Racehorse Retirement

As an owner, what should you do if your horse’s racing days are over?

If your horse had a successful career, then a life at stud now beckons – whether you want to breed from them yourself or sell them onto a breeding operation.

But what if your horse’s record isn’t strong enough, or if you own a gelding? Many of these horses, retrained by a competent and experienced person, can go onto a second career and often be very successful in another discipline. 

How do I decide if my horse is suitable for retraining?

The best person to ask this is your trainer – they will be able to tell you if the horse is physically sound enough to be retrained, and of a suitable enough temperament. They may also be able to suggest people they know are looking for a suitable horse to retrain or rehome, and will have an idea as to what sort of discipline may best suit your horse.

Ex-racehorses have gone on to success in a wide range of fields – from polo to showing to eventing. Even those that raced solely on the flat often adapt quickly to jumping, and many can go on to having long and active second careers.

My horse appears suitable for retraining, what do I do now?

Retraining of Racehorses (RoR) is the racing industry’s official charity dedicated to the welfare of former racehorses, and are funded by the British Horseracing Authority and contributions from racehorse owners through a surcharge on each race entry.

The RoR website has a wealth of information for owners and prospective owners wishing to take on a retired racehorse, and they also have a dedicated owner/trainer helpline – contact Philippa on 01488 648998. They also hold a comprehensive Retrainers Directory which could help with deciding upon a short-term home for a racehorse if the owner lacks the skills to retrain it themselves.

All centres will charge a fee, and this is individual according to the particular centre, the owners’ requirements, and whether the horse is to remain in the care of the centre for life or not.

RoR work in partnership with a number of charitable rehabilitation centres around the country. These charities retrain and rehome former racehorses, particularly those horses straight out of training. The charities take special care during the retraining process, assessing each horse, and ensuring they match the right rider to the right horse. A donation is usually given to the charitable centre to help with the retraining costs.

RoR also help to promote the retraining of former racehorses through demonstrations and parades, and they additionally offer a wide range of clinics for riders across the country. This is alongside the RoR competitions and prizes which take in almost every equestrian discipline including showing, eventing, dressage, polo, team chasing and horseball. Registration for an ex-racehorse to compete in any RoR competition is just £10 per horse, per year and in 2018 over 13,000 horses are registered with RoR as being active in other equine disciplines.

Source a Horse is a RoR hosted site for the sale, loan or re-homing of former racehorses either direct from the trainer or already re-trained. It is free to advertise a horse on this site unless you wish to upgrade to a Premium advert which costs £5 for three months. As this site attracts a niche audience of experienced individuals there is a reduced risk of horses being placed in the wrong home.

Are there any other options aside from retraining/rehoming?

An alternative option is the sales ring. All the principal auction houses hold sales of horses in and out of training, and your trainer will be able to advise as to the most suitable options.

How can I ensure that my horse does not race again?

Owners who want to prevent their horse from racing under Rules again can register a Non-Racing Agreement with Weatherbys. Registration is free and forms can be obtained from trainers or by users of Racing Admin.

Can’t my horse just be retired to a field?

Many horses racing career ends whilst they are still young and mentally and physically fit – they need experienced care and attention, and without it may develop temperament and health problems. Thoroughbred horses are bred to race and often their temperament means that they are most suited to an active life and the thrill of competition. Of course, if your horse has retired unfit for further work then a retirement home may be the best option, but this would be best discussed with your trainer and a reputable centre.

However, if it is clear that due to age, injury or temperament, and bearing in mind the special responsibilities of looking after a Thoroughbred, that a decent quality of life cannot be assured, then having the horse humanely put to sleep might need to be considered. Owners should take account of their trainer and/or veterinary surgeon's advice on this.

While this may not be an easy option to contemplate, owners should not feel guilty about considering euthanasia. Horses that change hands with physical or behavioural problems may otherwise be vulnerable to being taken on by someone without the experience, facilities or resources necessary to care for them, which is not in the best interests of the horse.

Is there any other paperwork that I should prepare before selling/gifting my ex-racehorse to someone?

An owner should only give or sell their horse to a responsible person. If they are not known to you, ask for a written reference from a vet or someone else you trust. Sometimes a horse can be sold or given away in good faith, but the new owner's circumstances may change, or they may decide to sell. To avoid such a situation, an owner may consider drafting a sale contract. This can give a seller a right of refusal on any future sale, but it should be borne in mind that such a clause might be difficult to enforce.

Check that the new owner has public liability insurance, to minimise the risk of any claim for liability reverting to you. Likewise you might recommend veterinary insurance cover is in place for the horse. RoR can give advice on competitive insurance providers.

It is a requirement under the Horse Passport (England) Regulations to register a change of ownership with the relevant Passport Issuing Organisation (PIO) within 30 days of acquiring a horse. A non-racing, non-breeding ownership will be required for all horses that have been retired from racing. To download the change of ownership form from Weatherbys please click here. When this process is complete, the passport will need to be handed over to the new owner of the horse.

Racehorse Retirement - your legal requirements

Horse Passport Legislation Requirements when transferring ownership

Owners and trainers should be aware that it is now a legal requirement for owners to register their ownership of a horse, when they buy one or take over ownership, within 30 days of the transaction taking place. There is an exemption for horses racing under rules, where trainers take care of the necessary administration. 

This became a legal requirement from October 1 2018 and is being enforced by Trading Standards.

