Horse welfare push at Aintree’s Grand National

Schuh Shine and Next To Nothing.
Schuh Shine and Next To Nothing. © Gavin James

Four of Britain’s leading equine welfare organisations and charities are banding together at this weekend’s Grand National Festival at Aintree to raise awareness of welfare issues in the wider equine population.

RSPCA, World Horse Welfare, the British Horse Society and Retraining of Racehorses will be exhibiting and talking to racegoers under the marquee banner of “The Horse Comes First”.

aintree-logoMore than 150,000 racegoers are expected to attend the three day meeting and will have the opportunity to find out more about the work each of the charities does in the field of horse welfare. On each day there will also be an equine vet on the stand to answer questions about all aspects of equine health.

Several horse welfare groups have a shared concern about the emerging ‘Horse Crisis’ caused by a dramatic rise in the number of horses and ponies at risk of abandonment and neglect. These horses are not as fortunate as the elite equine athletes who receive first-class care and attention and there are concerns that too many horses are being bred indiscriminately, and the economic climate means owners are cutting back on vet costs, care, shelter and feed and as many as 7000 horses could need homes. The welfare charities are working hard to highlight this situation and make sure horses are given the care, attention and the homes they need and deserve.

Organisations represented in the Horse Comes First stand at Aintree regularly work together on issues across the equine welfare landscape. Coming together at the Grand National meeting, they are looking forward to talking to the racing public about their respective areas of work and expertise, as well as providing practical advice to racegoers about caring for horses.

The Horse Comes First marquee will be located at Aintree adjacent to the Red Rum Garden, overlooking the Parade Ring and will be open over all three days of the Grand National meeting. 

Andrew Tulloch, Director of Racing at Aintree Racecourse, said horse welfare was of paramount importance to Jockey Club Racecourses and Aintree. “We want to promote not only what horseracing does in this sphere, but also the excellent work undertaken by the RSPCA, World Horse Welfare, British Horse Society and Retraining of Racehorses among the wider equine population.

“Racehorses rarely want for anything in terms of the care they receive, but that sadly is not the case for all horses in Britain and we want to do everything we can to promote these excellent charities working on behalf all horses in the UK,” he said.

Nacarat. © Gavin James

Steve Carter, RSPCA Director for Wales, said the RSPCA took in more than 1700 horses last year and worked closely with other charities, to rescue and rehabilitate thousands of horses every year who fall victim to irresponsible ownership and neglect. “We couldn’t do what we do without the help of the public and we hope that the stand will help us to find new homes for some of the 800 horses in our care, as well as highlighting the crisis.”

Roly Owers, Chief Executive of World Horse Welfare, said the Grand National was the ultimate steeplechase challenge for 40 horses every year. “But this pales in comparison to the stark reality faced by thousands of horses across the UK every day who are not receiving the basic care they need.

“It seems so appropriate to highlight the current UK equine crisis, a man-made crisis, under the Horse Comes First banner at this pivotal event,” he said.

“We are deeply grateful to Aintree for the opportunity of showing tens of thousands of racegoers how they can help in this time of true equine need.”

Lee Hackett, Director of Policy at the British Horse Society, said the BHS had kept a close eye on the measures that Aintree has taken to improve the safety of horses and riders taking part in races over the Grand National course.

“On Saturday the attention of the world will be on the elite equine athletes lining up for the National but we mustn’t forget the thousands of other British horses that are suffering and in desperate need of the help of the BHS and other equine welfare organisations,” he said.

“These horses don’t make the headlines like the Grand National winner will. Britain is facing a horse welfare crisis on an unprecedented scale so we are very grateful to Aintree for the opportunity to reach out to racegoers at this week’s meeting.”

A small group from the 8000 ex-racehorses registered with British Horseracing’s charity Retraining of Racehorses will take part in a parade in front of the Aintree crowd on Thursday.

Among the horses is 13-year-old Nacarat, who ran 38 times over hurdles and fences winning nine races and over £486,000 in prize money. As a front-running and bold jumping grey, Nacarat was one of the most popular and followed horses in training. He ran five times at Aintree and in 2011 he won the Totesport Bowl Chase.  He was also third in the same race in 2010, and in 2009 finished third in the John Smith’s Melling Chase.

Upon his retirement, Nacarat returned to his owners to have a well-earned rest before starting his retraining, with the help of Retraining of Racehorses. He is now well into his transition and is very happy in his new life. He goes hacking most days and the plan is to start hunting him next season.

He is being joined by Schuh Shine and Next To Nothing, who are pursuing careers in dressage and eventing.

Schuh Shine, now 17, ran 23 times over hurdles and fences, winning 9 races and over £68,000 in prize money. After retiring in 2007, Schuh Shine started his second career competing on the dressage circuit and has won 19 competitions, as well as the RoR Elite Dressage Performance Award. Schuh Shine has qualified for the winter regional finals and the National Petplan Championships. He is currently competing at Elementary level.

Next To Nothing, nicknamed ‘Nicky’, is also 17. During his racing career he ran 11 times over hurdles and fences, winning three. Next To Nothing went on win a point to point race. Since his retirement, Next To Nothing has been enjoying a career in Eventing and has won four events and been placed 22 times.

RoR Chief Executive Di Arbuthnot said the charity would talk to racegoers during the three-day Grand National meeting about the wide range of activities and second careers that former racehorses can take part in after retiring from the sport.

Andrew Tulloch, Director of Racing at Aintree Racecourse, noted that Aintree had consulted regularly with the RSPCA and World Horse Welfare regarding the Grand National. Through The Jockey Club, Aintree also sponsored a series of classes for former racehorses, the final of which is held at Aintree at the July Showing Show. “Furthermore, the expansion in use of Aintree’s Equestrian Centre has also increased our liaison with the British Horse Society,” he said.


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