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 onto 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 - 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 supports five 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 charity to help with the retraining costs.

HEROS – based in Wantage, Oxfordshire
New Beginnings – based in Bishop Wilton, York
The British Thoroughbred Retraining Centre – based in Halton, Lancaster
World Horse Welfare – based in Snetterton, Norfolk

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.

There is also the Race Horse Trader website, which facilitates the buying and selling of Thoroughbred horses online.

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.

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.

Throughout the year the ROA is on hand to offer advice and answer questions via welfare@roa.co.uk, and we also organise trips to welfare-related venues. In the last few years ROA members have been able to visit Greatwood, HEROs and the Newmarket Equine Hospital, and later this year will be at New Beginnings. All events, past and future, can be viewed on the ROA events page.

What is the BHA’s involvement in my horse after it has finished racing?

The BHA makes a huge effort to track horses once they leave racing in order to continue to protect and promote their welfare. This has been made possible by the compulsory microchipping of all Thoroughbred foals within 30 days of birth, meaning that horses can be tracked and identified throughout their life. 

Ultimately the responsibility lies with each owner to ensure that a suitable and safe long-term home is found for their horse upon retirement from training.

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