Racing industry’s responsibility to horses emphasised

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OTTB eventer Icabad Crane, who is working with Phillip Dutton.
OTTB eventer Icabad Crane. © Maggie Kimmitt

The education of racehorse owners on the need to consider second careers for their thoroughbreds was among the main themes of the first virtual webinar of The International Forum for the Aftercare of Racehorses (IFAR).

Panelists at the forum on April 6 said owners need to be aware of the ability of thoroughbreds to excel in non-racing careers after their racing career is over or if they are not competitive on the track.

The annual forum is being held virtually this year as a series of live weekly webinars throughout April.

The first of four webinars attracted almost 200 attendees from more than 20 countries. The session, “Aftercare – Racing’s Responsibility”, was moderated by international racing broadcaster Nick Luck (UK) and featured a panel composed of Yogi Breisner MBE, equestrian coach (UK); Jessica Harrington, trainer (IRE); Graham and Anita Motion, owners, Herringswell Stable (US); and Nemone Routh, racing office manager, Aga Khan Studs (FR).

Di Arbuthnot, the chair of IFAR, started the session with a brief update on IFAR’s activities and how the pandemic has affected aftercare, noting that there has been strong demand for retired racehorses during the last year but that the Thoroughbred industry should be prepared if circumstances change.

“The measure of how you look after the horse is how you look after the retired one,” she said.

Harrington, known for her skill as a trainer of Thoroughbreds on the flat and over jumps, grew up eventing and recognizes the innate talent of the breed.

“I was brought up with the ethos that if you train a Thoroughbred, and they’re all trainable, they can do anything,” Harrington said.

From an aftercare perspective, the Motions are perhaps best known for their association with the talented racehorse Icabad Crane, who has thrived as an eventer under the training of Olympic gold medalist Phillip Dutton. Icabad Crane was owned by Ambassador Earle I. Mack, whose Man O’ War Project funded research at Columbia University that demonstrated the efficacy of equine-assisted therapy in helping military veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

“Horses have this amazing way of comforting people,” Graham said. “Reading the comments from veterans that this was the only thing that they found that could help them, it’s amazing.”

Routh, in addition to her role with Aga Khan Studs, is the secretary-general of Au-Delà des Pistes, the main aftercare organization in France.

“You need to give every horse an opportunity to have a second career because they can be successful if you give them the time and convalescence,” she said. “The public demands that welfare is a priority now.”

Breisner has significant experience working with Thoroughbreds and an overall positive outlook on global aftercare and how Thoroughbreds are prepared for their entire lives when trained for racing. According to Breisner, “On the whole, racehorses are extremely well-produced, breaking is done well, and the training throughout is done extremely well.”

Breisner also made the point that all sports now have more responsibility when it comes to caring for their participants, but horse racing has the added equine component among the athletes that are involved.

The next webinar in the series “Aftercare for Racing Administrators and Regulators”, is on April 13 at noon (GMT). It will be moderated by Australia-based racing broadcaster Caroline Searcy, with speakers Aidan Butler, chief operating officer, 1/ST Racing and president, 1/ST Content (US); Martin Burns, general manager, Welfare & Sustainability, New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing; Simon Cooper, director, Weatherbys, General Stud Book (UK); and Dr Anna Smet, animal welfare manager, Racing and Wagering Western Australia.

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