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Some of you may know, that I am meant to be using my Summer Holidays for making a start on my dissertation. So far, this hasn’t happened… So I thought, instead I would tell you exactly what my ex racehorse related dissertation is about.
What am I looking at?
For my dissertation I will be looking at what factors in a horse’s racing career affect how well it adapts to a new career. I have chosen this for a few reasons. The first being that it is something I am genuinely interested in. Another reason is, that if I do see a pattern, it could be potentially used as a way to help match new owners with horses leaving racing.
Factors in the racing career I will be looking at are; how long were they racing/training, were they national hunt/ flat/ point to point and possibly looking at pedigree. I will then look at various things about the horse now such as whether its competing and the owners opinion on how well it has adapted.
My research is now complete and you can read the finished paper here!
My Official Research Proposal
The racing industry is a huge part of the British Economy, being the second biggest spectator sport, after football in the UK (Deloitte, 2013.) Each year between 4000 and 5000 thoroughbreds retire from racing (Barnett, 2006.) for a variety of reasons including; injury, age, lack of ability and to go to stud. The number of thoroughbreds retiring each year is roughly the same number of thoroughbred foals produced in Britain each year. (BHA, 2014.) Many of these horses are very young compared to horses retiring from other disciplines, the majority retire before 8 years of age for no negative reason (ROR, 2015a.) The main reason for retiring a racehorse is that it is not performing well enough to justify the expensive upkeep, (ROR, 2015a.) or to retire to stud where top stallions can earn £10 million a year (Keogh, 2012.)
Top event riders have been using ex racehorses for years. Recently the gelding Kauto Star, a top level National Hunt horse, has been retired and is being retrained for dressage by event rider Laura Collett (Wilson, 2013.) However, these horses have a bad reputation for being difficult and dangerous in the amateur end of the industry (Animal Aid, 2014.). This is largely because these owners have limited knowledge of what life is like for a racehorse and how stressful it can be to completely change their lifestyle. Ex racehorses can be purchased straight from the track for a fraction of the price of many warm bloods, making them accessible for all riders and owners in the industry (Horse and Hound, 2012.) However, this combination of cheap, top class athletes and inexperienced hands leads to safety and welfare risks for horse, handler and third parties. Even though this is a problem all over the world, the UK is one of the few countries where the thoroughbred has a bad reputation. More research into this area could improve the welfare and safety for all those involved in retraining of racehorses.
Retraining of Racehorses (ROR) is a charity organisation which aims to improve the welfare of horses which have retired from racing (ROR, 2015b.) With funding from the racing industry, it works to retrain and rehome racehorses as well as educating riders and handlers. (ROR, 2015c.) Over the past few years ROR competitions have started to become popular and encourage the amateur riders to get involved. This has in turn led to more ex racehorses getting homes where they can have a new career. ROR believe with the right training and the right rider any horse can be retrained to any discipline (ROR, 2014.). The ROR organisation also offers guidance and clinics for new and old owners to help avoid common problems (ROR, 2015c.) This has already started to improve the amateur rider’s opinion on thoroughbreds, with some specifically looking for horses which qualify for ROR classes. There are also charities supported and funded by ROR which aim to rehome horses straight off the track or retrain and rehome these horses. (ROR, 2015d.) However, there is very little research into the best way to retrain and rehome these horses, or what factors from the horses past may influence how well it adapts to a new career.
If this research discovers factors within a horse’s racing career which affects how easily a horse adapts to a new career, this could be used as a tool to improve how riders choose and purchase ex racehorses. This information could also be used to indicate what career a horse may be suited to or if they are going to be particularly difficult, which is vital for improving welfare and safety. Many charities, such as Final Furlong racehorses, vet potential homes for their horses; more research into the area could help with this process. (Final Furlong Racehorses, 2015.)
Horses with a longer racing career spend more of their life in the racing environment. This means that these horses will potentially find adapting to a new, quieter, lifestyle stressful. (Horse and Hound, 2013.) New owners must be prepared for this and have knowledge to deal with any potential stress behaviours the horse may display. There has been lots of research into stress behaviours in racehorses which has suggested that lack of social contact and high concentrate diets lead to these stress behaviours. (Redbo et al, 1998.) The longer their racing career they are also more likely to have stiffness in the limbs (Butcher and Ashley-Ross, 2002.) or problems in the back (The Horse’s Back, 2015.), which may not cause them problems, but could make new disciplines harder. It is unlikely that these horses will have any top line or ever been worked in an outline, therefore new disciplines can be confusing and they will need time to build the correct muscle (Mcllwraith et al, 2003.)
Flat horses are unlikely to have ever been asked to jump anything before (ROR, 2015e.), therefore they may struggle to adapt to a new career involving jumping. Whereas a National Hunt or Point-to-Point horse will have done plenty of jumping before and many would have hunted in the early stages of their career (Point to Point, 2015.) Therefore, in theory they would adapt well to jumping related careers, however the racing style of jumping is very different to other disciplines. Flat horses tend to have a less natural lifestyle, with very little turn out and are unlikely to be turned out with other horses. Whereas National Hunt horses tend to have more turnout and many trainers do turn several horses out together (Curtis, 2015.) Therefore they may adapt better to a more natural lifestyle.
As within all disciplines, pedigree is linked to performance, with certain stallions being popular or certain disciplines. (Equusite, 2015.) Therefore, certain racing stallions or bloodlines could be good in other disciplines. Another thing to consider is temperament and if different bloodlines produce good or bad temperaments. (Olsson et al, 2000.) If some stallions are recognised as producing good horses in different disciplines, they could be something to look for when buying an ex racehorse.
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