Everything you need to know when buying an ex racehorse

brown horse, the dark side of racing, euthanasia, buying an ex racehorse
Prefer to listen to this post?

I think it’s fantastic to see that buying an ex racehorse is becoming more popular all the time. I personally couldn’t imagine owning anything else and I have been asked so many times for my thoughts and top tips on buying ex racehorses. I recently realised this is not something I have ever actually written about here. I have touched upon it in places and looked at certain areas in detail. But not in a clear way. So in this post I am going to cover the basics of everything you need to know when buying an ex racehorse. From why I think they are great and their bad reputation, to if you are a good fit for an ex racehorse and where you can find one.

Why do ex racehorses make good horses?

Thoroughbreds have been selectively bred for centuries for speed and athleticism. This makes them the fastest and fittest horses in the world. But their genetics can also be good for other disciplines. Thoroughbreds play a big role in sports horse breeding programs with about 35% of Hanoverian genes coming from thoroughbreds. Thoroughbred blood is still particularly desirable in Eventing, where stamina is a big factor in the Cross Country phase.

Ex racehorses have the potential to go onto a second successful career. It is not unusual to see ex racehorses competing at top level Eventing with Badminton in particular having a prize for the highest placed ex racehorse. But thanks to the work done by Retraining of Racehorses (RoR) there are more and more opportunities in other disciplines such as showing, show jumping and dressage.

Arctic Soul Baminton (burghley horse trials) buying an ex racehorse
Ex racehorse Arctic Soul competing at Badminton

Why are ex racehorses so cheap?

On the whole, ex racehorses are cheaper than your typical riding horse. Usually when it comes to buying horses we have the opinion that a cheap horse is usually a bad horse. I agree with this to an extent, a cheap horse is cheap for a reason. But when it comes to buying an ex racehorse, I don’t think they are cheap for a bad reason. I think there are 3 reasons why ex racehorses tend to be cheap; they need to sell, they need work and they have a bad reputation.

Ex racehorses need to be sold

Once the decision is made to retire a racehorse, unless they are going to stud, they are essentially worthless. It costs far more to keep them at a training yard than they will ever make from selling them. So owners and trainers will want to move them on to a new home as soon as they can. Many will often give the horse away to a good home or sometimes just ask for as little as £1 so that money has changed hands for a sale contract.

They need work

Racing is very different to other disciplines. So when a horse retires from racing, they need time and training to help them adapt to a new career. Some will adapt quickly and will be able to start competing at a low level in a matter of months, others will take a lot longer to get to the same point. If you are buying an ex racehorse straight from racing, they will likely be cheaper than a horse who has been out of racing a while and has started their retraining.

Ex racehorses have a bad reputation

Each year ex racehorses and thoroughbreds are becoming more popular again, but for years they ad a terrible reputation. Many still consider them dangerous, difficult and injury prone. Now while this reputation will have come from somewhere, I personally think this reputation comes from ex racehorses having the wrong homes after racing. I love them, but they are not for everyone.

Scottie jumping steps cross country. buying an ex racehorse

Should you be buying an ex racehorse?

Just because they can make great horses and are cheap, doesn’t mean they are for everyone. When you buy a dog, we are encouraged to research breeds to see what breed will suit us and our lifestyle. But for many, especially first time horse owners, this logic doesn’t carry across to horses. Before buying an ex racehorse you should really consider whether an ex racehorse is the right horse for you.

Thoroughbreds are finely tuned athletes, bred to be competing in a high intensity sport. Ex racehorses are used to a fast paced life and will be incredibly fit when they retire. Even once they are retrained for a new career, they are more likely to thrive in regular work and can be fresh or “naughty” with too much time off. This alone means they aren’t suitable for everyone and I would never recommend one for a novice.

If they haven’t started any retraining, you will need to do all this yourself. Many trainers and coaches will say that retraining a horse is harder than training a young horse. This is because you have to undo a lot of what they already know before teaching them the new things. It can be hard work, it’s frustrating, it goes wrong and sometimes you feel like you are never going to get to where you want to be. If you aren’t sure you are up to this challenge, look at horses who have already been retrained or other types of horse.

In my experience, I don’t find thoroughbreds to be wimpy. They are accident prone, they are thin skinned and they can be difficult to feed. So if you are unsure about any of these things, there are other types of horses who are less likely to have these issues.

Where to buy an ex racehorse?

If you are set on buying an ex racehorse, there are several different places you can buy one from depending on what you are looking for. If you are willing and able to retrain the horse yourself you can look at getting a horse from an auction or directly from the owner/trainer. If you want one who has already had some retraining and is more established in their new career, then you can look at rehoming centres and private sellers.

scottie doing dressage canter photo

Other things to consider when buying an ex racehorse

Ex racehorses can come with more “baggage” than the average horse. This could be mental or physical baggage and shouldn’t cause you too many problems. But it is something to consider when you are buying an ex racehorse as it might stop them being suitable for you.

Mental Baggage

They will have grown up with a strict routine what can be very different to the life of the typical riding horse. It might take them time to adjust to their new routine and some things we expect from our riding horses to do are completely alien to ex racehorses. They might struggle with certain yard set ups and routines, which might mean they aren’t the horse you are looking for.

Racehorses are rarely tied up on the yard, exercised on their own or stand at a mounting block. So you will need to introduce these things slowly to keep them calm and both of you safe. While more and more owners and trainers are turning their horses out, some will still find a lot of turnout overwhelming. They may not have been turned out with others since before they started training.

Racehorses spend a lot more time stabled than your average riding horse. So they might be more likely to show stress related behaviours such as weaving or box walking. Especially first thing in the morning when they expect to start working. They might not cope well with being one of the last horses being seen to in the mornings, especially at the start.

Physical Baggage

Racing is a physically demanding sport and it’s not unsurprising that many horses retire with wear and tear on their bodies. But wear and tear, especially on a horse what retired sound, shouldn’t be a huge problem for the typical riding horse. If you are looking to compete at a higher level then it might be a reason to look elsewhere.

Common problems in retired racehorses are; tendon injuries, rotated pelvis, bucked shins and stomach ulcers. It’s also important to consider that thoroughbreds often have a long and downhill conformation. Not only can this make certain disciplines harder for them, but it can put more strain on certain parts of their body, putting them at a higher risk of injury. As I’ve already said, if they retired sound, none of these things would worry me as they can be managed and improved.

Last Updated on 09/08/2021

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.