However, it is apparent that transfers of ownership have not been actioned in a number of cases when an owner sells their horse or a horse moves out of training.

Owners and breeders should therefore be aware of the following:

  1. It has been a requirement of the Horse Passport Regulations since 2009 for all equine owners in Great Britain to register their ownership with the Government designated Passport Issuing Organisation (Weatherbys) within 30 days of purchase.
  2. From October 1 2018, it became a legal requirement and is enforceable by Trading Standards.
  3. The legislation also requires that a horse’s passport is returned to Weatherbys to be updated with the new ownership details. Racing ownerships have been granted an exemption; however when a horse comes out of training this exemption no longer applies.
  4. The owner of a horse in training should have previously registered their ownership with Weatherbys before the horse went into training unless they are the breeder, in which case the ownership is already correct.
  5. When a horse comes out of training and the racing ownership is terminated, the Weatherbys ownership becomes the valid ownership recognised by DEFRA and the Central Equine Database.
  6. Even if a racing owner retains ownership of a horse after it finishes racing they will be required to register their ownership with Weatherbys if they haven’t already done so prior to the horse going into training (unless they bred the horse).

In summary, when a horse is in training the registered racing ownership takes precedence, but where it comes out of training, it reverts back to the ownership detailed in the horse’s passport. It is here that details may need updating, e.g. if the owner while the horse was in training keeps the horse, but didn’t originally register as the owner.

To update ownership information online (for horses not in training) see weatherbysgsb.co.uk

In the case of a horse that dies or is euthanised the passport should be returned to Weatherbys along with a note with the date of death within 30 days of the horse dying.

Any owners wishing to check they are the recorded owner can check the ownership page of the horse’s passport. If their name appears in there with the Weatherbys stamp to confirm it then they are the registered owner with the Studbook Department.

Retiring a horse from racing – improved, simpler process for trainers and owners

At all stages of a racehorse’s life, being able to trace a horse’s whereabouts is vital in demonstrating responsibility and commitment to good welfare.

The BHA needs to ensure they have the fullest possible traceability, and while there are many possible routes that horses may take on leaving training, the first step is to identify those that have been retired from the sport.

Recent surveys on aftercare indicated that trainers are often involved in this first retirement decision for horses in training, to assist owners. For both regulatory and welfare reasons, it is essential that the BHA is notified by participants when a horse is permanently retired.

What is changing?

Previously, only an owner has been able to provide the BHA of this notification. The rules have been reworded to allow a trainer to provide this notification, effectively acting as agent for the owner. The new process will allow notification to be provided as part of the existing Racing Administration system that is currently used to keep records of horses in training. The process will allow owners to cancel within 14 days if the retirement notification has been made in error.

Both the owner and trainer can use the system to provide the required notification and apply a digital non-racing agreement if applicable, indicating that the horse should not be reinstated to race in the future.

Finally, the new keeper of the horse will be recorded as part of the system change, and will receive email to advise them about their legal obligation to ensure the current owner is recorded in the horse’s passport by Weatherbys within 30 days, securing first step traceability for the retired horse.

The process relating to retirement of racehorses is changing shortly.


Once permanently retired, a horse will be ineligible to race and cannot be reinstated without the approval of the BHA. If no non-racing agreement has been applied, the process to reinstate carries anti-doping requirements that include testing and a stand down period.

If the BHA is not appropriately notified of retirement, the horse is still bound by the rules of racing and may therefore be the subject of whereabouts failures.

How to notify the BHA when a horse is permanently retired

The online process allows owners or trainers to record:

  • The reason for the horse’s retirement
  • Restrictions on racing in the future (non-racing agreement)
  • Details of the horse’s new keeper

Completion of the online form triggers the start of the permanent retirement process, which takes 14 days, after that date the horse is made ineligible to run and is no longer bound by the Rules of Racing.

This 14-day window allows for the retirement process to be halted, if the notification has been made in error.

Completion of the form also triggers a notification to any new keeper advising them that they are responsible for completing a transfer of ownership within 30 days. If the new keeper fails to do this, they may incur a fine of up to £5,000 from Trading Standards.

The BHA is developing a series of helpful guides, to assist owners and trainers with the new process. These will be shared in due course.


What if I want to maintain ownership of the horse?

If you intend to loan your horse to another keeper, then you need to ensure that a legally binding loan agreement is agreed and signed by both parties. This will set out the exact terms of the loan (e.g. duration) and the responsibilities of each party (e.g. who pays for vet bills). You should also consider taking out third party liability insurance, to cover yourself in the event that your horse injures the loaner or a third party.

The British Horse Society has produced a template loan agreement that can be edited as required. Before completing the agreement you will need to gather certain information regarding the horse including any current medical conditions and registered vet, and give consideration to details such as proposed useage and which company will insure your horse.

If you are loaning the horse then you should keep a full copy of the horses’ passport, and notify Weatherbys passport team that the horse is on loan. We would also recommend checking the horse in its new home at regular intervals - any organisation or individual who is not happy about you doing so should immediately raise alarm bells.

What does the ROA do for retired racehorses?

Racehorses owners are the single biggest contributor to RoR’s funding, with over £250,000 a year raised through the £1.25 charge additional to each entry fee paid. Also, one of the elected ROA Board members sits on the RoR Board, to assist in their decision-making processes.


“Aftercare cannot be an afterthought” 
International Forum for the Aftercare of Racehorses (IFAR)


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