By Samantha Martin (@sam_angelina22)
Roughly seven thousand thoroughbreds leave British Racing every year. That could be for many reasons – to go to the breeding sheds, sold to race abroad, reached the end of their racing careers or, simply, they weren’t good enough to cut it as a racehorse.
But what’s next for those who fall into the latter categories?
These horses need to find a new, forever home for their retirement. An excellent attribute of thoroughbreds is their versatility; they show this on the racecourse as they run over trips ranging from five furlongs to four miles and two and a half furlongs. Off the track, if in the right care, these horses can excel in all disciplines – eventing, dressage, show jumping, hunting, polo, showing or just as the family hack. In a way, when they finish their careers, they’re blank canvases.
The versatility of these horses makes them the perfect riding horse for many people. I was lucky enough to talk to Katie Reynolds, @ManesnTales on Twitter @glorious.grumeti on instagram, about her two ex-racehorses. She told me, “There are a few different reasons why I fell in love with thoroughbreds and why I decided I wanted one – or several. One reason being I have a very quirky warmblood mare who I absolutely adore but who’s attitude to work isn’t the best. So I knew I wanted to find another horse that was more trainable and that I could continue to learn with. Another reason is I met Beccy Green who owns the gorgeous Fruity O’Rooney. I went to a jump training clinic with them and I just loved his zest for life and attitude to work and I loved following Beccy’s journey with him. I knew then that I had to find myself my own racer.”
No two racehorses are the same and that is evident in Katie’s horses, Grumeti and Maximum Vision, “I have two very different ex-racehorses that had very different careers. I have Grumeti who was very well known, raced for 7 years. He was owner by the McNeill family and trained by Alan King. He’s won on the flat, on the all weather, over hurdles and over fences. So he was a real dual purpose horse. He’s probably most well known for his Cesarewitch win in 2015 and his Grade 1 Anniversary hurdle win at Aintree. I had Grumeti straight from Alan’s yard 2 years ago. He was gifted to me by Max & Paula McNeill who were regular guests at the restaurant I used to work in, I’d told them to let me know when they had a nice horse finishing its career, so they asked me to take on Grumeti and I went with Max to watch one of Grumeti’s last races at Kempton. I can’t thank them enough for letting me have him.”
In his career, Grumeti won eleven races and over £300,000 in prize money, which meant that he had quite a following. National Hunt horses, typically, race for a longer amount of time than flat horses and fans become attached, which creates a certain amount of pressure on those who take on successful racehorses in their retirement, “I went through a tricky stage of learning to deal with the pressure I felt from having a well known horse. The first time I took him to a dressage competition someone recognized him from his racing days and I felt an immense pressure to do him justice and make his fans proud. So I went through a tough stage or never really feeling good enough for the horse.”
Judging from Katie’s social media, these two are made for each other and Katie has done an excellent job with him after nearly losing him, “We’ve been through a lot together, I nearly lost him in December 2018 due to an unusual type of colic that resulted in issues with his colon, kidneys and liver. So to come out the other side of that, continue to improve, continue to have fun and continue to learn together is pretty special.” Since Grumeti finished racing in 2017, the pair have competed in multiple one day events, getting double clears, and became a wonderful partnership. The bond you can create with an ex-racehorse is what Katie considers to be the most rewarding thing, “First and foremost the bond you get with the horse. When I first got Grumeti I didn’t really click with him, but as time has gone on and we have developed as a combination, the bond has become something that I’ve never experienced before… I’ve loved the whole journey with him, he’s been a fantastic teacher to me and nothing beats the feeling of coming over the cross country finish line at a one day event, knowing that you’ve taught that horse his new job and that he has gone out there and enjoyed it and tried his best for you.”
Katie’s other ex-racehorse is Maximum Vision, now known as Baby. Baby’s career couldn’t have been much more different to Grumeti’s, “Baby has a very different story, he raced 5 times at a 3 year old and really didn’t show much talent or love for the sport. So my mum purchased him from his trainer Clare Ellam. Clare is an equine physio as well as a trainer and she still comes to treat my horses. So it’s lovely that she still gets to see Baby. He was owned by the Vision Syndicate and I send them regular updates on how he is doing.” With Baby only being five years old, working with him is a new experience for Katie in comparison to what she encountered with Grumeti. So, she has had to take a different approach, “I cracked straight on with Grumeti’s retraining as he has the kind of brain and body that benefitted from working. Where as Baby had 18 months of pretty much just field time to grow and mature before he felt mentally and physically ready to work.”
