Off the track

We have already looked at the issue of racehorses exiting the industry and the contested statistics over exactly how many find themselves at the knackery – but where else do ex-racehorses wind up? In today’s post I’d like to focus on what is currently on offer around Australia regarding racehorse retraining programs.

Of course for many years ex-racehorses have been re-homed by their trainers and owners, but it’s only in the past five years that more formal programs, affiliated with State-based racing authorities, have been established. Most of them appear to focus on promoting the versatility of ex-racehorses through sponsoring competition events for them, but some direct retraining is also being done.

The oldest existing program appears to be the NSW Thoroughbred Rehabilitation Trust, which was founded in 2011 and is supported by Racing NSW.The head trainer, Scott Brodie, used to work with police horses. He has authored a book on the retraining of racehorses, ‘Horses from Courses’, and includes a series of instructional videos on the associated Facebook page. Brodie and his team ‘utilise a surprisingly smooth synergy of natural horsemanship techniques along with the practical application of classical dressage to produce quality performance horses with a foundation to set them up for a future in any discipline.’ [1]

Perhaps even more groundbreaking is that Racing NSW has partnered with the NSW Department of Corrective Services, with the horses undertaking the retraining program spending their first six months after they stop racing spelling (resting) at the St Hellier’s Correctional Facility in Muswellbrook. Brodie works with the prisoners there, who have been trained in natural horsemanship methods by him, to undertake the first six weeks of the retraining program themselves.

Support is also given by the Australian Turf Club, who provide stabling facilities at Canterbury Racecourse, in Sydney’s inner-west. Horses ready for sale are promoted on the program’s website and Facebook page, and are usually offered for around $5000.

Victoria’s ‘Off the Track’ initiative, while not a retraining program, aims to promote the ex-racing thoroughbred as a pleasure and performance horse, sponsoring events and clinics that showcase the versatility of the breed. Established in 2013, the program’s website includes contact details for approved retrainers who have been accredited by Racing Victoria.

Elsewhere in Australia, Racing and Wagering WA appear to have taken a similar (at times to the point of copy-and-paste) approach to Racing Victoria, hosting a dedicated ‘Off the Track’ section on their website, including a list of retrainers, and a link to the website of ‘Rehome a Racehorse WA’, who seem to be the organisation at the real frontline of re-homing ex-racehorses.

In South Australia, the recently established Changing Rein is still getting organised, seeking sponsors and providing a list of retrainers with self-nominated experience in working with ex-racehorses. They too appear to be following Victoria’s model of sponsoring events, rather than providing retraining directly.

Other state-based programs include Tasracing’s Off the Track program, which also appears to be newly established without much information available (though they do have a Facebook page); and Queensland’s Racehorse Rehab, started in 2013 and dedicated to re-homing racehorses, but not industry affiliated.

Neither the ACT nor the Northern Territory appear to have any programs that support horses transitioning out of the industry, affiliated or otherwise. Research has revealed that states without industry-affiliated retraining programs have a correspondingly higher percentage of horses going to the knackery,[2] which points to the success of such programs in creating viable future pathways for off the track thoroughbreds.

In July 2014, Racing Information Services Australia, the overarching national body for the industry, introduced the mandatory reporting of the retirement and exit destination of horses within 30 days of leaving the racing industry, which will hopefully lead not only to more accurate figures regarding the fate of racehorses, but will create corresponding pressure to establish solid programs supporting ex-racehorses across the country.

[1] NSW Racehorse Rehabilitation Trust Facebook page, accessed 29 july

[2] Hayek, Ariella. “Epidemiology of Horses Leaving the Racing and Breeding Industries.” Bachelor of Science (Vet Science) thesis, University of Sydney, 2004, 71.


One thought on “Off the track

  1. Pingback: “Everyone else can get stuffed”: why a female jockey winning the Melbourne Cup might herald deeper change | horsesfordiscourses

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