Once a racehorse finishes its career on the track, there are a multitude of other equestrian activities they can participate in, highlighting their versatility and adaptability. We spoke to some of our readers about their experiences with retraining racehorses for a career in eventing.
Badminton Horse Trials is the pinnacle of eventing for any rider, and to get any horse competing at CCI5*-L requires years of training. To qualify a former racehorse is testament to their versatility and adaptability. In light of this achievement, Retraining of Racehorses offers a prize of £1,000 to the highest placed former racehorse.
This year the prize went to Won’t Wait, ridden by France’s Clara Loiseau. The 15-year-old gelding was by the French-based British-bred stallion Starborough (Soviet Star-Desert Wine) out of a mare by Lycius (a grandson of Mr Prospector). He was bought out of training as a four year and produced to event by Clara. After an impressive performance at Pau last year, where the pair finished third on their debut at CCI5*-L, on their first visit to Badminton they finished 28th, having jumped 29 places up the leader board after the cross country.
Also making it to the top levels of eventing is Sea of Clouds ridden by American rider Phillip Dutton. The pair have been named on the US Eventing Team’s reserve list for this year’s Pan American Games. Sea of Clouds last raced in 2014 and in five years has shown what an off the track racehorse can achieve. At just eight-year-old, according to his rider the talented gelding ‘keeps getting better’.
Saphir Du Rheu is another successful racehorse who has now turned his hoof to eventing with Charlotte Alexander. The grey gelding was previously trained by Paul Nichols – winning nine times. Since making their British Eventing debut the pair have competed in six competitions – three at BE100 and three at Novice, with their most recent completion at Nunney International Horse Trials.
Pineau De Re won the Grand National in 2014, retiring from racing in 2016. He successfully turned to a career in eventing with Lizzie Brunt, who describes him as having a cheeky personality. The pair are currently competing at Novice with the aim of competing a 2* this season.
Lizzie told Eventing Worldwide: “He’s an absolute star and still getting better and better at the age of 16.
“I have ridden out for Dr Newland who trained Pineau for four and a half years just a couple of times a week. When Pineau retired in 2016 his daughter Amelia and I started to re-train him; I schooled him after riding a few lots up the gallops and Amelia hunted him and had lessons from me.
“Amelia got a job in London so I was lucky enough to have him offered to me to join my eventing team just 10 minutes away from Newlands. I snapped up the opportunity and never regretted it since!
“He took pretty quickly to re-training but it’s the fine tuning that takes a long time. He absolutely loves hunting, as being in a herd is his favourite place to be! He worked in a nice outline but found it hard to contain it and work in a small arena. His collected work has only just really started to develop. He is a very quick learner and he’s so trainable which I think is a key to retrain race horses.
“Pineau took to jumping well but he is super keen and very strong, which isn’t a bad thing but he is difficult to keep in a rhythm. He is very brave and loves going cross country. There isn’t a fence that I’ve found too big yet.
“He is an absolute yard favourite, by all humans and other horses. He is the only horse out of 12 on the yard who brings himself in and out and knows where is stable and field are. He’s got a cheeky personality and he loves carrots and apples
Kathryn Pickering has recently purchased an ex-racehorse called Pop The Champers, an eight-year-old gelding who trained with Nick Kent who Kathryn rides out for. Pops raced 6 times recording two wins. Kathryn says he’s proving to be a star and thoroughly enjoying his retraining to an event horse.
She told Eventing Worldwide: “Pops won two point to points in Ireland but over here appeared to not enjoy racing. His last race was April this year. Since then he’s been with me, one of his owners Wendy Wesley wanted to keep him and have some fun retraining him. Since leaving racing he’s done combined training, showing, cross country schooling and had lots of lessons. He attended a ROR show at the Northern Racing College and won the in-hand recently out of racing class. He was also third in the in-hand qualifier qualifying for the championships at Aintree in August. He’s jumped ditches, water and steps in a cross-country lesson with Richard Jones proving to be brave and trainable. He has a great attitude taking everything in his stride. I’m going to continue doing lots of different things getting him out and about before he eventually goes eventing. That’s the plan in the long run, but I’m in no rush especially as he’s so recently out of racing.”
