Retraining of racehorses: attributes associated with successful post-racing careers

Activity: Talk or presentation typesOral presentation at Conference

Description

The racing careers of thoroughbreds are short and facilitate potential post-retirement second careers in alternative equestrian disciplines subject to individual horses’ suitability for these. A range of organisations specialise in racehorse rehoming such as Retraining of Racehorses (RoR) supported by industry initiatives to safeguard racehorse welfare for the duration of a horse’s lifetime. Despite this, few studies have empirically evaluated if key attributes influence the success of former racehorses in their second careers. A 31-question online survey was distributed via RoR and targeted equestrian social media to former racehorse owners to ascertain behavioural and physical attributes they felt influenced successful second careers. Frequency and thematic analysis identified respondents believed former racehorses were very trainable, social, inquisitive and quick to learn, and could excel in any discipline. Survey findings informed 20 semi-structured interviews, with recreational and competitive owners to explore key attributes linked to success in more detail. Five key areas emerged from thematic analysis: horse-human partnership, discipline suitability, RoR community and financial stability. Owners consistently reported that the bond or “love” that they felt towards their former racehorses was the key factor that influenced a positive second career. Racehorses athleticism, trainability, strong hindlimbs and responsiveness to the rider were associated with competitive success, however the need to allow horses to “progress at their own pace” and to adapt to their individual “quirks” during training was reinforced. RoR was celebrated for creating a sense of community and educational support. Owners also highlighted that former racehorses should not be considered a budget route into horse ownership. These results provide an initial insight into the attributes former racehorse owners identify as key to horses’ successful transition into second careers and could support industry initiatives in this field. However, it should be noted that all respondents here reported a positive relationship with their former racehorse. Therefore, further studies evaluating unsuccessful relationships are needed to inform methods to achieve optimal horse-human matching and facilitate successful second careers for racehorses.
Lay person message: Racehorse welfare, throughout their career in racing and beyond, is an important component of British Racing’s commitment to safeguard lifelong racehorse welfare. Former racehorse owners identified successful second careers were founded on a positive bond with their horse, and felt horses’ personality, athleticism and trainability informed successful transitions into recreational and competitive homes, if owners were willing to adapt to horses’ individual quirks. Understanding which attributes inform horse-human relationships could promote increased successful racehorse rehoming.
PeriodOct 2021
Event titleInternational Society for Equitation Science Conference 2021: Advancing Equestrian Practice to improve Equine Quality of Life
Event typeConference