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The commonest reason for retiring racehorses is that they are too slow to race, rather than injury or illness. Generally speaking, retired racehorses can and do provide many years of enjoyment to their new owner.

Upon arrival

A equine dentist can help bitting issues which are exacerbated by sharp teeth, ulceration or even wolf teeth.

A full MOT should be undertaken comprising consultations with the farrier, equine dentist technician and a practitioner trained in osteopathy, physiotherapy or chiropractic. If possible use someone who has experience in treating ex-racehorses as they will be familiar with the sorts of injuries these horses can carry.

A worm count should also be done. The horse will need to put on condition and if this does not start happening within a few weeks, worm again and if there is still no improvement then ulcers should be ruled out.

For horses fresh out of training, vaccinations should be up to date but do check these have not lapsed. It is important that you keep your horse protected from equine influenza even if you elect not to have a tetanus jab. Do also insure your horse, for at least third party insurance.

Injuries – what injuries may have occurred and the implications?

Whilst your horse may not have actually retired from racing due to injury it is possible that during his racing career he will have incurred an injury at some time.

The common sites of injury are forelegs, back and pelvis. Although these may well seem fully healed there could be some on-going compensatory issues that require attention hence why an MOT is a good idea so that these can be identified before you embark on your retraining programme. It is common to find that back pain albeit low grade presents during early training but with treatment and sound schooling to build strong muscle and connective tissue any niggles soon dissolve.

It is not uncommon for the older ex-racehorse to have a lump, bump or a puffy joint. A check from the vet will ensure they are no longer troublesome. The red arrow is highlighting where a splint has been removed.

The primary injuries affecting racehorses are sprains to the tendons and ligaments of the front limbs. In the majority of cases, rest followed by a rehabilitation period is all that is required after which they can happily pursue a wide range of activities which are a bit less strenuous compared to racing.

Horses which have suffered from a limb fracture (typically to the knee) will be prone to arthritis. Your veterinary surgeon will probably take x-rays to determine the extent of deterioration and will be able to recommend the best course of action. Arthritis in the main is readily treatable and horses can continue to lead a very active life.

The horse’s pelvis is not sitting square as evidenced by Line C; there is consequential muscle wastage (Arrows A and B). Look at the green line and you can see how the twist in the horse is causing the saddle to sit to the right.

Due to the rigours of national hunt racing, hurdlers and chasers may have tipped up at some point. Although most will jump up and re-join the race, such falls will have caused bruising and jarring with the possibility that some of the vertebrae get knocked out of alignment, as can also happen to the pelvis. Tilts and rotations to the pelvis are common and are generally straightforward to correct. Unfortunately some horses do fracture the pelvis. Depending on the exact location and severity horses can recover from such injury and go on to lead an active life. However if the pelvis should heal asymmetrically this can affect a horse’s ability to perform circles and lateral movements.

Wind operations are quite common in racing but apart from an odd sounding whinny there is no reason for this to affect future performance in your chosen discipline.

Other ailments

Research has highlighted that ulcers are commonplace, and whilst racehorses are the most affected horses, low grade ulcers can also be found in the small, fat, hairy family pony.

The typical indications for the presence of ulcers are a dull coat, loss of condition, grumpiness and sensitivity around the girth area. Ulcers can also lie behind poor performance, changes in the gait and poor behaviour. The change you will implement to a diet that is higher in forage and fibre will help manage the ulcers but may not completely eliminate them and you should consult with your veterinary surgeon for specific treatment.

Epistaxis (nose bleeds) are quite common in racing and can signify the end of a racing career. Once a horse takes up a quieter way of life no further problems should manifest. Similarly diseases of the respiratory tract do not cause further issue once a horse has left the racing environment as typically the longer periods of turnout are good for the airways.

Not every horse enjoys racing so this can lead to difficulties in a horse maintaining his condition and him being described as a poor doer. However, once in a new environment with a less exacting way of life coupled with more individual attention and a change in diet, most thrive without veterinary intervention.