For some horses, they struggle to handle the transition between racehorse to riding horse. They go from working every day in a routine to a new environment, “When he [Grumeti] first finished racing he really struggled with the change in routine, diet, exercise etc and he lost a lot of weight and looked quite poor. So learning to manage his weight and keep him happy and healthy whilst he adjusted to his new life was a challenge.”
The same goes for the riding style, as Katie explained, “How a horses muscles are worked and conditioned for racing is very different to that of a leisure/event/dressage/show jumping horse. So because of that we have found that certain things are hard, like getting the canter work to be more adjustable, teaching the horse to bend correctly, the lateral work (leg yield, shoulder in etc). But I think the biggest thing for me, that I feel like I’m constantly working to improve is teaching Grumeti to jump like a show jumper, rather than a hurdler. It’s a very different style of jumping for him and is something that needs constant reminders.”
Once training is underway and the horse and rider are comfortable together, there is the option to go out competing. The ‘Retraining Of Racehorses’ (RoR) organisation run classes and events exclusively for ex-racehorses to compete in. Launched in 2000, RoR is Racing’s official charity, which raises funds from within the industry. They provide information and education for owners and trainers to help with the rehoming and retraining of racehorses once they have finished their careers. They use the donations to fund overseeing the care of vulnerable former racehorses and a large part of their work is running competitions and educational events for owners of ex-racehorses in a multitude of disciplines.
For example, there is the RoR/NTF Retrained Racehorse Eventing Championship, which is held at the beginning of August at Gatcombe Park. In 2019, it was won by Tina Cook riding David Cricket, who ran three times for Alan King. In Dressage, there is the Elite Dressage Performance Award Series, won by Quadrille, who is owned by The Queen and placed at Royal Ascot, ridden by Louise Robson, in 2019. However, there is still plenty on offer at a lower level, all around the country. Katie’s horses are both RoR registered, “I placed third [on Grumeti] in an RoR section at a one day event at Shelford Mannor Horse Trials. I was hoping to aim for the National Champs at Aintree this year before the Corona Outbreak.”
On the opening day of the Cheltenham Festival, attendees were lucky enough to see some old favourites parading as part of the Retraining Of Racehorses Parade. Taking part were Cue Card, Annacotty, Master Minded, Saphir Du Rheu, Barber Shop, Coneygree, Dodging Bullets, The New One and Monbeg Dude. As a racegoers, it was fabulous to see these stunning horses back at the racecourse and showcasing how amazing racehorses can be in their retirement. These horses take part in various different disciplines and are successful in them. Like I said at the beginning, 7000 racehorses leave racing each year and there will be a range of horses in there – some could’ve been as talented as the aforementioned but the majority just need a new career and a good home. There are plenty of trainable racehorses out there if you know where to look.
For example, Retraining Of Racehorses; HERO’S Charity, which aims to give horses a “new life after racing”; Racehorse Rehoming Centre and The Racehorse Sanctuary have rehoming pages on their websites (listed at the bottom of this section of the article) to get information and find out horses in need of a home. The Racehorse Sanctuary is based in West Sussex and released a plea this week for donations as their fundraising events have had to be cancelled due to the Coronavirus. They look after and retrain roughly twenty-five racehorses at one time but have had to turn horses away due to lack of funding. You can donate at https://t.co/ukC1kHmdTA?amp=1
A common and incorrect assumption is that a lot of racehorses go to slaughter when they finish their careers, which in 99.9% of cases is not true. The new ‘Welfare Report’, put together by the BHA which will entail an increase in tracking of racehorses throughout their lives – not just when racing but in their retirement too. Racehorse welfare is the most important thing as the horses are the stars of the show. This, in my opinion, is a hugely important new development and can only be a good thing.
If you like the idea of rehoming a racehorse, it is important you know you would have the time, skills and facilities to do them justice. Katie’s advice is, “My advice would be to make sure you have a good base of knowledge and experience. To make sure you have a good support network, friends, trainers, physio, dentist, vet & farrier. And to be humble, never be too proud to ask for help. Every horse is different and there’s a lot of people out there that think things with ex-racers should be done a certain way. But in my experience no two horses are the same and there’s no textbook on how to retrain a horse.”