Laura Lucus has three ex-racehorses: Cherished Number (trained by Alex Hales), Noble Ruler (trained by George Baker) and Winterval (trained by Roger Varian).
Cherish retired from racing at nine-years-old having run 80 times under rules recording a number of wins and placings and at 20 years old he is now semi-retired. Laura acquired Nobby when he was four as he wasn’t cut out for the race track, something she says was a shame for his connections as he was much faster than Cherish. And Winter came to her yard when he was injured having run eight times under rules collecting one win.
Laura says: “Both Cherish and Nobby have evented to 90cms recording double clears. Although Cherish is now semi-retired, Nobby will hopefully compete at 100cm. And Winter is showing promise so I will see what happens. He moves beautifully and is very careful, so if he’s bold too, I think he could be very good.”
What does Laura think is the best part about working with ex-racehorses? She adds: “I really love the reschooling part – going from a skinny, under-muscled plank to a well-muscled, bendy horse. Ex-racehorses are pretty clever, and so you need to be relatively confident with them – otherwise you get walked all over. But when they know their place, they are fabulous. And I truly believe giving them some time out in the field to figure out how to be a horse. I don’t really get them with an aim of doing specific things – I really just see what they can do. Clearly they’re athletes so they’re pretty adaptable.”
All of her horses are barefoot with Laura commenting “They kept losing shoes and tearing half their hoof so there was nothing to nail shoes to. I initially went barefoot with Nobby as he went lame within 10 days of me getting him because he was bruised. I tried pads and he pulled them off, so I turned him away for a few months with no shoes and it did the world of good. I then went in to it properly about 5 years ago. I wish I knew then what I know now as it could have been an easier transition.”
Suzy Higginson owns an ex-racehorse called Reet Petite. Suzy bought Rita as a three-year-old having raced 13 times on the flat. Their first unaffiliated event was at 80cm and they came second. Suzy never imagined getting a racehorse because of the perceived naughtiness.
Suzy says: “Since then we have gone on to do BE80 and BE90s and she has been placed a lot. I was meant to do the 100 at Llanymenach and Berriewood but both were abandoned so we are now aiming for Stafford BE100 in July. She recently scored a 20 in a dressage test at Somerford Park which I believe was the top dressage score over the two days of competition. She moves beautifully and is so careful show jumping. And cross country she is an absolute machine. I’ve evented for years but have never sat on anything so brave and bold but at the same time so clever with her feet. Every time we turn up somewhere it still takes her about 20mins to realise that she isn’t racing but she soon settles. I’ve worked hard with her flat work but honestly the jumping side off things was so natural to her. I never ever wanted a racehorse because I’ve always had the illusion that they are so naughty to ride but this little mare has given me everything and more.”
Alice Darby would have another ex-racehorse tomorrow. She currently rides Oopsy Daisy who was trained but never ran. Despite her good attitude their journey has now been plain sailing but the pair are now competing at Novice.
She commented: “I had what I thought was an acceptable budget to buy a green youngster to produce to event at the low levels only to dismiss absolutely every advert I saw of fantastic potential in my budget leaving much to be desired. Daisy popped up on my news feed as a five-year-old who had done her basic re-training and my head was turned instantly. I went to try her and she had the most fantastic temperament to ridden work and I was hooked.
“It wasn’t plain sailing as she was a nightmare when I first bought her home and likes a certain management. It’s easy to overlook the challenges of a DIY yard for an ex-racehorse and at first she found it very stressful. We spent our first summer getting to know each other and I wanted a horse to compete in BE90 and maybe do some BE100s. Three years on and we have just completed our third Novice. She has given me so much confidence, she is absolutely genuine, her attitude to work is fantastic and you only have to teach her something once and she’s got it. She goes beautifully on the flat and you’d be daft to even consider putting her in anything more than a basic snaffle on the most exciting of days. If I could, I would have another one tomorrow.”
