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Opinion: Life after the races

The six horses who lost their life this week at Cheltenham Festival have brought the media’s attention back to the high fatality rate in horse racing.

Cheltenham may be the “deadliest” race course in Britain but there is a problem within the wider sport of horse racing, with 194 deaths recorded by Horse Death Watch at racecourses in the United Kingdom since the start of 2017. But what happens to the horses who make it to retirement without breaking their necks?

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The issue with horse racing does not stop at the unnecessary number of deaths of horses each year. The many horses who survive their career as a race horse and make it to retirement are often left with ailments that will affect them for the rest of their life, and that’s if they’re lucky enough to be re-homed after retirement. After spending their life earning money for their owners and entertaining racegoers, they can end up giving their life to the “knacker man”  and be served as the dog’s dinner. The given justification for killing these thoroughbreds is that with  5,000 horses a year that retire from racing, it would not be possible to house them all. Not much of a pension scheme after working their whole life in a wealthy business.

Of course, there are also many cases where a horses’ retirement means more than a trip to the slaughter house. Retired mares might find their new homes at stud farms, where they will help to produce the next generation of racehorses. Mares that produce foals with good blood lines are a vital asset to breeders and can get use to the life of luxury while they’re able to produce offspring.

There are also several charities that re-home, retrain and rehabilitate retired racehorses such as HEROS, Greatwood Charity, The Thoroughbred Rehabilitation Centre and  Retraining of Racehorses (RoR). These charities are vital as they often promote the need respect the lives of these animals that have been assets all their life’s and now find their self useless to their owners.

Armature and professional equestrians will often take on the challenge of  retraining a racehorse for other disciplines such as cross country where speed plays a key component. This isn’t without it’s challenges as these horses have spent their whole lives training to race and often pick up habits that are hard to shake.

There are also owners who keep their horses when their racing days are over and turn them out to graze for the rest of their days. Some owners will have known their horses from birth and forged strong connection with them.  Keeping retired horses can be expensive but that’s the price for a clear conscience. If you can’t justify paying to keep an animal it’s whole life, should you have one at all?

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