Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Racing To Riding

-- Tom Frary

Horses have always represented different things to different people, but it is a hard case who sees no merit in them at all. If you've ever spent any meaningful amount of time with them off duty, you may have experienced the sense of calm and wellbeing they transfer. If you've been around them at work, you can awe at the power and sense of purpose they possess. All are genuine, none are naughty, in my book at least, just maybe soured by human interference of some kind. Even those are salvageable, I'm convinced.

On the opening day of Cheltenham's Festival, some great warriors were on display including War of Attrition, Hardy Eustace and Harchibald. It's easy to employ a large amount of sentiment where these heroes are concerned, but what about the miriad of thoroughbreds whose names lie in the never-regions? Their racecourse attendances may have been scarce, maybe even marked by wayward tendency. Maybe they never made the track at all. Being realistic, there may never be a home for even a large majority of them with current feed, hay and bedding prices as they are--not to mention livery charges--but a few are finding new leases of life after training. That's where the Retraining of Racehorses organisation comes in, which is British racing’s official charity for the welfare of retired racehorses. Things are moving at pace in this area, thanks to the work of a clutch of committed footsoldiers, but there is a long way to go.

Collage of RoR photos (c)
At trainer Bryan Smart's stables in the beautiful Sutton Bank of North Yorkshire a few Saturdays ago, those of us who gathered for the organised yard tour gained an insight into the reshaping of ex-racehorses into show horses. Bryan and his wife Vicky are one of the leaders in this sphere, but admit that there is not the time in a busy racing yard to give the full treatment. They showed us their pride and joy Chivola, a pretty compact bay son of Invincible Spirit who is the RoR/Tattersalls Show Series Champion and a big chestnut Roger's Revenge, who they expect big things of. The pair were patted and stroked by the crowd and looked very much at home with the fuss, I can tell you. I thought to myself, if watching the adaptation of these amazing animals is a pure joy, imagine the reward of having guided them through the metamorphosis. That's the aim of RoR in a nutshell, I suppose; to spread the word that ex-racehorses can take you on one of the great journeys of your life. People like Bryan and Vicky Smart are leading the way in finding suitable homes for horses who didn't make the grade or who simply look like they have potential in the show ring and there are many avenues for ex-racehorses, such as hunting and horseball.

At lunch after the visit, we talked of an ideal state of affairs where compulsory levies fund a mass of retraining and homing centres, providing a second life for these worthy thoroughbreds and jobs for the lads and lasses who live for them. It may be fantasy, I know but on a micro level things are developing. RoR's Di Arbuthnot, who organised this morning, speaks of the new awareness of the importance of a life after racing for horses among the younger brigade of the training ranks. That's certainly a start. We are at the beginning of the dream and can only hope that the spread of a common conscience will lead to at least it's part culmination. For full information on Retraining of Racehorses, including upcoming demos and visits, have a look at

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