Thoroughbreds are magnificent creatures, but these racehorses when they first start out on their careers often lead a demanding as well as difficult life. They are athletes and as such have to undergo a great deal of training, eat special diets and because they are always pushed to their limits, racehorses have a tendency to develop some sort of injury. A lot of the time these are serious enough to mean horses can no longer do the job they were bred for – to race against other thoroughbreds on a track.
This leaves thoroughbred owners with a dilemma – what to do with their prized possession? The cost of keeping the horse can be prohibitive and if they are not earning their keep, many owners just cannot justify doing it. This is when owners decide to put racehorses up for adoption through various agencies and rescue centres. As long as the right person comes along who meets all the necessary criteria, ex-racers fall on their feet, they get to retire from the track and live in a yard with other privately owned horses in a more relaxed environment.
This is great news for a thoroughbred, it means they can once again be part of a herd – something they usually can't do when racing. Racehorses don't get to roam in paddocks with other horses for fear of them getting injured – although some trainers these days have realised a horse that's allowed to go out to grass and cavort in a field is a happier animal, and the result is they perform better on the track – but people in the business who think like this are few and far between.
You can go on the Internet and find lots of racehorse rescue centres listed but try to contact one that is closest to your home. It makes things a lot easier all round if you live closer to the centre than further away. After your initial contact, someone will call out to your home just to see that you can indeed offer a retired thoroughbred a great second chance home. They will want to see where the horse will be stabled, what the paddocks are like and if the fencing is secure. When the rescue centre is satisfied you can offer a horse a safe and good home, then there will be quite a lot of paperwork to go through.
Thoroughbreds are wonderful creatures, but they have quite different temperaments to other horses. Although it is never a good idea to generalise too much, it is safe to say a racehorse just off the track, can be a handful at first. You would need to know how to manage and cope with a thoroughbred before you attempt to offer a home to a retired one. They are definitely not a good choice for a novice rider or anyone who is just getting into horses.
Most rescue centres would not allow a retired racehorse to be adopted by a first timer – but even if they did, you could be making a big mistake by taking on a thoroughbred and the results could be disastrous for both the horse and you. There are many reasons for this, one being the horse will need to be retrained and this has to be done properly. Remember, racehorses are trained to go as fast as they can, mostly in a straight line – this is all they really know, so it would be up to you to teach them the basics. You would need to ask yourself if you are capable and willing to put the time, effort and money into re-training a retired thoroughbred? There are no short cuts and you have to be honest with yourself.
If you think you can cope and are qualified, there are other considerations which have to be taken very seriously. This includes only ever allowing experienced riders to exercise an ex-race horse. Remember, to begin with the horse will not be used to any kind of leisure riding and therefore would not be suitable for children or novice riders to even sit on.
Once these lovely horses retire from the track, it takes them a while to settle down and get used to their new lifestyles and environments. Some retired thoroughbreds never really settle down and these are the ones needing special care and attention. These horses need expert handlers, and it has to be someone who knows and cares about thoroughbreds but who also knows how to handle them. You have to be prepared to put in a lot of time and show a lot of patience with your adopted horse – because they will come to trust you – but remember this takes time.
Ex-racehorses can go on to lead very fruitful and active lives, as long as they have not suffered a serious injury of one sort or another on the track. Many go on to do other disciplines including show-jumping, cross country and dressage. Some even become even better athletes and start playing polo. However, with this said the rescue centre you finally adopt your horse from, would be able to confirm just why the horse was retired from the track and if they should just live out their lives as a happy hack or go on to do something more demanding.
You may want to seek the expert help and advice from someone who retrains horses for a living. As mentioned before, racehorses are trained to run as fast as they can in a straight line – the only real corners they have to cope with are long ones. You would be making a big mistake if you thought a thoroughbred just off the track would understand other leg and hand aids – they understand the basics but nothing more. You have to be prepared to take them right back to the beginning and start all over again – the one advantage you have is the horse is already used to having a rider on their backs.
A lot of ex-racehorses have pretty “hard” mouths – this can be a problem when retraining them. A few people think that by throwing a harder and more severe bit in their mouths will solve the problem. In truth, it's the worse route to take, there are much nicer ways of going about it which includes 'softening up' the horses' mouth so you do have steering and brakes!
If you think you are ready to commit to a wonderful horse that's a true athlete, there are hundreds if not thousands of thoroughbreds out there just waiting to find a loving second chance home. There are also many retired ex-racehorses that would make perfect companions for other horses – definitely something worth thinking about – don't you think?
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