Australian Study: Why Do Thoroughbreds Retire?

A new study out of Australia has found that 17 percent of 37,750 racehorses retired during the 2017-18 racing season there left the track because of poor performance or at their owner’s request. In addition, the study found that 2.1 percent of racehorses that left racing during that timeframe died.

Dr. Kshitiz Shrestha of the University of Melbourne and a research team emailed a questionnaire to the last registered trainers of a sample of the 2,509 Thoroughbreds listed as “inactive” in that timeframe. An “inactive” horse is one that has not worked or raced in the last six months of the racing season, or those horses that were recorded as inactive by Racing Australia.

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In total, 1,750 responses were received. Of those, 43 percent had only temporarily left racing; those horses raced the following year. One-third of the retirements were because of injuries, predominantly tendon or ligament issues.

The study determined that the median age of the 780 horses that were retired was 5 years. Females were 1.2 times more likely to be retired than males, but male horses were more likely to become riding horses than females, many of which went on to breed.

The scientists also found that 90 of the 96 horses that died did so because of injury or illness; 54 percent of the horses had experienced an injury while exercising — 24 of them while racing and 19 while training. The other 6 were injured while participating in a trial.

The researchers note that their findings are consistent with previous Australian and New Zealand studies that report that most racehorse retirements are voluntary in nature because of poor performance or owner request.

They note that the decision to retire is based on an accumulation of factors, including performance. The median age of retirement shows that most horses are not forced to retire because of an injury. This information can be used as a benchmark to evaluate programs designed to track Thoroughbreds as they leave racing.

Read the study here.

Read more at HorseTalk.

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