble in comparison.
Most of these horses will be relatively young, as they’re typically started at age 2 and 3, and you may need to do some digging in order to find more information about them.
A Thoroughbred that is a purebred should have a well-documented lineage and there should be no problem for the seller to produce these documents.
However, if you’re buying a horse without their registration papers, you can still research the pedigree of the horse.
When searchign for information on a Thoroughbred without the regsitration papers, you’ll need three things: the horse’s lip tattoo number, it’s registered name and it’s date of birth.
If your horse isn’t tattooed, make sure you’ve got the name and the spelling correctly.
Online databases for horses
The Jockey Club
When your horse has a lip tattoo the Jockey Club free search might provide you with the information you’re looking for.
Bear in mind, that a lip tattoo isn’t exactly easy to read. They usually fade with time.
You can try taking a photo and enhancing it or flipping through different filters to see if it’ll become more clear.
Every thoroughbred that has ever raced is listed on The Jockey Club, so you’re likely t find some information here if your horse is an ex-racer.
Pedigree Query is a big database to which users submit information. If your horse’s name is listed in the database, you’ll receive a five-generation pedigree when you do a search.
The site has paid subscriptions too, but you’re not likely to need that kind of information unless you’re buying a horse for racing or breeding.
Brisnet is primarily used by bettors to research handicaps on racehorses.
Breeders sometimes use this resource to look into bloodlines.
Most owners don’t have much use for race records, though you might find it a novelty to see where your horse raced and how it performed.
The Brisnet legacy site allows you to do pedigree searches and you can buy a pedigree with a race record for a small fee.
If you can’t find any information on your horse in the online databases, you can try contacting breeder’s associations.
If you don’t find your horse’s pedigree online, it is possible to contact the breeders associations, though they may charge fees for looking up information for you.
Some associations that may be able to help you:
- Jockey Club (US)
- Canadian Thoroughbred Society (CAN)
Buying an ex-racer as a first horse
If you’ve never owned a horse before and want to start by getting a racehorse, I’d advise you to think twice.
Because their training is very narrowly focused – on winning races – you’ll most likely get a horse that has only the most basic training.
Loud noises can easily spook a racehorse who has been conditioned to shoot off like a rocket at the starter pistol.
In addition, the horse’s short but intensive career may have left him with injuries or soundness issue that may take months of treatment to fix, if they can be fixed at all.
Famous winners as parents or ancestors doesn’t guarantee a good horse or one that is suitable for you.
Since both genetics and handling/training influence how a horse develops his temperament and athleticism, you might even make a better riding or competition horse out of one that has no pedigree to speak of.
Even if this isn’t your first horse, it’s advisable to have help and support when retraining an ex-racer as it can take a long time and be a difficult journey to get him to relinquish his whole world view up to this point.