Study aims to identify desirable traits in racehorses pursuing new careers

Mollie Buckley's research could lead to better career outcomes for off-the-track horses. Photo: Charles Sturt University
Mollie Buckley’s research could lead to better career outcomes for off-the-track horses. Photo: Charles Sturt University

A study in Australia seeks to identify physical and behavioural attributes in retired Thoroughbred and Standardbred racehorses enjoying successful post-racing careers.

The study involves an online survey that owners of off-the-track racehorses in Australia are being asked to complete. In it, participants are asked about observed traits of retired racehorses in their new careers. It also seeks to identify the challenges owners face because of their horse’s physical and/or behavioural limitations.

The survey will also explore details about the current discipline each horse is involved in, whether competitive or recreational, and will seek information and experiences regarding education (both ridden and groundwork), housing, management behaviours, and demographics.

Mollie Buckley, a Bachelor of Equine Science graduate in the Charles Sturt School of Agricultural, Environmental and Veterinary Sciences, is conducting the study as part of her Honours research.

“Retired racehorses currently have a reputation for being ‘highly strung’ and difficult to manage,” she says.

“This may be true in cases where the horse receives a poor level of training for the new discipline, or the horse is not matched well with the new owner, or the horse has experienced poor welfare outcomes at some point throughout its life.”

Buckley says although many retired racehorses are involved in a wide range of non-racing disciplines, little is known about the factors that may make them successful once they leave the racetrack. She hopes her study will reveal what makes retired racehorses successful in a variety of post-racing careers.

“Owning a retired racehorse can be a very rewarding experience,” she says. “While there is definitely a market for retired racehorses in a variety of disciplines, the general public does not have access to information which shows how these horses progress beyond the racetrack.

“This may have a profound impact on the industry’s social license to operate, and retired racehorse welfare outcomes.”

Her co-researcher is Stephanie Evans at Hartpury University in England and their supervisory team includes Dr Glenys Noble and Associate Professor Hayley Randle in the Charles Sturt School of Agricultural, Environmental and Veterinary Sciences, and international collaborator Associate Professor Jane Williams at Hartpury University.

“This is a really exciting project as the issue of whole-of-life welfare for all horses is more important than ever before,” Randle says.

“There are many retired racehorses that go on to be very successful in a second career, including several ex-racehorses that have represented Australia at the Olympic Games and World Championships, winning medals.”

Noble says: “While not every horse has to represent Australia to be a success, there are thousands of Thoroughbreds competing in a wide variety of sports every weekend.

“This is due in part to the various off-the-track programs around Australia, and Mollie’s research will provide valuable insights for these organisations so they can better match horses with new owners.”

Buckley says the research will identify which physical and behavioural attributes contribute to the successful re-homing of retired racehorses, and whether these attributes can be supported while still actively participating in the racing industry to better support a seamless transition from racing to retirement.

“The current goals for the racing industry on a national scale are centred around improving welfare standards throughout all stages of life and providing all racehorses coming off the racetrack with a secure new home,” she says.

“The information collected from the survey will allow us to identify main themes and trends that make retired racehorses appealing for a variety of disciplines coming off the track.

“When we understand these attributes and whether they can be supported while actively racing, the results will be able to help guide further research which supports better welfare outcomes for racehorses throughout all stages of life.

“Once completed and published, this research may also be used by the Australian racing industry in its efforts to rehome racehorses.”

Buckley encourages all previous and current owners of retired racehorses to participate.

The online survey, available here, runs until July 25. It takes about 20 minutes to complete.

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