Hayley Hughes says patience is a key attribute to having an ex-racehorse. She previously had a warmblood who she evented. Whilst the mare was amazing mare she didn’t have the gallop. She then chose an ex-racehorse called Noble Gun who she competed at BE80(T).
Hayley comments: “It made cross country hard for me as a rider, as although scopey I had to have her overly fit to be able to make time at a push. She sadly passed away and so I decided if I was going to event again I wanted something that was forward going and opted for an ex racer.
Noble Dictator had been sold off the track to a young girl who was not experienced enough for him so he had learnt nearly every trick in the book. Our first ever hack he bucked every second stride the whole way. But he was fun, exciting and had great makings of an event horse.
“I quickly learnt that getting Gun used to an eventing environment would take a lot of time and patience so for the first three months was spent getting him to every show possible. He was talented though and it was like sitting on a motor cycle. I had to learn how to slow him down. If you can have patience with an ex racer then you will have a very interesting but talented horse.”
Ola Griffin took Sgt Roberts, also known as Bertie, on loan in 2014 to retrain him for his new owner after he had been turned away. He was sold but when came up for sale again Ola decided to buy him.
She says: “We have had a majority of hiccups along the way and lots of lumps and bumps to prove it but he is the best horse I’ve had yet, willing to please even on the flat. And he is a cross country machine. It’s a lot of hard work, blood, sweat and tears but it’s all paying off now. We have had a few ex-racers come onto the yard and he has been my favourite and dare I say most sensible of them all.”
Lucy Cocker bought General Samarski, known as Marksi at home, five years ago. And the pair are now competing at Novice having come up through the levels.
She commented: “I bought Marski from a woman who was struggling to cope her instructor had told her to get rid of him. She was due to sell him to a dealer but the local vet asked if I would go and have a look to see if I would take him on instead. I went to try him and although he was nappy he didn’t do anything to offend me so I took him on.
“For the first two years I thought what have I done; he wouldn’t load on the lorry happily and when I did get somewhere he would throw me off if I could get on in the first place. Slowly I have brought him on from nothing to now Eventing at BE novice. He has become my best friend and I love his quirky ways please let me know if you would like any more information. He is a good example of racehorses getting into the wrong hands.”
Claire Lewis is a full-time vet riding at amateur grassroots level. With Master Wickham, who retired from racing four years ago. Known as Darsi at home, he ran his last race in January 2015 after a short career over hurdles and chase fences having been trained by Paul Webber. His owners were looking for a competitive home for him to enjoy his retirement and knew Claire so asked her to see what she thought. He came to Claire as a project with no expectations. But they qualified for the Mitsubishi Motors Cup at Badminton at only his third event.
Claire told Eventing Worldwide: “He went to Badminton in 2018 still a complete novice with all runs prior to badminton cancelled due to snow. He finished 21st with a clear cross country – a pole down in the show jumping dropped us from ninth place. He then went on to win the ROR 3 phase challenge which is an equivalent competition to the BYEH at Floors Castle. In 2019 he has made the step up to BE100 level jumping several double clears to date.
Many events recognise the importance of retraining racehorses, including Belsay Horse Trials. It awards the Gill Gilbertson Memorial Slaver to the highest placed re-trained racehorse across the BE100 and BE90 classes. This year it was presented to go Sophie Dods riding Bamber Bridge who were fourth in a BE90 Section.
Sophie told Eventing Worldwide: “My dad trains racehorses and trained Bamber Bridge. He won as a two-year-old on the flat and was placed as a three-year-old but didn’t meet the grade as a four-year-old. I knew the people who owned him well so asked if I could keep him and try event him because he was such a nice-looking horse. That was in the October 2017 and he was still a colt so we had him gelded and started from there. Last year I did one BE80 with him and he was great so this year just went straight for the BE90. It felt great to win the Slaver as this was only his fifth event and he’s just taking everything in his stride. I hope to carry on doing BE90s this year and maybe think about BE100 next year or try get him qualified for RoR Grassroots eventing championships.”