Life after competition

All sports horses will reach a point in their career when they can no longer compete. At this point their welfare can often be put at risk.

All sports horses will reach a point in their career when they can no longer compete. At this point their welfare can often be put at risk.

Horse sport has a responsibility here and all owners, keepers, trainers and riders must take full responsibility for their welfare from birth to death. After all, sport and racehorses will be considered as such throughout their lifetime, regardless of whether they are still competing, and their treatment throughout life reflects the ethos and therefore the reputation of horse sport.  

There are a variety of options available for owners for their former sport horses. In considering these options, the only ethical approach is to ensure that quality of life is always considered more important than quantity of life. The right option for a given horse will depend upon that horse’s individual health, physical abilities, behaviour and temperament. 

If the horse can still be ridden, is uninjured and in good health, they can be retrained for another less demanding career, such as lower level sport, showing or as a leisure horse.  A horse that is still able to undertake a range of activities will be easier to rehome than one that is restricted. Many former sport and racehorses have excelled in new careers, with various charities including Retraining of Racehorses in the UK, a partner of World Horse Welfare, being part of the wider global movement in racing to improve aftercare. 

If the horse can no longer be ridden, they can be retired.  One option is for the current owner to continue to care for them, ensuring that their needs are being met.  This includes the provision of adequate feed and forage, daily health and welfare checks with veterinary support as required, regular hoof checks and farrier visits, at least yearly dental checks and company from other horses 

An alternative is to use a specialised livery devoted to caring for older horses, but these facilities tend to be expensive. Alternatively, the horse could be found a new home as a companion.  

Rehoming to new owners is becoming increasingly popular in many countries; however, it must be done with care to ensure the horse is going to a good home that is experienced and able to care for the horse.  Breeding from former sport horses can be an option, but it may not be in the best interests of the foal, horse or owner and it should only be considered after careful consideration and advice from a veterinary surgeon. Across the globe too many mares produce offspring that will never excel and often cannot be rehomed. 

Sadly, sometimes the most humane option for a horse that cannot be rehomed is euthanasia, or even slaughter if this is done humanely.  A humane death is always preferable to living in a spiral of neglect and suffering.  If you have any comments regarding our views on horses in sport, we would like to hear from you. Please email us at info@worldhorsewelfare.org

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