Industry is measured by the care of its retired horses *H&H Plus*

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  • The first 2021 International Forum for the Aftercare of Racehorses session covered responsibility for racing thoroughbreds throughout their lives. H&H finds out how this can happen and what is needed to ensure the best outcome for all horses

    THE measure of how racing looks after its horses is how it cares for them in their retirement.

    Retraining of Racehorses (RoR) chief executive Di Arbuthnot gave the message at the first part of the 2021 International Forum for the Aftercare of Racehorses (IFAR) conference (6 April).

    “Aftercare is everyone’s responsibility. It’s our moral responsibility,” said Ms Arbuthnot. “Society is constantly changing and we must do more. The measure of how you look after the horse is how you look after the retired ones.”

    Ms Arbuthnot was joined by top eventing coach Yogi Briesner and leading Irish racehorse trainer and former Olympian Jessica Harrington in a discussion chaired by broadcaster Nick Luck. Nemone Routh, the Aga Khan Studs’ racing office manager and secretary general of French racehorse retraining initiative Au-Delà des Pistes, and Graham and Anita Motion of US racing operation Herringswell Stable, were also in the discussion.

    The main points were that everyone in racing has responsibility for thoroughbreds throughout their lives, and that more education – and more timely education – is needed, particularly for new owners.

    Transparency around a horse’s character, temperament, veterinary history and whether or not he would be suitable to be rehomed was also flagged as crucial.

    Ms Routh said making owners aware when they first buy a horse that they will be responsible for his life could help prevent uncomfortable conversations over money and responsibility at the end of a racing career.

    She also suggested setting aside an “equine pension fund” at the outset “when the dreams are still alive” – not a vast sum, but enough to help with a horse’s transition into a new career – could help.

    “There would be enough funding to go around then to ensure the horse gets to the place it deserves to after its racing career,” she said.

    Jessica said she believes aftercare is “very important”, and something she discusses with connections, and suggested a leaflet in owners’ packs spelling out that the horse will have a life after racing and that it is their responsibility to contribute towards that.

    “I think it’s education we really need, to instruct people that horses are not just for their racing life,” she said, likening it to the “a dog is for life” messages.

    “They can do loads of other things and I’d like to see people being made aware. I think it’s ignorance, rather than willfully saying, ‘I’m not going to look after my horse.’”

    She also stressed the importance of owners understanding horses’ fluctuations in value.

    Yogi agreed, adding it is “not dissimilar in many ways” to buying a car, although a horse’s value goes up as well as down.

    “The difference is here we are dealing with a living creature and we have a responsibility to give that creature a life,” he said.

    Learning from all sides

    The benefits of more collaboration between racing and the wider equestrian worlds were raised multiple times.

    Jessica explained how her father’s attitude of “horses can do everything” shaped her own attitude.

    She said one of his successful polo ponies would hunt in winter, race in spring and play polo in summer. One of her top eventers, the 15.2hh Amoy, rotated between hunting, point-to-pointing, eventing and racing.

    “I was brought up with the ethos that thoroughbred horses, if you train them – and they are all trainable – can do everything,” she said, adding that she transferred that when she started training.

    “I like to see a horse walk, trot and canter properly. If he is in balance in all of those, he will gallop hopefully a bit quicker and won’t have problems. I do quite a lot of flatwork with horses at times, I like them to go in a proper shape.”

    Yogi suggested education centres and racing schools could be well placed to offer courses teaching people how to train or prepare horses for new careers after racing.

    He said more collaboration between racing and the wider equestrian world would help all parties.

    “Then we can use the expertise from both sides, to work for a better life for horses generally,” he said.

    He also advised taking a trainers’ attitude when looking at a horse’s suitability to post-racing careers.

    “When a horse comes in for training, a racehorse trainer would look at its pedigree, have a pretty good idea of what distance that horse is capable of running over,” he explained. “They would start training, find out about his temperament and find a niche. You will find a level where that horse is able to compete at his most successful, and it’s the same when they come out of racing.

    “There are very, very few horses, never mind ex-racehorses, capable of reaching [Olympic or World Championship] level. But there is a niche, I would say, for 99.9% of all horses born.”

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