Call for owners to take part in first British horse census

  • Britain’s first census of thoroughbreds will help traceability of former racehorses – and the sustainability of equestrian sport, it is hoped.

    British racing’s Horse Welfare Board (HWB), with Hartpury University, is encouraging all owners of former racehorses to complete the census, which launched on 28 June, before 31 December.

    The main aim is to help improve traceability of thoroughbreds after they have retired from racing, to “know where they are, throughout their lives”. It is part of the HWB’s five-year welfare strategy “A Life Well Lived”, which committed to improving the lives of all horses bred for racing, from birth until death. Those behind the project want to make connections and work with bodies across the industry.

    “The nice thing about this is the message of the industry joining hands, beyond racing,” HWB programme director Helena Flynn told H&H. “This is something fundamentally different and bigger; there are a lot of surveys in the industry, but this is a census, and this is a call for action to be involved.”

    The census, in partnership with Retraining of Racehorses and supported by World Horse Welfare and Weatherbys, also focuses on responsible ownership, including ensuring all horses’ passports and ownership details are up to date. This is ensured “meticulously” by Weatherbys but declines once horses retire and go into private ownership. This issue applies across the industry.

    Participants will be asked for horses’ passport and microchip numbers, age, residence, second career and more, to “provide a robust view of the 2023 British retired racehorse population”.

    Hartpury head of research Jane Williams said: “We’re delighted to be part of this proactive initiative as Hartpury is committed to supporting the sector to improve the quality of life of the horses we all love.

    The census is an opportunity to understand more about lifetime care of thoroughbreds, generate evidence to safeguard against disease outbreaks, and show the huge benefits thoroughbreds bring to so many people.”

    Take part in the census

    All owners of former British-trained racehorses will be encouraged to register them, free, with RoR.

    The charity’s managing director David Catlow said: “The ‘social licence’ for the use of horses in sport is under increasing scrutiny and what happens to former racehorses after they retire is identified as a particular concern. This is a significant step towards ensuring thoroughbreds enjoy a healthy and caring existence and will provide the racing industry with the relevant data to guide future decisions”.

    Ms Flynn agreed, adding: “This is how we can play a part in ensuring the sustainability of this industry and sport. This is fundamental to that. Aftercare is an emotive subject, and if we can have greater understanding of that, it will make a huge difference.”

    The census can be completed online, and at major equestrian events.

    World Horse Welfare CEO Roly Owers said: “This is an excellent initiative along the road of improving traceability for all thoroughbreds. Full traceability lasts a lifetime as a horse bred for racing will always be a racehorse in the eyes of the public, and they rightly hold the industry responsible for them throughout their lives.

    “There really is a collective responsibility to make this work towards the much-needed goal of full traceability, both for the sake of the horses and the reputation of the industry.”

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