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Thoroughbred use, health and owner satisfaction following retirement from racing

Horse in StallEach year a great many Thoroughbred racehorses retire and are re-homed for alternative careers unrelated to racing. Whilst studies investigating racehorse health are frequent, there are few regarding the health of Thoroughbreds post-race career. To address this lack of information, a questionnaire study to collect and evaluate information regarding the use and perceived health of retired Thoroughbred racehorses, as well as owner satisfaction, has been conducted in the USA1.

A 31‐question survey on use, health and behavior was made available to owners of Thoroughbred horses who had retired from racing. A similar survey was available to owners of a control population of non‐Thoroughbred horses. Prior racing data were also obtained from a publicly available database for Thoroughbreds. Statistical analysis was performed to compare incidence of health and behavior issues between Thoroughbreds and controls and between different racing experiences for Thoroughbreds.

Data from owners were collected for 1179 ex-racehorses and 212 non‐racehorses. Retired Thoroughbreds racehorses were 14 times more likely than controls to have a known issue at the time of acquisition. Ex-racehorses were also more likely to suffer from musculoskeletal injuries (x4), gastrointestinal (x2), behavioral (x2) and foot/hoof issues (x3) than controls in their first year of new ownership.

Age at first start, age at last start, number of starts and breaks of 6 months or more during racing career did not affect incidence of musculoskeletal disease, behavioral issues, hoof/foot issues, respiratory disease and neurologic disease.

Horses with >51 lifetime starts were four times more likely to experience gastrointestinal disease in the first year after retirement from racing than control horses. There was no difference between Thoroughbreds and control horses for resolution of issues present at acquisition.

This information is useful for advising prospective owners of the possible needs of Thoroughbred horses retired from racing. Knowledge of these common issues may aid the success of transition from a race career to an alternative discipline.


1. Reed, S.K., Vander Ley, B.B., Bell, R.P., Wilson, D.A., Wilborn, E. and Keegan, K.G. (2020) Survey on Thoroughbred use, health, and owner satisfaction following retirement from racing. Equine Vet. Educ. 32, Suppl. 11, 82‐87.

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