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20 July 2023

Power of Therapy through thoroughbred connections underlined by Racing to Relate findings

Recent research conducted by Racing to Relate at the University of Bristol has reinforced the growing evidence of the power of the thoroughbred to provide therapy for those struggling with a multitude of issues. Racing To Relate is a small independent charity recognised by The International Forum For Aftercare of Racehorses.

Claire Neveux of Bristol Veterinary School said: “We had 125 respondents from all over the world. From which we gathered very detailed information on 427 horses, including 57 Thoroughbreds.

“Thoroughbreds have very specific characteristics that make them interesting for equine assisted services. The first one is reactivity. Practitioners like horses to be reactive because when the horse reacts, he interacts with the person, and this is very helpful in the work to benefit people. According to all respondents, experience is also very important, and they said that some of their clients relate to the past experience of Thoroughbreds. Another characteristic that was cited by correspondents is their sensitivity. We don’t yet know what is behind this yet, and that’s something we want to explore in phase two.”

This area of work is being explored by Racing Together with the Ouzbeck Pilot, as well as already in practice with well established charities such as Riding for the Disabled, Ride High, Strength and Learning Through Horses. Individual trainers are also demonstrating the power of thoroughbreds in care home settings, with Jo Foster’s Sigurd and Martin and Belinda Keighley’s Mr Mafia.

In the modern era, Winston Churchill’s famous quote still rings true: ‘there is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man,’ and it is former racehorses that are proving to be the leaders in this field.

The International Forum for the Aftercare of Racehorses (IFAR) has announced that the third episode of their video magazine is available, highlighting this crucial role that thoroughbreds are playing in therapeutic settings.

YouTube player

Global programmes using thoroughbreds for mental and physical therapy are highlighted in the video magazine, including programmes such as BraveHearts, Equine Pathways, HorseBack UK, Racing Hearts, Racing to Relate and the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation.

HorseBack UK, based in Aberdeen, was founded by Jock Hutchison in 2009 with the aim of helping wounded military veterans by introducing them to horses.

“When we started HorseBack, we were going to use American western horses because we were very focussed on the physically injured and on giving people mobility with dignity,” said Hutchison. “However, we very quickly understood that what was really making a difference was the forming of a bond with the horses. We saw that the sensitivity and intelligence of former racehorses made them fantastic horses for groundwork. The level of interaction you get from a Thoroughbred is way higher than any other horse.

“Furthermore, many of these horses share the same journey as the individuals that we are helping. The horses were in a yard, part of a team, with a routine and every so often they had to go and do something really intense, which they loved. And that was very similar to the life of the military people, which is the first group that we engaged with.”

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