The ex-racehorse market explained and where to find one

the ex racehorse market
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In recent years ex-racehorses have become increasingly popular. Today Andrew from Whickr looks at why they have become so popular and where you can find one.

Buying an ex-racehorse was once reserved for former jockeys or brave event riders. As time progressed, these fiery, hot-blooded thoroughbreds have become a popular staple throughout the equestrian community. In this article we are going to explain how the ex-racehorse market works and where to find one.

The ex-racehorse market explained

To explain why there is a blossoming market for ex-racehorses we have to break it down into five sub categories;  

  1. A successful racing industry
  2. The invention of RoR and other rehoming charities
  3. Super fans of ex-racehorses
  4. Social proof
  5. Continuous education and support

A successful racing industry

The UK is arguably the most successful and profitable racing industry globally. According to The Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association, Great Britain has the highest proportion of world-class thoroughbreds relative to the total number of thoroughbred births, racing is the second most popular sport in Britain, and the total economic contribution of horseracing to the UK economy is estimated at £3.5 billion with over 85,000 jobs supported by the industry. 

With a successful industry, the number of racehorses retired each year is approximately 5,000 – that’s a lot of horses. Whilst some may be unfit to ride, there are many racehorses who simply aren’t fast enough or are retired due to old age – retirement age differs, but ten years old would be considered old in the racing industry – an age which would be considered the start of their prime in other disciplines. 

Whilst in 2021, rehoming of ex-racehorses is a common event, in 1998-99, a period of review and consultation within the British racing industry concluded that there was evidence of racehorses requiring charitable intervention on welfare grounds subsequent to their retirement from racing. And so, in April 2000, Retraining of Racehorses (RoR) was founded. 

Retraining of Racehorses (RoR) 

The successful racing industry supplies ex-racehorses; however, to be rehomed as ridden horses, a middle person between the racing yards and potential rehomers is required to provide the basic training before ex-racehorses are rehomed. Training that will include simple tasks like standing still at the mountain block, something a racehorse in training is unlikely to be asked. 

The founding of RoR and other rehoming charities professionalised the after-track help for racehorses, providing rehabilitation and training. Equally as important, rehoming charities provide a scalable solution to the problem of what to do with racehorses after racing. Most trainers likely have hundreds of horses in work and rehoming ex-racehorses takes a considerable amount of time; retraining, assessment, advertisement and viewings, are some of the main tasks. The creation of rehoming charities removes the rehoming responsibility from the trainers and increases the potential of horses finding a suitable new home. 

In recognition of their work, rehoming charities are heavily supported by the big names in the racing industry, RoR for example is well supported by Sheikh Mohammed, and Godolphin Thoroughbred Rehoming is a scheme founded by Godolphin Racing, the world’s largest thoroughbred racing and breeding team. 

Super fans of ex-racehorses

With supply and a professional process established to turn ex-racehorses into ridden horses, next up are the super fans of ex-racehorses. Super fans exist at the start of any trend; a group of people seeing value in something that the wider society is yet to agree on. It is likely back in the early 00s and earlier, the homes found for ex-racehorses had some connection to the industry, even if it is by a couple of degrees of separation; former jockeys, stable employees, relatives of racing employees and so on.  

When the super fans are seen out competing, enjoying fun rides and hunting; popularity of ex-racehorses continues to grow due to a phenomenon called social proof. 

Ex-racehorses earnt social proof

Social proof is the idea that people copy the actions of others to get similar results. In the rise of the ex-racehorse, to go from niche to mainstream, ex-racehorses need to be seen by others to perform successfully as ridden horses, be it hacking, hunting or any other discipline. Luckily, ex-racehorses being bred to perform didn’t disappoint. The success of ex-racehorses in non-racing disciplines is most prevalent in eventing – going back tens of decades. However, not every ex-racehorse has the ability to make it as a top eventer and not every equestrian has the ambition of riding around Badminton. What has really spurred the growth in popularity of ex-racehorses is because they have proved themselves to be competent horses for amateurs on a budget. 

And it made perfect sense. Amateur equestrians on a budget are always looking for affordable yet quality horses and ex-racehorse match that criteria. 

Continuous education and support

Finally, for ex-racehorses to remain popular or grow in popularity even further this requires continuous education and support. RoR classes are a prime example of recognising the talent of ex-racehorses but also support for the horses after-track. Creating a competitive environment to allow ex-racehorses to thrive creates more purpose and desire to own an ex-racehorse. 

In the current world we live, sustainability is as relevant as profit. The social good that comes from rehoming ex-racehorses is considered of higher value than it would have been twenty years ago. 

With the reasons identified to understand how the ex-racehorse market has been created and flourished. Next we look at where to find an ex-racehorse. 

Where to find an ex-racehorse

There are three main routes to find an ex-racehorse; rehoming centres and charities, auctions, and racing yards. 

Horse rehoming centres and charities

Retraining centres and charities are a great place to look, especially if you’re new to thoroughbreds or aren’t ready to buy a horse fresh off the track. Not only do these charities ensure that the horses are schooled and ready for a post-racing life, but they will often help match you to a suitable horse.

The option to have a horse on permanent loan, with the knowledge that it can be returned to the charity should circumstances change, will also be reassuring. Moorcroft Racing Welfare is gifted ex-racehorses which they retrain for long-term working homes.

Prospective re-homers can visit and ride the horses as many times as they like, a situation you won’t find when buying privately or through the auction!

Other centres include HEROS, Godolphin Lifetime Care, The Racehorse Sanctuary, and even World Horse Welfare.

Ex racehorse auctions

Buying an ex-racehorse through an auction can be a daunting prospect but gives you lots of choice in one place. Ascot and Doncaster are the main venues, and you can check racing history and pedigree once you have a catalogue.

While your transaction will have a certain amount of legal protection through the auction house, you will have less time to look at the horse and won’t have the opportunity to go for a ride, therefore this is usually best suited for those who are more experienced or are prepared to take a risk.

Racing yards

The third main source for finding an ex-racehorse is to go directly to a trainer. Nowadays trainers will sometimes advertise retiring horses on their social media feeds, but if you are looking and not in a rush it could be worth contacting a local trainer with your horse specification and asking them to let you know if something comes available.

The majority of trainers will want the best for horses that have been in their care, and will be prepared to tell you about any history of injury, temperament in the stable, and suitability for different disciplines. Ask to speak to the lad or lass who has the main responsibility for the horse’s day to day care; they will know its quirks and foibles better than anyone.

To wrap up

Ex-racehorses have grown in popularity as ridden horses as a result of a successful racing industry, professionalisation of after-care, and ex-racehorses proving their worth in their new homes and disciplines. There are three main routes for finding an ex-racehorse to rehome; rehoming centres and charities, auctions, and racing yards. Different routes come with separate benefits and potential pitfalls. 

Hopefully the information shared in this blog is helpful and interesting. The market for ex-racehorses and competitions available to them has made amazing progress over the last twenty years, here’s to the next twenty years of support and recognition of these amazing animals!  

About the author

My name is Andrew Amy, I am a co-founder of Whickr, a digital platform for buying and selling horses! Our mission, by harnessing the best technology and design practises, is to build a centralised marketplace that is both easy to use and invaluable. 

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