The term ‘Retraining of Racehorses’ (RoR) was first coined by the horse welfare charity that was set up to retrain and rehome retired racehorses to give them a life after the track – and with its success, it has paved the way for industry professionals as well as many horse owners to see the potential that ex-racehorses have to offer.
In this 3 Part series, we speak to some of the professionals who have successfully retrained racehorses to learn how they manage them when they first come off the track, how they start training them for their new role in life and how they prepare them for competition.
Part 1 tackles the main challenges that an ex-racehorse may face when they first comes off the track and tips for making this transition as easy as possible for them. But before we hear from the professionals, let’s meet them;
Katie Jerram – Katie, who is based in Essex, is one of the UK’s most successful showing competitors, producing ridden horses across all categories. Katie has retrained possibly the most famous RoR in the Showing World, The Queen’s Barber Shop. Barber Shop has won just about every accolade going, including this year’s Supreme of Show at Royal Windsor Horse Show. During his racing career, Barber Shop who was trained by Nicky Henderson, won almost £150,000! Just after a year after leaving racing he won the RoR Championships at Royal International Show in 2013.
Brian & Jackie Storey: Retrained Racehorses – Having set up Retrained Racehorses in 2015, Brian and Jackie have enjoyed training horses off the track full time from their base in Cumbria. To date, their biggest star has been Cinders and Ashes who in his previous career won over £100,000 including the Grade 1 Novice Hurdle at Cheltenham in 2011 under Donald McCain’s watchful eye. From their centre, they have successfully retrained horses for all disciplines such as hacking, eventing, dressage and show jumping.
Louise Robson: Thoroughbred Dressage (TB) – Set in the Buckinghamshire Countryside, TB have a philosophy that no horse should be pushed faster/further than what they are capable of doing mentally and or physically. Each horse’s training programme is based on their individual needs and everything is done so that the horse is happy, fit and enjoys their work. One of their notable horse's is Quadrille (owned by HM the Queen!) who in 2011 came 2nd at Royal Ascot and is now currently competing at Advanced Medium.
So the first question we asked the professionals, is what would they look for when they first get a horse off the track?
Louise Robson: I would first check the soundness of the horse, their temperament and to a certain extent their conformation – however, at the end of the day as an ex-racehorse, they would have been built for speed! My team and I would also do our research and find out as much about the horse’s temperament, especially when it was at its peak fitness from the previous groom or trainer as possible. In particular, we want to know how the horse is to deal with on the ground, what it’s like when out galloping, is it cold backed and do they have to go upfront? So that there are less surprises when we start retraining. We would also want to find out why the horse is leaving racing, particularly to identify whether there are any bleeding or tendon problems or any other injuries that we should be aware of and have checked out before work starts. Age of the horse is less important as for example, a young horse could be more flighty as they are usually sprinters and would also have a lot of growing left to do, whereas an older horse could already have better manners, but possibly more issues with soundness.
Katie Jerram – I would look for horses with good confirmation, good movement and seemingly good manners to work with!
Brian & Jackie Storey – In addition to behavioural and soundness issues we would assess which discipline would suit the ex-racehorse best so that we can tailor the training programme to fit.
We also asked the professionals, whether they would give the horse a break before retaining started?
Brian & Jackie Storey – Yes, no matter what time of year, they have time out in the field to relax them, though during the winter, they might be stabled overnight. Their time off could last a couple of weeks to a couple of months depending on any injury or behavioural issue we need to deal with.
Louise Robson – It totally depends on the horse. Usually, if the horses is at peak fitness and did its last race a week ago, it would stay in work such as riding the horse away and a lot of hacking to wind the horse down first before it goes out in the field. All our horses go out in the field eventually, but we make this transition based on the horse’s mentality as some struggle if they are turned away too soon. They also get lots of mini breaks in their first year of training to help keep them relaxed. The horse get seen by the physio, dentist and farrier to give them a check over before the retraining starts and when it does, we start with little steps such as being led in a headcollar rather than a chifney.
Katie Jerram – If they have come to us straight off the track they will be super fit so they need time to let the brain and body come down. To help them unwind, we turn them out in the field as ideally, we want a ‘blank canvas’ to work with to start to rebuild the new process of life correctly.
Finally, we asked, how would you manage a horse which may have been on living in on a high compound diet?
Katie Jerram – A change of diet is very difficult for a horse to cope with, even just being turned out is a massive change! Therefore, we would want to know the feed they were on previously and wean them off slowly as they are likely to drop off weight quickly if you just stop altogether. Over time, we would drop them right down accordingly to chaffs and then steadily introduce slow release energy, low sugar feeds. Ulcers are renowned throughout racing so we would get the horse checked out by a vet and a nutritionist. We would also check that their worming programmes are up to scratch and check internally that the horse is ok after their 6 months off, so that we can start building up new muscle tone correctly. The feet are also an important consideration as everything can fall apart if you make drastic changes to the diet. The key is to do everything gradually and focus on slow release energy feeds rather than high energy. Focus on the feed rather than adding too many extra supplements to provide what the horse needs – however, a gut balancer is the exception.
Louise Robson – The feed doesn’t get cut back straight away to avoid upsetting the horse’s gut. We start off with offering as much roughage as possible and then slowly introduce SPILLERS Horse and Pony Cubes together with SPILLERS Conditioning Fibre. We feed little and often so not to overload the gut and many of our horses get some of their cubes in a treat ball to trickle feed them – which also helps to keep them occupied at the same time. Gastric Ulcers are of a high concern with ex-racehorses so they have to be managed nutritionally in the right way which is why it’s so important to introduce a lot of fibre. Finally, we try and cut back their very high protein and starch diets as we’ve seen many come out in protein lumps if not reduced.
That’s it for Part 1 in this RoR Series and we hope you’ve enjoyed hearing from the professionals about managing racehorses as they first come off the track. If you too are retaining an ex-racehorse and have any advice to share, please leave a comment as we’d love to hear about your experience too. Part 2 in this RoR Series will delve in to starting work and will be available in a fortnight’s time.