What Is Aftercare?

Bethany P Photography

“Aftercare” can be broadly defined as the care and rehoming of a horse once it retires from racing: horses usually only race for a few years of their lives, but can live to be 30, so a viable option for their post-racing years is a necessity. Many racing athletes can go on to productive second careers as riding and competition horses in the equestrian world — but bridging the gap between a racing career and a second career can be a challenge. That’s where the Thoroughbred aftercare industry comes in.

There are four main branches of the aftercare industry: non-profit organizations, open market resellers/listing agents, sanctuary, and education/advocacy programs. Let’s take a closer look at each:

Non-profit organizations: Supported by donors, sponsors, grants, fundraisers and adoption fees. These organizations typically take over ownership of horses from racing connections; individual policies may request or require a monetary donation to accompany the horse to help defray the cost of care during the transition, especially if the horse requires veterinary care and/or rehabilitation for a racing injury. Many organizations offer some level of retraining for a second career before offering horses for adoption; some require horses to come back to the organization if they are not going to be kept by the original adopter, while others turn over full ownership with rights to sell and/or breed the horse as desired. Some non-profit organizations serve only as a listing service to connect equestrian buyers with the racing connections to facilitate sale.

Open market: More horses retire from the track than North America’s non-profit organizations can reasonably take on, which is why the open market is an important part of aftercare. This branch of the industry relies on connections between track owners and trainers to individuals in the equestrian industry who are capable of transitioning Thoroughbreds from the track to second careers. Horses sourced through these individuals may have varying degrees of retraining for a second career, ranging from completely un-restarted to well-schooled with a show record. Some individuals operate as listing agents, connecting equestrian buyers with the racing connections to facilitate sale.

Sanctuary: Sanctuaries are typically permanent retirement facilities for racehorses. Some organizations may utilize horses for human therapeutic or rehabilitative programs, but horses are typically not ridden. Sanctuary can be a great option for horses who cannot be ridden due to soundness, temperament or other issues. Sanctuaries typically operate as non-profits, though private sanctuaries also exist.

Education/advocacy programs: Including both for-profit and non-profit organizations, education and advocacy programs are an important branch of Thoroughbred aftercare as they drive demand for the breed, incentivize off-track Thoroughbred ownership and participation in sport, and provide critical education to ensure that ex-racehorses transition safely and successfully to second careers. These programs elevate all other branches of aftercare by creating and promoting a market for the Thoroughbred as a sport horse.

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