What happens to racehorses when they reach the end of their usefulness on the track? Whether due to injuries, increasing age or plain old lack of speed, a horse's expected racing career is usually short. This means that each year, many hundreds of racing thoroughbreds, standardbreds and quarter horses find themselves without a job and looking for a home. It's a sad fact that many of these horses end up on the auction block, and worse, at the slaughter house.
However, racehorses are bred for their athletic ability and that can make them well-suited to other equestrian pursuits, such as eventing, jumping and dressage. Ex-racehorses can even settle down to become dependable trail horses. My own horse is an ex-steeplechaser, a great grandson of Bold Ruler, and he and I have entered combined training and dressage competitions as well as taking peaceful trail rides with friends.
If you are thinking about buying and retraining an ex-racehorse, there are a number of things to consider:
- A racehorse coming off the track is likely to be highly-strung animal that will need careful and sympathetic handling to help him make the transition to his new career. Be objective in assessing your own abilities to handle and retrain an off-the-track racer.
- It's a sad fact that many former racehorses have suffered injuries which may affect their suitability for your intended purpose. You don't necessarily have to rule out a horse that has been injured, but have your veterinarian perform a complete pre-purchase exam so you have all the facts in front of you when you make your decision to buy.
- The previous training of a racehorse is completely different to the training of a riding horse. You'll have to go back to the beginning and teach him all about leg, seat and rein aids, and that it is possible to go at speeds other than "fast forward". Again, be honest about your abilities to work with an ex-racehorse.
Once you've decided you'd like to take on an ex-racehorse, the next step is finding one. You may be lucky enough to live close to a racetrack that has an adoption program for retired racehorses, such as the one at Sam Houston Race Park, in Houston, Texas. In addition, there are a number of organizations dedicated to the rehabilitation of ex-racehorses, such as CANTER and the Standardbred Retirement Foundation which feature adoption programs and resources for the new owners.