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Life After Racing
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Life After Racing

Every year in the UK around five thousand racehorses leave training to face a very uncertain future. In these times of economic downturn many owners cannot afford the luxury of keeping a racehorse in training, older horses reach the end of their careers, others are simply not fast enough, many are retired through injury and some are simply not suited to the sport for other reasons. The lucky ones with caring owners concerned for their horse's future wellbeing may find themselves gifted to one of the UK's racehorse rehabilitation centres. Others arrive in terrible condition; emaciated, lame or with behavioural issues. The centres welcome them all and none are turned away.

The Thoroughbred Rehabilitation Centre in Lancaster held their annual open day over the weekend and I went along to learn more about the work that they do. The centre is situated in a beautiful rural setting surrounded by acres of rolling post and rail fenced paddocks bordered by narrow belts of woodland and overlooked by the distant blue hills of the Lake District. There is a new indoor arena with a small viewing gallery and stabling for about 25 horses in a large barn arrangement. The centre receives some funding from official sources but most of its income is through donations from the public and the sale of branded merchandise; baseball caps, T shirts, pens and the like.

Open days serve several purposes: raising awareness, fund raising and acting as a shop window for horses ready to be rehomed. There was certainly something for everyone; an animal art exhibition, merchandise for sale, a greyhound rescue stand, a raffle, bouncy castle for the kids and "Bob" the mechanical horse simulator for those who fancied getting in the saddle. Many of the immaculately groomed residents were in their stables clearly enjoying all the attention and activity.

There was a demonstration using two of the rescued horses which illustrated the lengthy process of retraining which each horse must be through before being offered for rehoming. There followed a parade of about half the centre's horses. Every horse is different. Some have old injuries making them only suitable for light hacking or as companions; others have never raced and would make lovely show horses or jumpers while others move well enough to have a second career in the dressage arena. All have their own personalities and quirks and it was fascinating to watch how each reacted to the audience. The horses which were only in the early stages of rehabilitation were left turned out away from all the hustle and bustle as it was thought they might become stressed if exposed to such attention too soon.

Although every horse remains the property of the centre for the whole of its life, the goal is to find lifetime loan homes for them all. Once retraining is complete and the horse is deemed ready for rehoming, its details are placed on the centre's website. Potential foster homes must apply on-line giving details of their previous experience and ability. Anyone wishing to take one of the centre's horses must first complete a riding assessment on the centre's schoolmaster before being introduced to a horse deemed to be suitable for them. If this goes well, the potential home will be inspected and references taken up before the horse is released. The centre currently has a waiting list of about 30 potential homes. Many of the horses are "golden oldies", well into their teens, although still fit, sound and suitable for work. Sadly these are often passed over by potential foster homes in favour of younger animals which is a great shame as an older horse can still offer many years of useful service in the right environment.

Although inspiring and thoroughly enjoyable, I left the centre's horses with a feeling of sadness that this was just a drop in the ocean. So many ex-racehorses having given their best on the track for entertainment and profit will find themselves out in the cold and will not be fortunate enough to become residents of a centre like this one.

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  1. PonyGirl
    PonyGirl
    I enjoyed your article very much today. You are really good with descriptive writing. The center sounds like a lovely place. It was interesting to see that the people receiving the horses do not actually own them, and that they must pass muster before they can take the horses home. It isn't like that here in the states. The only thing similar we have is, when adopting a mustang from the BLM, there are certain guidelines about the facilities the horse will be kept on, but no horsemanship requirements. Once the horse is adopted, ownership transfers to the adopter. The requirements you mention sound like a very good idea to me. There was a no-kill animal shelter on the Marine Base where I worked. Before people were allowed to adopt a dog, they had to fill out a questionnaire about expectancies, experience, and space for the dog. (An Australian shepherd would not be a suitable dog for someone with limited time, living in an apartment, and looking for a relaxing companion.) Since the shelter could legally do this, I'm sure our rescue places could do it as well. Do you have many other types of horses who are becoming unwanted? In the States, with the economy so down, many people are getting rid of their riding horses. Because there is no longer a killer market, and an overflow of horses, many are difficult to sell at any price. Some people are just turning their horses loose. like some people do with cats and dogs. I saw about 5 or 6 cases of this when I was out in California. Someone turned a horse out in our winter pasture on base. This wasn't too bad, since there was abundant grass and other horses on thousands of acres of pasture. The poor horse was obviously unaccustomed to being out, though. She stayed by the gate, pacing back and forth and washing out (sweating profusely from nerves). In other cases I saw on the news, the idiot people turned the horses out in the desert, where wild mustangs would have problems surviving. It was really sad.
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    1. autumnap
      autumnap
      Thank you. The market for riding horses is surprisingly still quite bouyant here. Having said that, there are many equine auctions where unwanted and unsound horses are sold for meat. We have a lot of breed-specific dog rescue societies here but I'm not sure about horses. I'll check it out and perhaps write a blog about it. Many of the horses at the centre I visited have had a number of loan homes. If things don't work out for whatever reason, they're returned to the centre. This isn't ideal but at least it means that their future is assured and they will always have a home there. One horse we saw is 20 years young, looked great and is off to his 7th home this weekend! x
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  2. Rene Wright
    Rene Wright
    Voted. Lovely article! The economy is what is tanking the hopes of horses being in good homes. They say it's doing better, but I have yet to see it. I could understand if a horse was ill or (this will sound bad) but they were not usable to put them down. There needs to be more places like The Center here, though the chances of that happening are slim because of the over run rescues we now have. They do their best on public funding but as you know that only goes so far. I would love to see more places where disabled folks could spend some time learning to ride or just enjoying the horses. Riding centers for those who are less fortunate and cannot afford to pay the high prices I see now for riding lessons.
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    1. PonyGirl
      PonyGirl
      Hi, Rene. Sorry I haven't been checking in lately. I've been putting in 12-14 hour days at the track. One of the main reason riding lessons are so high is the insurance is ridiculous. I would love to give lessons. I have a teaching certificate, I have a facility I can use, and I have the horses, but the cost of the insurance is prohibitive. It really is a shame.
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      1. autumnap
        autumnap
        That's a really good point. I'd love to go for a few lessons but the cost is ridiculous. It would actually be cheaper to have my own horse on DIY livery and ride every day for an hour than go for two half hour lessons at the riding school - ridiculous! x
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    2. autumnap
      autumnap
      Thank you! Yes, there are lots of centres for rescue cases here which are all charities. Some are really struggling as they simply can't find homes for the horses which are old or not rideable. At least the racehorse specific ones receive money and support from the racing industry. x
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