Will Retired Horses Ever Truly Escape the Equestrian Spotlight?

Published 01/12/2024, 1:15 PM EST

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Horses are what frame the equestrian sports. Their presence, actions, and movements play an equal role if not more to that of a human athlete. Some even question an equestrian’s recognition for contribution while the equines present most work. The stance particularly highlights the importance of a horse in the sport and the weighing role they assume through their long careers.

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An entry of a horse into equestrian sports, be it horse racing or recognized disciplines, there exists a chain reaction. Specified breeding – retirement – stud duties- contests, the pattern persists. It has hence been a running question if equestrian horses ever stop being equestrian horses. Do the equines ever go back to just ‘being a horse’ or does their assumption of roles continue beyond?

Years in equestrian career

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A competition horse assumes the role of an athlete somewhere from less than a year to 20 years at times. A typical racehorse performs for an average of 2-3 years as an equine starting at the age of 2. As for the recognized disciplines, the animal athletes enter late to perform till about 20 with a life expectancy of 25-30 years. Once the horses reach a stage appropriate for retirement, they are let go into new phases, regardless of their ages. Factors like unsoundness, behavior, and other health issues form a common cause for retirement, and based on an owner’s interest, the further path is visioned. This phase suggests whether an equine truly gets away from the equestrian spotlight or not.

Roles post-retirement

According to a survey in 2013, funded by the Australian Racing Board, 45% of the Thoroughbreds were retired to breeding farms; an essential step in pattern continuation. While 31% found their way to be rehomed, 7% were reported dead. In the numbers in between, young horses find a newer career. Some of the horses shift careers to take on disciplines such as Dressage or Show Jumping. Sometimes if not for competitions, the equines are used simply for pleasure riding; a role nonetheless.

Additionally, equine therapy is another industry where horses end up. Known as ponies in horse racing for the horses and Equine-assisted services (EAS) for humans, the position is highly regarded. People dealing with emotional, physical, or a combination of challenges are known to receive help from equestrian activities; a study suggests. However, while the majority of post-retirement plans lean toward human decisions, that need not be the case. Understanding an equine and placing its welfare as a priority dwells well.

A step to learn

FEI relays that while humans tend to look forward to retirement, the emotion seldom applies to horses. However, they would very well cherish a moment to slow down and just ‘be a horse’. The queue for the same arrives when an equine starts showing the signs. How they are coping with workload, how they are responding, and the presence of unwillingness provides an answer. The FEI also states that while some horses prefer a quiet life, a working environment and human presence would be the requirement for others. It is thus important to observe an equine’s behavior and think welfare.

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Measures present to lend help

“Never stop learning,” is what Rolex Grand Slam winner Pippa Funnell and advanced event rider Ailsa Wates say talking of equine welfare. The duo also added that shedding light on successful athletes and their practices towards equine welfare could prove to be inspirational. While understanding works well, an external help for resources is an added bonus.

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Organizations like ‘Retired Racehorse Project’ or ‘The Horse Trust’ work to find equines the grounds they need. The former facilitates the placement of ex-racehorses in disciplined careers with right trainers and environment or in the farms as necessitated. As for the latter, the organization provides home for equines from all fields. With thousands of horses facing the risk of reaching a slaughter house or their untimely deaths, a guiding hand is not to be forgone. And through the process, as Pippa says, “I think it’s important that we can all learn – all of us.” 

Watch this story: 2022 KENTUCKY DERBY TRIUMPHANT WITHDRAWN FROM HORSE SALE DUE TO SADDENING HEALTH AFFAIR

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Written by:

Shivatmika Manvi

703Articles

One take at a time

I was a little kid when my dad brought home a second horse out of his sheer love for the creatures. The excitement to ride and care for one from the first moment still gets to me as I watch the horses in action today; covering the intensity on the field. However, along the way of being immersed in the wider ground of equestrian sports, rodeo and bull riding lingered in the sight.
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Edited by:

Sampurna Pal

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