In my personal experience, I have dealt with a few ex-racehorses and they have all been lovely, genuine creatures. In the right care, as shown with Katie and Grumeti, racehorses can really flourish. When I’ve got a few more years of dealing with horses under my belt and more money, I can’t wait to find an ex-racehorse to call my own!
I’d like to thank Katie for answering my questions and helping me highlight how wonderful ex-racehorses are. I wish her, Grumeti and Baby lots more great days in the future!
Retraining Of Racehorses – https://www.ror.org.uk/
HEROS Charity – http://www.heroscharity.org/
Racehorse Rehoming Centre – http://racehorserehoming.co.uk/home.html
The Racehorse Sanctuary http://www.racehorsesanctuary.org/
Readers’ Ex-Racehorse Stories
This article is to celebrate ex-racehorses and I wanted to get our readership and my followers in on that. So, here are some of your ex-racehorses loving life after their time on the track…
“I once owned a retrained racehorse and he was wonderful, personally I think, although they can be difficult at times, they’re some of the best horses to work with. Colin, who’s race name was Consult, is one of the friendliest and well mannered horses I’ve ever had the pleasure of owning. He was bred and first owned by Sir Mark Prescott. Before me he was owned by a young girl who retrained him to be an eventer and he had many successes in his new job. When he came to me I planned on continuing his eventing and had also planned on one day making it to a big horse trials. I managed to do some schooling with him but there was never really a time I could do any hard schooling, due to others that would come into the arena when I tried to. He was always keen to learn to things, he was very honest and would never really back down from anything put in front of him.
Then, due to an accident I was unable to ride and had no confidence. This is when I put him on loan, some people came to try him out and once again was a gentleman and really worked hard. Then, due to unforeseen circumstances, I unfortunately had to sell Colin. He meant a great deal to me and I was heartbroken that I couldn’t get him to his full potential, he is now happily living with another lady who is getting him to that potential. He is now doing dressage and show jumping up to 120cm. In my own opinion I feel that Ex Racehorses are by far the best horses to own and the easiest to re-train. Finally, I think the thing I can thank Colin for the most is helping my anxiety problems, being my best friend and being my shoulder to cry on. I will always be grateful for him.”
“Cello’s racing name is Blue Horizon Bay, he only competed as a youngster in very few races not winning or even placing! We found out that in his last race his jockey jumped off and we have no idea why. He was then being re trained to show jump and then brought over from Ireland to continue that training but there was nobody to do it after the main trainer got pregnant. He was such a star with impeccable manners so was ridden mainly by children for a year but had lovely paces. He had quite a few back and hip problems from racing so he had a chiropractor and physio therapist and had now improved by leaps and bounds. He loves his work and is full of potential because of his huge amount of talent. We are hoping to do some dressage and show jumping in the future and planning to take him to college with me (if I get in) where there will be lots more opportunities waiting for us!”
Stuart @ Abacus Bloodstock
“We have 3 ex racers plus of course our 4 broodmares who all raced. We have our 1st bred racer Pancake Day who won 8 races in UK and Europe. Loving life as a GP horse. His field mate is Imperial Bond who was injured at 3. We also help to rehome any we bred and sold if needed.”
“I’ve got 4 ex racers, Arthur, Lou Lou, Jim and Strudel – all great characters and fun – they go from 6yo to 21yo. They all raced and are pretty pants but wouldn’t swap them for the world.”
“We love our ex racers and have quite a few. Here’s one Tam Lin and that’s Frankie Detorri on board. He’s got a fab home now and is spoilt rotten. Semi retired but we don’t mind. He’s done his work. Also, there’s Desert Recluse.”
“I have 4 at the moment. I rehab and retrain former racehorses. Here are; Morro Castle (being retrained for showing/dressage/eventing), Battalion (staying with me for showing), Kubeba (staying with me for dressage), Clandestine Affair (currently being rehabbed for rehoming).”
“3 horses I owned whilst in racing now have their retirement home with me albeit unfortunately one had to be put to sleep 2 weeks ago due to stomach cancer, their names are Tariq Too (he is the horse that appears with Kate Whinslet for Longines adverts) Whotsit and Majestic Moon.”