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Retired Racehorse Adoption Guide: All You Need to Know

Last updated: May 3, 2023

By: Miles HenryFact Checked

We recently watched our friends’ horse lose its fourth race in a row. I know he won’t get many more chances, which makes me wonder about his post-racing career, so I researched retired racehorse adoptions.

Before you adopt a retired racehorse, you should have a place to keep the animal, understand essential horse health, and be financially stable enough to pay for the horse’s care. Often the best option for adopting a racehorse is through commercial adoption services.

Racehorses are big graceful animals with tremendous power and speed. But there is also a lot more to these animals than their appearance and speed, and if you intend to adopt one, you need to know everything about them.

What You Need to Know Before Adopting a Retired Racehorse.

Retired racehorses transition well to many equine activities and can be great companions. But before you take the leap and adopt a retired racehorse, there are some essential things you need to know.

Picture of a Thoroughbred racehorse at the Louisiana Fairgrounds race course in New Orleans,
Thoroughbred Racehorse

It’s important to learn about racehorse breeds.

Are you thinking about rescuing a retired racehorse? If so, be aware that adopting retired racehorses is not as simple as choosing a small abandoned animal from a shelter. Even though the process of adopting a horse may be demanding, the rewards can be life-changing for you and the lucky horse.

Most retired racehorses in the United States are either quarter horses or thoroughbreds. The importance of deciding which breed you intend to adopt will depend on the equine activity you hope to engage in with your new animal. You may want to read this article for guidance if you are undecided about an equine activity.

Former racing quarter horses transition well into trail riding horses and barrel horses and can be used in many other activities. In comparison, OTTBs are often used in showjumping, dressage, and eventing.

Find out the history of the specific racehorse.

It would be best to research the breed and the specific horse. Talk to people who have handled the horse and learn about his pedigree. Some pedigrees transition better to specific equine activities. It’s also essential you find out about his medical history, did he have any leg injuries, surgeries, etc. Ask for the vet’s name that treated the animal and request a copy of the records.

If you’re looking for a dressage or jumping prospect, then a retired racing thoroughbred may be the horse for you. Thoroughbreds are known to be high-strung, but they often transition to life outside of racing reasonably well with time, training, and attention. Remember, horses are individuals, so do your homework on any horse you are interested in obtaining.

Where to Find Retired Racehorses.

There are many places to find retired racehorses. If you live in a state with horse racing, finding a retired racehorse needing a home is quite simple. It’s not necessary to live near a track to find retired racehorses. The internet is an excellent resource for finding horses in need of homes. Here are some common places you can go to find a retired racehorse rescue:

Retired racehorse adoption agencies

When a horse is accepted, it is examined for any health problems. If a horse has issues, a veterinarian will check and treat the horse. Once the horse is healthy, these volunteers will start working with the horses.

They often begin their transition from racer to pleasure, riding with ease. They regularly train in other equine activities as the horse advances, such as jumping or dressage. Re-training is not a part of all rescue agencies, so do your homework on the facility you plan to adopt from.

Adoption agencies re-train racehorses.

Three agencies with good reputations are CANTER, Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation, and New Vocations Racehorse Adoption Program. There are many other good organizations, actually too many to list.

I listed these three groups because they have a sustained business and horse model proven over a long period. CANTER, for example, has taken in over 20,000 horses since its establishment in 1998.

New Vocations Racehorse Adoption Program has been helping to match horses with people since 1992. They provide rehab and training for horses at their facility, as does CANTER. Horse adoption agencies will require you to sign a contract, be sure to read this document carefully. Some contracts have restrictions on what you can do with the horse even after adopting it; for example, some agencies restrict breeding.

Adopting a retired racehorse from an agency is the most expensive.

Adoption agencies spend money and time with each retired racehorse, which is why adopting from a private agency is the most expensive. But the agency’s charge is reasonable when you consider what you are getting, a horse that has been vet-checked taken care of by a farrier, and well-nourished.

Adoption agencies typically provide support services.

A bonus is that most agencies provide support after the adoption. Adoption prices are based on the amount of time and money an agency has spent on the horse.

These agencies commonly spend more on a horse than the price they charge for adopting. You can expect to pay between $800-2,000 dollars for a horse from and horse rescue facility.

There will likely be no charge if you get your horse directly from an owner. They often give away horses to avoid the continuing costs of housing and feeding racehorses without the potential to earn money.

