More than 3000 Thoroughbreds were born in Victoria in 2010. How did they fare?

For the 1637 horses that had entered training, 59% of the retirements were voluntary, followed by forced retirements due to health problems (28%).
File image by leave_me_a_roan

Researchers who examined the entry and exit of Thoroughbred racehorses in Victoria, Australia, found that a majority were retired voluntarily, often around five years of age.

Meridith Flash and her colleagues at the University of Melbourne said the spike in voluntary retirements at the age of five suggested that industry-level factors were at play, rather than individual horse-level factors.

The study team, writing in the open-access journal PLOS ONE, said the reasons for Thoroughbreds exiting the racing industry, or not entering it at all, are of interest to regulators, welfare groups and the broader community.

“Speculation about the outcomes of these horses threatens the community acceptance, or social license, of the Thoroughbred breeding and racing industries.”

For their study, the researchers carried out a representative survey of the 2010 Victorian-born Thoroughbred foal crop to determine the outcomes and reasons for exit for horses who had not entered training, or had exited training and racing by the age of eight.

Horses exported for racing or breeding (4%), or who were still actively racing (7%) at the start of the eight-year follow-up period were excluded from the study.

An online questionnaire was sent to breeders or trainers of the 3176 Thoroughbreds eligible for enrolment in the study.

In all, 2005 responses were received, for a response rate of 63%.

The two most frequent outcomes were that the horse had either been retired or rehomed (65%), or had died (16%).

For the 1637 horses that had entered training, 59% of the retirements were voluntary, followed by forced retirements due to health problems (28%).

File image. Photo by Mat Reding

For the 368 Thoroughbreds that had no record of entering training, death had occurred in 34% of cases. Of these 368 horses, 27% were listed as either being retired or rehomed.

The median age of retirement for Thoroughbreds that raced was five, regardless of sex, or whether their first race start was at two, three or four years of age.

While trained horses were most frequently rehomed outside the Thoroughbred industry (71% of the 1210 rehomed horses), more than a quarter of all trained horses remained within the industry, mostly as bloodstock.

For the 862 horses retiring outside of the industry, 568 were categorised as going on to equestrian or pleasure riding outcomes. The next most common retirement outcomes were companion/unridden pursuits (93 horses, or 11%), being returned to the owner with no further information available (81 horses, or 9%), or to serve as broodmares for non-Thoroughbreds (53 horses, or 6%). In some cases, the respondents were unable to categorise the retirement outcome.

Death (12%) was the second most frequently identified outcome among trained horses. Among these 197 horses, 13 went to an abattoir for reasons that included injury, illness, behavioural issues or poor performance.

For the 164 deceased horses that had trained or raced, the most frequent circumstance of death was non-exercising (68 horses, or 42%), followed by death during a race (47 horses, or 29%) and during training/pre-training (26 horses, or 16%), with two deaths reported during a trial or jump-out, and 21 responses where the circumstances were not specified.

For the trained but unraced horses categorised as deceased (33), death was most frequently associated with training or pretraining (13 horses, or 39%) followed by non-exercising (8 horses, or 24%) and during a trial or jump out (five horses, or 15%), with the remaining circumstances unspecified.

Musculoskeletal injuries were the most frequently reported health disorder resulting in death for trained horses. Fracture was reported most frequently as a cause of death, accounting for 48% of deaths in all trained horses, followed by tendon or ligament injuries, digestive, and cardiac disorders.

Discussing their findings, Flash and her colleagues said it was interesting that, although 28% of trained horses retired due to injury, nearly half of them were categorised as subsequently participating in ridden pursuits, such as equestrian or pleasure horse activities.

“This suggests that while the injury may have made the horse unsuitable for racing, it did not prevent the horse from undertaking less intensive ridden pursuits in their post-racing career.”

They say further research is needed to investigate the length of time that horses participate in their post-racing careers and what health disorders could prevent a successful transition.

