The British Thoroughbred Retraining Centre’s CEO Gillian Carlisle on how she and her team are keeping the Centre on course and ready to meet the challenges ahead.
Over the last few months, BTRC has been fortunate to be able to keep the operation running normally, although the rehoming programme has been suspended. As BTRC emerged from lockdown, there was a sudden surge in the number of applications to gift horses to the Centre owing to owners’ financial struggles (as a direct result of COVID-19) in caring for their retired racehorses. With no re-homing and events cancelled, the Charity’s income has been hit hard and the BTRC owe a huge debt of thanks to the Racing Industry: The Racing Foundation; The ROR and The Levy Board) who have stepped in with funding to support the Centre during these challenging and difficult times.
International perspective on welfare challenges
In 2011, I was fortunate to be offered a job with the Hong Kong Jockey Club (HKJC) that allowed me to use my equestrian and commercial experience. This role included being responsible for the rehabilitation and retraining of the retired racehorse population that were not exported by their race owners. I oversaw the rehabilitation stables for active racehorses at HKJC’s Beas River facility. I fell in love with this part of the job, so much so that when I left Hong Kong I brought my best friend back home with me, a retired racehorse called Fat Dragon (Fatty) who made a new home in County Down to live with my other horses.
I was delighted to be able to join the team at the BTRC (when called the Thoroughbred Rehabilitation Centre) in 2015 to continue this rewarding work with retired Thoroughbreds. Three years later, I graduated from the Thoroughbred Horseracing Industries MBA at the University of Liverpool. My final project was completed on behalf of the British Horseracing Authority and consisted of researching the welfare challenges facing retired and unwanted racehorses in racing jurisdictions throughout the world.
The work of BTRC
Established in 1991, The Thoroughbred Rehabilitation Centre was the UK’s first charity dedicated to retired racehorse welfare – through rehabilitation, retraining and rehoming to ensure protection for life. The charity is based on a marvellous 200-acre farm in Lancashire with bespoke facilities for retraining Thoroughbreds. In 2016, to celebrate the Charity’s 25th anniversary the TRC evolved and became The British Thoroughbred Retraining Centre (BTRC). In the same year, Dame Judi Dench became Patron succeeding the legendary Sir Peter O’Sullevan, who was a huge supporter of BTRC’s work and was Patron from when the charity was established until his death in 2015.
Today, the BTRC is a centre of excellence, not only for the retraining of Thoroughbreds, but also as a training centre to ensure best practice is maintained in this increasingly popular area of the equestrian industry. The BTRC aim to help as many horses as possible each year to be rehomed; these horses either come straight from the racing industry or pre-trained equestrian homes that for many reasons can no longer cope or care for the horse.
Not all retired racehorses need our help
Each year thousands of horses leave racing, some because they reach the end of their career naturally, and others through injury or lack of ability. Not all racehorses need help, many horses find a second home effortlessly and easily make the transition into a new career. Unfortunately, not all horses are so lucky and that is why the work of the BTRC is so important as the charity is always there for the horses that become vulnerable and need help.
One of the most satisfying parts of our work is stopping the cycle of unsuitable horses being passed from one owner to the next. BTRC Walter was one example. Walter was rescued by a local council and subsequently rehomed, but within a year ended up in a second horse rescue centre and sold again to a riding school. He was struggling in his new home and BTRC was contacted for help. The BTRC’s dedicated team was delighted to be able to care for Walter and find him a new home with a suitable loaner. BTRC never sell any of their horses therefore Walter’s future is protected for the rest of his life – he will never become a welfare case again.
Visitors always welcome
Interaction with the community and local organisations, especially individuals that would not normally, or ever, encounter horses, never mind a racehorse is vital to us. BTRC therefore welcomes different groups to visit the Centre to meet and learn about the horses. The team encourages visitors to get close to the horses, and for many it is the first time they will a touch a horse. Retired racehorses are so kind and love the attention and treats that visitors bring along. These visits also provide the BTRC with an opportunity to inform people about the Racing Industry and to explain what happens to racehorses when they retire; and how they can be taught new skills, so they can have an opportunity of a second career.
We’re part of a vital network
The Retraining of Racehorses charity (RoR) also do extremely important work educating the public about the versatility of the racehorse as a riding horse, and all the activities in which they can excel. The RoR also offer training clinics and lots of various competitions in different disciplines, such as dressage, show jumping, polo etc for the retired racehorses.
BTRC also offers an extensive work experience programme to students from the UK and overseas, including China, Germany, Japan, Switzerland, Austria, Hong Kong, France, United States and Italy. These students come from a range of backgrounds – from Veterinary to Sports Psychology, or horse enthusiasts who are considering working in the racing/equestrian sector and would like more experience with Thoroughbreds. BTRC work closely with many Universities and Colleges but students can also apply direct by emailing the Centre on firstname.lastname@example.org
The future of racehorse welfare
Times have changed and racing, like all industries, must be aware of their corporate social responsibilities – whether that is looking after the individuals who work within the industry or the communities that enjoy and support the sport. Britain is a country of animal lovers and society today is concerned with the use of any animal for entertainment. It is therefore vital that racing does everything within its power to care and protect the Thoroughbred throughout the course of the animal’s life – from birth, during the horse’s career and into retirement. If not, then society may revoke racing’s social licence to operate.
Jurisdictions around the world are quickly realising that retired racehorse aftercare is vital to the industry’s survival.