Horsing around – Life After Racing

Life after Racing

Did you know that the average racehorse’s career is usually no more than 3 years? In 2018, over 20,000 South African thoroughbred foals were registered with the Jockey Club as potential racehorses. Many of those horses will never become successful racehorses and those that do will be retired soon after their careers begin.

A racehorse’s career is often short-lived and, after retirement, their lives can go in different directions, depending on their success. Retired racehorses either become sires for future generations, have new careers or have their lives ended by euthanasia.

Life after retirement for racehorses is not all sunshine and rainbows, nor is it completely bleak. While some will suffer a dire fate, many retired racehorses will go on to have fulfilling lives. Knowing the truth about horseracing retirement will help you formulate your own ideas and opinions on the sport and the foundations that exist to help these amazing animals.

Reasons for retirement:

There are many different reasons for a racehorse to enter retirement. All fertile racehorses, regardless of their rate of success, will be retired at a young age. Age at retirement is not an indicator of their success.

A Proven Winner

Unaltered racehorses that win enough races will be retired quickly, usually before 3 years of age. This helps to avoid injury and allows the owners to begin collecting their money for breeding fees.

Male horses that have been altered, geldings, are usually allowed to race longer because they cannot sire offspring. A racehorse stallion that is successful is said to be more valuable to their owners after retirement than while they are racing.

Failure to Succeed

Horses that do not perform as expected will be retired early from the racing world, if they ever make it to a track at all. If a horse continues to not place in their racing competitions and are not improving, they are retired quickly to keep their owners from losing more money training them.

Many potential racehorses never even make it onto the racetrack. Although they may have the proper breeding, some horses just are not racehorses. These horses will be retired very early on.

Fatal or Debilitating Injury

Racing is a sport and there is always a risk of injury as with any sport, especially at the speeds that racehorses compete. From the annual EID (Equine Injury Database) statistics, the compilation of reported fatal racehorse injuries in official Thoroughbred events, the average rate of fatal injury in 2017 was 1.46 in 1000 race starts.

Possible fatal injuries include limb fractures, joint fractures, and laminitis. Debilitating injuries that will more than likely lead straight to retirement, include severe inflammation from strained tendons, lameness, chronic knee problems, joint effusion, joint fluid accumulation and ligament issues.

At what age do racehorses retire?

Usually, racehorses are retired before they reach the age of 3, whether they are successful or not. The average lifespan of Thoroughbred horses is between 25 and 28 years old.

This means that most racehorses retire from racing soon into the first quarter of their lives. Geldings do tend to race longer than fertile horses, since they hold no value for breeding.


Racehorses can end up on various paths following retirement. While some options are bleak, not all paths after retirement lead to death. Many Thoroughbred former racehorses go on to live full happy and healthy lives.

Breeding Shed

Successful racehorses that are retired are most often sent to the breeding shed. This is an area on stallion farms that are made specifically for the breeding of brood mares to successful stallion thoroughbreds.

It is a safe environment to prevent injury and ensure that breeding has occurred. Broodmares are brought to the stallion’s farm for breeding.

For new broodmares who have never been bred, a teaser horse is brought in to gauge her response. This is a preventative measure to keep her and the stallion safe.

2nd Careers

Many racehorses, successful and unsuccessful, retire from racing and move on to a second career. These careers could be other sports or they may simply become great horses for avid equestrians. Such sports include show jumping, dressage, eventing, barrel racing, showing and so much more.


Racehorses that suffer debilitating or catastrophic injuries while racing or training often end up being humanely euthanized.

Many equestrians, and even non-equestrians, have heard of Barbaro, the 2006 Kentucky Derby winner who sustained a broken leg during a race. While the break was repairable, the laminitis he developed during that time led to him being euthanized.

Many people may view this as inhumane, but laminitis is an extremely painful, debilitating hoof disease and is 4th on the list of top causes of death in horses.

Laminitis often develops in one leg while horses are recovering from injuries in other legs. Limb fractures are responsible for 87% of fatal injuries in racehorses.

Sometimes, accidents on the racetrack are unavoidable while others are due to over racing. Most limb fractures in horses are not repairable due to their weight and need to stand. Most owners will opt for humane euthanasia over putting the animal through additional pain.

Programs and projects

Luckily, there are a lot of organizations that exist to help retired racehorses find loving and safe homes. For instance, Highveld Horse Care Unit is a big organization that helps in this regard. There are also a lot of private owners that take on ex racehorses and train them up in hope of them finding the best home possible.

Final thoughts

Horse racing is a popular and lucrative sport for racehorse owners. The problem exists in the short-lived career span of an average racehorse along with the high number of potential racehorses born each year. Thousands of racehorses will be retired each year and typically only the successful ones will be kept for breeding. There are simply not enough homes for all of these misplaced former racehorses, but thankfully there are a lot of organizations working to re-home them and allow them to live fulfilling lives.

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