Only one percent of trained horses (13 of 1637 horses) were reported to have been sent to an abattoir, substantially less than the six percent reported in another study. However, while the number of horses sent to an abattoir in this study was lower, the overall percentage of trained horses that died (12%) was higher than the 8% reported in that study.

They said documenting and understanding the reasons why horses do not transition from the stud farm to the racetrack is an important first step in developing strategies to reduce losses, improve productivity in the Thoroughbred breeding industry and inform discussions concerning the welfare outcomes for these horses.

“The most important finding of the current study was that approximately three-quarters of trained horses were re-homed upon leaving the racing industry.

“Also, it is important to note that the majority of Thoroughbred horses that did not return to the breeding industry were engaged in some form of ridden equestrian activity after their racing career was over.”

The University of Melbourne study team comprised Flash, Michelle Renwick, James Gilkerson and Mark Stevenson.

Flash ML, Renwick M, Gilkerson JR, Stevenson MA (2020) Descriptive analysis of Thoroughbred horses born in Victoria, Australia, in 2010; barriers to entering training and outcomes on exiting training and racing. PLoS ONE 15(10): e0241273.

The study, published under a Creative Commons License, can be read here

Latest research and information from the horse world.

4 thoughts on “More than 3000 Thoroughbreds were born in Victoria in 2010. How did they fare?

  • October 29, 2020 at 2:20 pm

    “Also, it is important to note that the majority of Thoroughbred horses that did not return to the breeding industry were engaged in some form of ridden equestrian activity after their racing career was over.”
    And that, right there, is the best reason for the racing industry to subsidize, heavily, amateur horse sport that takes up, uses and homes post-racing Thoroughbreds. There is some activity in this area, but so much more could be done. Good homes for horses do not grow on trees, and because ex-racehorses can be had cheaply they can go to people without an abundance of resources to care for them.
    One possible avenue for the racing industry is the provision of support for urban or suburban riding centres where riders who cannot afford the hobby farm lifestyle can access facilities such as arenas and jumps, and more importantly other horse people who can help them with information regarding horsemanship and horse care.
    To some extent pony clubs already do this, but as the access granted at pony club is usually to children, older people entering the horse world are excluded, as are former pony clubbers who grow up. The subsidized provision of riding centres, especially if the subsidy was made exclusively to former racehorses, would do much to secure better outcomes for former racehorses and with it a better social license for the racing industry.

    • October 30, 2020 at 2:28 pm

      What on earth makes you think that isn’t already happening (?) because it is, both directly and indirectly. SMH

  • October 30, 2020 at 4:33 pm

    I think the results of this study need to be viewed with some suspicion given that the respondents to the outcomes for the thoroughbreds are either breeders or trainers, both being groups who are reliant on the image of racing for continued financial and personal benefit. Also, the study was funded by Racing Victoria. Even given this influence, some of the statistics presented are worrying. Firstly, over a third of the cohort received no given outcome which leads one to presume a probable poor outcome as most people would be happy to report if the animal was happily competing at a variety of shows but far less likely to report that the animal was sacrificed to make way for new stock. Secondly the fact that, of those that did race or were trained, the vast majority were retired by the age of five, which in a horse is barely reaching maturity. This gives an impression of a burn ’em and move ’em on attitude within the industry and/or facilities, practices and surfaces that are less than ideal to maintain soundness. Until Australia adopts an effective and transparent track and trace system [which is now being introduced in America], I doubt the public will change attitudes or will the governing bodies start to take serious measures to improve the care and nurturing of these magnificent animals.

  • December 16, 2020 at 10:14 pm

    Appalling outcome for thoroughbreds, who are wonderful horses. Far too many deaths, far too many horses bred that do not get to race. we know that rehoming is a failure because it is unrealistic to expect these horses to be given forever homes until they reach 25 to 30, the natural lifespan of a thoroughbred. How about following up on these rehomed horses when they reach the age of 20? We know the thoroughbred breed is in dire straights due to irresponsible inbreeding practices that results in badly conformed horses who cannot stand up to training. No horse’s life is worthless. They are sentient beings who deserve so much better.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.