Why retrained racehorses have so much to offer *H&H Plus*

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  • Opinion

    It would take a heart of stone not to be moved by the stories and achievements of both horses and humans at the Retraining of Racehorses (RoR) Awards, held in Newmarket (18 January).

    I love thoroughbreds and needed no convincing, but hearing the stories of the elite award-winners from each discipline and the tales of the three personality finalists in quick succession really drove home just how versatile these wonderful horses are.


    I can be a bit of a bore when it comes to how excited I get about progression, but do bear with me. Watching a horse and rider succeed in anything is lovely. But watch a partnership grow, learn why that success means what it does and it takes on a whole new joy. This is what I tell myself when I’m wearing three coats at a point-to-point or battling to keep my notebook dry at an early spring horse trials, but it’s also true. And this is what the RoR Awards managed to show in each worthy winner — and there are thousands more stories just like these out there, at every level.

    Racing, like all equestrian sports, has a fan base who love to follow individual horses. Celebrating these equine athletes for the stars they are and building the links between racing and the sport horse world can surely only help boost support for both industries at a time when both are looking to draw more fans. All of this while celebrating what is truly at the centre of it all, the horse.

    From Maidana, who played in the 2019 Argenine Open and had that special something about her “the moment she came out of the horsebox” after retiring from racing as a two-year-old, to grand prix dressage hopeful Quadrille, whose rider never thought would go beyond novice “because his basic paces are not fantastic” — every horse has a story.

    “The first course I ever jumped was on her and now we are jumping at Bolesworth and Liverpool,” said an emotional Claudia Jones of her racehorse-turned-showjumper Early Shirely. “We bought her for £2,000 and I’m up against horses that cost £20,000 and she’s just so brilliant.”

    Then take Dream Big, whose lifetime racing earnings came to a grand total of £385 for one third place. “Soon hopelessly tailed off, finished eventually” reads the notes from one of her six starts. But in her second career as an eventer, she is shining.

    “[Thoroughbreds] have everything built into them — it is just a case of whether they have the right brain and if they do, you are ready to roll,” said rider Tom McEwen, thanking her owner, Magdalena Gut, for staying with the mare through her new career.

    “I’m really happy her owners can have fun with the same horse in a different discipline.”

    Owners who have kept hold of their horses through their retirement were rightly celebrated.

    Overall winner Quadrille, who is aiming for grand prix dressage, has arguably the highest profile owner of all to thank. He was bred and owned by The Queen, and rider Louise Robson told guests that Her Majesty has kept an active interest in him since he arrived.

    Mrs Prowting too, who keeps all her former racehorses, was recognised with the elite show series prize going to Desert Joe.“She is a great role model for racehorse owners as she supports them through life after racing,” said rider Rebecca Court.

    Not every thoroughbred who goes into retraining at the end of its racing career is going to be suitable for every rider, nor every job — but the same can be said of any horse regardless of breed.

    Jilly Cooper’s selections for the RoR horse personality of the year award, a new prize to celebrate 20 years since the organisation received charitable status, threw up three more remarkable animals.

    Ned Causer, whose arrival owner Sarah Peacock credits as a “turning point” in living with depression, was the deserving winner. Jilly must have faced an unenviable job of choosing just one, with Riding for the Disabled stalwart Grouse Moor, still bringing joy aged 21, and Real Desire, who has overcome his own challenges and continues to surprise his owners.

    And these are just a few of these remarkable animals who bring joy to so many people, throughout their lives.

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