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20 July 2022

British Racing partners with HEROS to expand its safety net and begins roll-out of further aftercare initiatives

HEROS, the aftercare and retraining specialist centre based in Oxfordshire, has been appointed as the new primary partner for British Horseracing’s official welfare charity, Retraining of Racehorses (RoR), for the provision of specialist care and support for horses at their first step out of racing.   

Led by The Horse Welfare Board and RoR, this appointment marks an important milestone in the collective establishment of racing’s responsibility, and the expansion of the industry’s safety net. Developments follow on from the Horse Welfare Board’s 2021 Aftercare Funding Review which carried out a detailed study into the management and quality levels of racing’s aftercare segment and made a series of recommendations.

Barry Johnson, Chair of the Horse Welfare Board explains:

“The Life Well Lived Strategy was created to ensure that during the whole lifetime of the thoroughbred, all facets of its welfare are scrutinised and where possible improved. This new agreed definition of racing’s responsibility means we can now expand the sport’s safety net to ensure a smooth transition out of racing for any horse bred for racing. This is about providing a safe space for thoroughbreds that may need additional support via an industry-backed organisation with first-class experience and facilities.”  

An extensive five-month pitch process engaged 60 British aftercare providers, resulting in a shortlist of top candidates from which HEROS was selected by a panel of experts from across the industry. Established and led by Grace Muir, the HEROS Charity has rehomed more than 700 ex-racehorses since starting operations in 2006 and has also built an impressive educational programme over the past seven years, backed by the Racing Foundation. 

CEO and Founder Grace Muir commented:

“HEROS was officially launched in 2006, but thoroughbreds have always been part of my life and I have been retraining them for more than 30 years. I have an incredible team who are as committed as I am to their care and wellbeing.  This endorsement from the industry gives HEROS the confidence to forge ahead and achieve even more with our work. Thoroughbreds have such a wide range of capabilities, we are fortunate to be able to offer top class facilities to be able to retrain, rehabilitate and educate here and it’s so rewarding to see them go on to have useful, healthy, active lives after their racing career.”

Starting from August, HEROS will provide high quality care for any thoroughbred exiting racing that may need extended time and additional resource to support retraining or recuperation. As part of the service, full assessments of each individual animal will be carried out with bespoke programmes designed and implemented to help transition them successfully to their next stage of life. Once a horse has been approved for rehoming, HEROS will then use its extensive network, and that of RoR’s, to help match each horse to an appropriate owner. For anyone new to owning a thoroughbred, a range of educational and support programmes will also be offered to ensure both horse and owner have the appropriate foundations in place to set them up for success.

In partnership with RoR, HEROS will receive additional funds to support their new role and expanded responsibilities for British horseracing. All current funding opportunities for the network of aftercare providers across Britain remain unchanged. 

This new pathway will be an alternative to the work undertaken by owners and trainers in finding retired racehorses a new career. In fact, analysis of over 3,000 horses registered with RoR shows that 91% of former racehorses are acquired by their new owner without going via a charitable rehoming or commercial retraining operation. The route taken is a more direct one, with 77% sourced either privately or direct from the trainer.

Alongside this work, the Horse Welfare Board is progressing at speed on additional initiatives in the aftercare space. Partnering with the University of Surrey, the team is looking to develop and expand the use of a bespoke welfare assessment software tool – known as the Animal Welfare Assessment Grid (AWAG). Designed to be easily used on phones and laptops, AWAG will officially record a thoroughbred’s wellbeing on retirement, score its appropriateness for different uses, and flag up areas for development or of concern. A pilot study in the hands of selected trainers is now taking place with roll-out planned during the last quarter of 2022. This will coincide with the formalisation and introduction of an aftercare and retraining accreditation standard which will be introduced before the end of the year to help current organisations become more sustainable and strive for gold-standard operating and service levels.

Philip Freedman, Chair of Retraining of Racehorses (RoR) said:

“In recent years there has been sustained growth in the demand for thoroughbreds among the wider equestrian community. This has been a very positive development and is in large part due to the work of RoR in providing opportunities for former racehorses across a range of disciplines and educational measures for their riders.

“However, the organic nature of this growth has led to some horses being cared for by individuals who are not always best qualified for that particular horse at that particular stage of its career. This issue was identified by the Aftercare Funding Review group who, as part of their recommendations, advocated the introduction of a more informed approach to the assessment of horses leaving racing. 

“Considerable cross-industry work has taken place since that review and these latest developments are important steps forward to establish stronger standards, structures, and systems to support thoroughbreds as they transition away from the sport.” 

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