Animal Care

Retirement of the Former Racehorses

Horse racing in the world is so huge billion-dollar industry. But horses can’t race their entire lives; instead, they are retired at some point and can go on to different activities, such as a second career in another athletic field like show jumping or as a pleasure horse.

The question of what happens to racehorses after they retire doesn’t always garner as much attention as what crazy hats spectators wore at the Kentucky Derby or what the payout for first place was in a major race. But many Thoroughbreds retire with more than half of their life ahead of them, and once they’re no longer turning a profit on the track, their future can become murky.

Where a retired racehorse ends up depends on many things, including their success on the track and the considerations of their owners. Here are a few of the various options for retired racehorses.

Breeding Farms

Retired female Thoroughbreds may have a second career as broodmares on breeding farms. Very successful un-castrated male Thoroughbreds may retire on “stud farms”. Breeders pay a high premium for top-tier Thoroughbreds in order to pass on desirable genetics.

Other Sports

Some horses who have been retired from racing are shifted over to other sports, such as dressage.

New Vocations, the largest racehorse adoption program in the world, often helps facilitate these transitions. The organization helps unwanted, retired racehorses find happily ever after—retraining and adopting out horses to people who intend to keep them for the remainder of their days. Since 1992, New Vocations has helped place more than 6,000 retired racehorses into qualified homes.

Rescue and Safe Retirement

There are many organizations across the world that have dedicated themselves to rescuing and adopting out racehorses. Sometimes, like with New Vocations, that means retraining for other events and adoption to experienced owners. Other times, it means retirement on a sanctuary farm.

Thoroughbred Horse

Thoroughbreds are multipurpose horses, and many former racehorses find second careers as riding or driving horses. Thoroughbreds are classified as “hot-blooded” horses, or horses that tend to be spirited, bold, intelligent, and athletic. It’s a demeanor, not every equestrian can handle, but it does make for a magnificent horse.

Breed Overview

WEIGHT: 1,000 to 1,200 pounds

HEIGHT: 15 hands (60 inches) to 17 hands (68 inches)

BODY TYPE: Deep chest; lean, athletic build; long neck; powerful hindquarters

BEST FOR: Owners and riders with some equine experience

LIFE EXPECTANCY: 25 to 35 years

Thoroughbred Size

Thoroughbreds range in height from around 15 hands (60 inches) to 17 hands (68 inches). Most stand at roughly 16 hands (64 inches) tall. They typically weigh between 1,000 and 1,200 pounds.

Thoroughbred Breeding and Uses

Although they’ve been bred primarily for their racehorse qualities since their origin, thoroughbreds are also seen in many other equine sports, including hurdle and sports obstacle passouts. They’re also used as trail horses, general riding horses, and pleasure driving horses. Many former racehorses, also known as off-the-track thoroughbreds or OTTBs, move on to become riding and driving horses. 

Furthermore, thoroughbreds are often used to add refinement and athleticism to other horse breeds. Many sport horses in particular have thoroughbreds in their ancestry.

Colors and Markings

Thoroughbreds come in every solid equine coat color. Most often they are bay, brown, chestnut, black, or gray. Many breed registries don’t recognize coat patterns that include more than one color. But white facial and leg markings, such as blazes or stockings, are allowed, though many thoroughbreds are plain with minor to no markings. 

Unique Characteristics of the Thoroughbred

A thoroughbred’s athleticism and refined appearance are its defining characteristics. These horses can reach speeds of around 40 miles per hour. Their back legs are particularly long, which amplifies thrust as they gallop. And even though they are powerful, muscular horses, they’re able to move with grace and agility.

Diet and Nutrition

Thoroughbreds eat a typical equine diet of quality grass, hay, grains, and some fruits and vegetables. Vitamin and mineral supplementation might be necessary. Many thoroughbreds tend to have a fast metabolism, so they might require more food than other horses their size to maintain a healthy weight.

Common Health and Behavior Problems

Thoroughbreds are prone to several health problems, many of which are due to being bred for racing. Because they’re often pushed to physical extremes on the race track, the rate of health complications and accidents—such as life-ending fractures—for thoroughbreds is high. 

The breed also is susceptible to exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage or bleeding in the lungs from intense exercise. Plus, some thoroughbreds have abnormally small hearts, which can contribute to circulatory issues. And some have hooves that are too small for their body size, which can cause soreness and lameness.

In terms of behavior, many thoroughbreds are too spirited and energetic for beginning equestrians. But they are highly intelligent and have a strong work ethic. A confident, experienced handler can often train this horse to excel in various equine sports.

However, former racehorses can be especially difficult to retrain for other purposes, including general riding. These horses have been geared toward racing their whole lives and often spook at loud noises that remind them of starter pistols. In addition, former racehorses typically only have basic behavioral training.


Standard equine grooming practices are suitable for thoroughbreds. Brush them at least a couple of times per week, and inspect and clean their hooves daily to look for injuries and prevent infection. 

When grooming a thoroughbred, it’s important to be extra gentle because this horse has thinner skin than many other breeds. So a thoroughbred might be more sensitive and annoyed by grooming, especially if you hit any sore spots. Take the process slowly, and reward the horse with treats or praise for good behavior. Also, look for soft grooming tools, such as a brush with natural bristles instead of nylon.

How to Adopt or Buy a Thoroughbred

It’s important to visit with a potential horse before committing. Ask the seller about the horse’s history, health, temperament, and training. In particular, a former racehorse might lack training or have lingering injuries. So make sure you’ll be able to manage the horse before you opt to bring it home.

How You Can Help

All racehorses deserve the chance at a happy retirement. If you would like to support the work of those who care for former racehorses, consider making the right decision for them. Due to natural strong sense and behavior, horses are not suited left for dressage always. They are stronger and respected survivors.


The divine scriptures are God’s beacons to the world. Surely God offered His trust to the heavens and the earth, and the hills, but they shrank from bearing it and were afraid of it. And man undertook it.


Back to top button