A Standardbred track to hack journey, rehoming retraining the standardbred racehorse
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In order to improve racehorse wastage statistics, in 2014, Horses and People Magazine launched an awareness and education campaign to encourage leisure and sport riders to take Standardbred racehorses from track to hack.

Racehorse wastage is the term that refers to the number of horses that are removed from the racing industry. Despite the best of intentions to find suitable homes for every racehorse, not all surplus racehorses are being re-directed to the leisure and sport equestrian community, with many ending up going for slaughter.

Without a national horse register tracking horses for life, the statistics available may not be accurate. Also, in the last few years, the rates of rehoming may have improved, but previous studies have shown the wastage rate in the harness racing industry to be 38% and of those, only 4.65% were re-directed to pleasure homes.

One of the hurdles faced when re-homing a retiring racehorse is the set of behaviours they acquire during their fast-paced competitive career. While speed and quick reflexes are priced on the track, pleasure and performance riders are looking for a steady mount with impeccable manners. Racehorses must undergo a thorough re-training and rehabilitation program to succeed in the show arena and become safe mounts for their new owners.

The unharnessed potential of the Standardbred

Due to their affable and trainable temperament, Standardbred horses are ideal candidates for the multifaceted pleasure and performance disciplines, yet, studies have shown that Standardbred racehorses have fewer opportunities once leaving the industry and are more likely to go to slaughterhouses than their Thoroughbred counterparts.

The goal of this campaign, an initiative of Horses and People Magazine, was to raise awareness of the unharnessed potential of the Standardbred horse as an ideal pleasure, show and trail-riding mount, and to encourage more riders to undertake their re-education.

With this goal in mind, several key people and organisations joined forces to showcase the story of one horse donated by Steven Towns and Maxine Ellison, ‘Ideal Guy’ (Andy), a 4-year-old Standardbred who having lined up on 43 occasions for one win and a few placings, was retired from racing and was re-educated as a saddle horse.

Ideal Guy’s re-education was documented to serve as a guide for riders and trainers who want to give a racehorse a second chance. The information, which details both the re-training and healthcare rehabilitation processes, featured during 2014 and 2015 in a series of articles that will appear in Horses and People Magazine, as well as being promoted to a wider audience via a targeted media campaign.

Read Part 1 of the series: Setttling your Standardbred into his/her new home

Overwhelming support

This project was only possible thanks to the support of many people who provided services, products and funds. The Horses and People team were overwhelmed with the enthusiasm and generosity of everyone that became involved. 

Ideal Guy’s re-education was directed by Alister McLean, Dr Andrew McLean and the staff at The Australian Equine Behaviour Centre who provided Andy’s training free of charge. “The Standardbred horse is the most maligned,” says Dr McLean, “yet anyone who has had anything to do this breed knows that it has the best temperament of any sport horse. It is an amazing feat of selective breeding – a horse that is competitive enough to win races, yet can mentally withstand pulling a vehicle (being chased by one actually). 

In many cases, the Standardbred lateral gait, which is not favoured outside the track, can be re-trained and some [Standardbreds] have excellent movement by any standard. Yet, the most endearing feature of this breed is its temperament and, with human injury rates in horse-human interactions so high, this project should be a huge incentive to use this breed more. I think injury rates would be a great deal lower if there were more Standardbreds in the riding horse population. Most horse riders are leisure and trail riders, and Standardbreds by far make the best trail horses.”

Harness Racing Australia provided funds to cover Ideal Guy’s agistment and care expenses. They have taken an enthusiastic and active role in the project, proving they are serious about racehorse welfare. Harness Racing Australia’s Operations Manager at the time Gary Kairn said, “As part of our overall welfare commitment to Standardbred horses we are excited to see many people taking on off-the-track horses and giving them after racing opportunities. We have seen Standardbreds make it to the highest levels in the show arena, be part of some of our states mounted police forces, and be used in a Riding for the Disabled and other partner riding programs.

Standardbreds are extremely popular as an all-round riding horse. When we have taken the Standardbreds to Equitana and other high-profile equestrian events they are always popular and we have been pleased with the re-homing opportunities that this has created. We will continue to partner with the State Standardbred associations to develop further opportunities for these horses and see this as a longterm commitment. The Standardbred has a wonderful nature, can be re-trained for a variety of purposes and are definitely not only suited for harness racing.”

Racing places specific demands on a horse’s physiology, and Ideal Guy’s health and fitness transformation will be monitored by the veterinarians at Kilmore Equine Clinic, Equine Dental Vet Dr Shannon Lee from Advanced Equine Dentistry, and Master Farrier Andrew Bowe. Kilmore Equine Clinic says, “At Kilmore Equine Clinic we fully support the re-training and placement of ex-racehorses into the general horse community. We enjoy the contact we have with these racing animals and appreciate their typical willingness to please and perform. It is great to see these horses go on to a second career as they deserve to have a wonderful life post-racing.”

Greg Grant Saddlery are supplying the equipment Ideal Guy will need during training and will kit him out with a full show set of gear. “We are proud and privileged”, says a spokesman for Greg Grant Saddlery, “to be involved in this project supporting the re-homing of Standardbreds and preventing racehorse wastage.” Southern Cross Horse Transport took excellent care of Ideal Guy during the long trip from Queensland to The Australian Equine Behaviour Centre in Victoria, and did it all free of charge. 

Manuka Haylage provided free forage for Ideal Guy during the training period.

Keep up with the pace 

Starting with Part 1: Settling-in, Horses and People Magazine featured the step-by-step guide to re-educating the Standardbred racehorse in a series of articles written by Alister McLean and the experienced staff at The Australian Equine Behaviour Centre. The articles appeared in the print and digital magazine issues and now, they are being revised and made also available online.

Read Part 1 of the series: Setttling your Standardbred into his/her new home

References:

  • Bailey. C.J. (1998) Wastage in the Australian Thoroughbred Racing Industry.
  • Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation, Canberra, Australia. Bailey C et al, “Wastage in the Australian Thoroughbred racing industry: a survey of Sydney trainers”, Australian Veterinary Journal , 1997, vol 75 (64-66)
  • Epidemiology of horses leaving the racing and breeding industries by Ariella Hayek
  • A racing future? or a grim outlook by Jane Duckworth http://www.horsesandpeople.com.au/articles/racing-future-or-grim-outlook

The Unharnessed Potential Project was possible thanks to the following sponsors – Australian Equine Behaviour Centre | Greg Grant Saddlery | NRG Team | Harness Racing Australia | Southern Cross Horse Transport | Advanced Equine Dentistry | The Barefoot Blacksmith | Raising the Standards | Kilmore Equine Clinic | Manuka Haylage | Horses and People Magazine | Strong Step Hoof Care | Kompeet to Win

Cristina Wilkins

Cristina is the editor and publisher of Horses and People Magazine.

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