What Happens to Ex Racehorses
Many people assume that ex race horses simply go for slaughter, this is not always true. Sometimes there is life after the racetrack.
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About Ex-Race Horses
Thoroughbred Racehorses are assigned the birth date of January 1 of the year they were born (August 1 in the Southern Hemisphere), and are considered old enough to race as two-year olds. To get them to the racetrack early they sometimes begin training as yearlings. Most other horses are not even ridden until half way through their second year, and still others, such as the warmblood horses and Lipizzaners are not ridden until four or five years of age.
When raced as two year olds, the race is shorter, but faster – a sprint. This is definitely hard on a young horses legs, although not as demanding on the lungs as a 1 mile race would be. Such early racing is one of the reasons thoroughbred race horses break down on the race track. This is compounded by the fact that many horses, at least in North America, are stabled for most of the day, reducing bone density.
Some horses are taken off the track because they just are not fast enough, or do not have the “winning” desire.
Image via Wikipedia
What Happens to Racehorses After Life at the Track
If the horse has broken a leg, which may occur during a race, or while in training, the horse is immediately destroyed. Such horses cannot be sent to slaughter as shipping such a wounded horse would be cruel and inhumane.
If the horse is reasonably sound there are many options for it which are often considered before the choice is made to send it to slaughter.
Hunter/Jumper and Dressage riders often consider taking former racehorses and retraining them provided they are sound.
Chuckwagon racers are happy to buy former racehorses, not only from the Thoroughbred circuit but from the Quarter horse circuit as well. *
National Hunt racers (formerly know as Steeplechasing) will usually take geldings and mares who are not desired for breeding. *
Pleasure Horse buyers often buy former racehorses, typically through groups that rescue racehorses and resell them.
The PMU industry, an industry that keeps mares pregnant for the purpose of collecting urine, will sometimes buy mares.
Some former racehorses, are donated to Colleges. I personally attended Olds College in Alberta where the majority of the mares had been donated from the race track.
Retired for breeding – stallions, and mares, who are seen as being worthy for breeding are kept and retired to the breeding barn.
Put for Adoption – A few lucky ex racehorses are given to charities where they are put for adoption. Sometimes it is the charity that buys the horses from auction sales where the horses are being sent to slaughter, or they buy them directly from the owner/trainer at the track.
Sent for Slaughter. Yes, a good many ex racehorses, those who simply are not fast enough, or who have become lame, are often sent to slaughter. In the United States horses can no longer be slaughtered for human consumption and some people think this means all slaughter houses are closed to horses, but this is not correct. Horses are still slaughtered to be used in pet food (as meatmeal) or for zoo animals. They are also slaughtered in other countries for this, and as food for people.
*Note: Both chuckwagon racing, and national hunt racing, are often considered cruel and dangerous by animal welfare groups. As these are other forms of racing, it is really a continued racing career as opposed to being an ex-race horse. Many of these horses will finish their lives on the track or are sent to slaughter.
There are no accurate statistics for how many horses die on race tracks, many “break down” while in training or are taken off the track as they are not earning their keep (most race horses in fact do not earn what it costs to keep them).
If you have owned, or own, a former racehorse, we would love to hear about it, please use the comments area below to leave a note!
The author studied Racetrack Operations and Procedures while attending College, and worked briefly at a racetrack.