From the racetrack to retirement

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The American Association of Equine Practitioners has developed guidelines to help veterinarians and adoption groups successfully transition retired racehorses to new homes and new careers. "Transitioning the Retired Racehorse: Guidelines for Equine Practitioners, Adoption Organizations, and Horse Owners" provides an overview of the common physical challenges affecting former racehorses and helps establish expectations for a horse's future capabilities.

"Based on their professional experience, most veterinarians will have a personal perspective regarding which medical conditions can be consistent with various uses," according to the document. "These guidelines will outline the common health issues encountered and offer opinions based on the committee's collective expertise."

The typical ailments listed include fetlock lameness, tendon and ligamentous injury, upper airway conditions such as laryngeal hemiplegia or "roaring," and gastric ulcers.

Geriatric horseIn their post-racing careers, these horses can range from unridden companion animals to athletic sport horses. The document recommends that veterinarians be familiar with the demands and health requirements of each career and suggests that a conservative prognosis for athletic ability of any specific horse be given to avoid failed owners' expectations, resulting in the horse becoming unwanted.

Admittedly, the cost of housing, retraining, and re-homing retired racehorses can be considerable; yet, little national data exist on the actual costs of veterinary care for these animals. Much of the guidelines' data came from the Communication Alliance to Network Thoroughbred Ex-Racehorses, or CANTER, which shared its information on the costs of caring for the thousands of animals it housed and transitioned from 1997-2009.

The approximate cost to CANTER for horses not needing veterinary intervention—those deemed sound—and kept an average of four months was $1,200. For horses kept an average of eight months and needing surgical intervention, the approximate cost to CANTER, not including surgical costs, was $3,200.

"As more horses are transitioned from racing to other uses, the role of the equine practitioner and the rescue/rehoming organizations will be of increasing importance," according to the document.

"The guidelines outlined in this document are designed to enhance this transition and to establish reasonable expectations for use of these animals. It is the goal of this committee that the well being of the horse be paramount in the decision for future use and that the rehoming groups apply sound financial decisions in their care and management programs."

Developed by the six-member Transitioning Subcommittee of the AAEP Racing Committee, the guidelines grew from a need expressed by rescue and retirement organizations at the 2010 Welfare and Safety of the Racehorse Summit. The guidelines were approved Jan. 23 by the AAEP board of directors. To see the full document, go to and select the "Transitioning Retired Racehorses" link under the "Guidelines" heading.