Private rescue agencies.

Private rescue agencies rehabilitate racehorses and are often the most reliable place to adopt your retired racehorse. Many of these agencies are non-profit businesses set up with the sole purpose of saving retired racehorses. The workers are commonly volunteers.

The agencies have contacts throughout the North American horse racing world. Owners, trainers, and jockeys will contact them when a horse is available.

Racehorse owners

Owners often give retired racehorses away. You can obtain a retired racehorse directly from an owner; this is the easiest. It would be best if you had contacts in the horse racing world, but getting to know people in the horse business isn’t difficult.

Visit tracks early and watch the morning workouts. Introduce yourself to trainers, jockeys, and owners. Tell them you are interested in adopting a racehorse that isn’t working out for them on the track.

They will be happy to include you on a list of people to contact when they have a horse available to give away. Owners of large farms have difficulty finding homes for horses that no longer race. There are a limited amount of people with the facilities and horse experience that are willing to take retired racehorses. They commonly give the horses away.

I have a friend that gets a few retired racehorses each year from owners. After working with them, he typically finds the horses a suitable home with someone who otherwise couldn’t afford to buy a horse.


Picture of a racehorse at an auction.

Local sales and auctions often have retired racehorses for sale. You need to check all horses carefully, but this is especially true at sales barns and auctions. If you are interested in a horse that didn’t get sold during an auction, you can go to the back and talk to the seller. Sometimes they are willing to let you have the horse cheap or even give him to you.

You need to be knowledgeable about horse lameness and disease when purchasing through a sales bar or auction. You can encounter some unscrupulous people at these places.

Some Horses Excel With a Second Chance.

I was looking for a new barrel horse prospect and decided to try a retired racing quarter horse. We let people in the horse racing industry know our intention and what we planned to do; we soon received a call about an available appendix-bred gelding.

Picture of a retired racehorse being used for recreational riding.

An appendix-bred quarter horse has thoroughbred bloodlines in its pedigree but can still be registered as a quarter horse. We talked with the horse owner and decided to try him under the saddle. The horse was a pleasant surprise; he was comfortable to ride and had a calmer temperament than I expected in a racehorse. The geldings’ appendix breeding isn’t ideal for barrels, but we decided to take the horse home and give him a try.

The owner of the horse was also the breeder of this gelding. Breeders earn a percentage of any earnings from their horses, regardless of who owns the horse. (You can click on this link to read more about the Louisiana Quarter Horse Breeder Association Incentive program. )

The chance of earning breeders fees prompted the owner to ask us to give the horse one more opportunity on the track before putting him in barrel training.

We studied the gelding’s past performance, looked at his breeding, and watched how he worked at our house. We found him a level-headed, sound horse but with more thoroughbred than quarter horse conformation.

We put him back in training and entered him into longer-distance races than he previously ran. He was very competitive, earning three seconds and a first before we decided to bring him home for good. We did train him for barrel racing, and he performed pretty well.

YouTube video

How to Prepare for Your Adopted Retired Racehorse.

Racehorses are kept in stalls for most of their life. When a racehorse retires, they need space. It would be best to have a stall available to house your horse and a turnout area. The more pasture time, the better your horse will transition into his new life. Horses are herd animals, so introducing other horses should be considered when possible.

Find out what the horse has been eating.

Most racehorses that come directly off the track are on a high-protein diet. They will need to have their feed adjusted. But, it’s crucial to change their diet gradually to avoid digestive problems, such as colic. Feed good quality hay and have a freshwater source. You can read more about feeding horses here.

Have a safe facility to bring your adopted horse.

If you bring a retired racehorse home, you need to make sure you have a safe facility. A reliable facility would be void of barbed wire fencing, appropriately sized stalls without hazards, and security gates for perimeter fencing. Secure fencing is vital for a horse coming directly from a racetrack.

Check your horse thoroughly once you bring it home.

7 Step checklist:

  • Thoroughly examine your horse for any signs of distress: heart rate, respiratory rate, and body temperature.
  • Check your horse’s teeth and float if needed.
  • Have a veterinarian check your horse,
  • Worm and vaccinate.
  • Farrier visit
  • Wash your horse and check for any skin irritations
  • Take your time. Different people at a track handle a racehorse. He likely had some negative experiences with people, so you need to give him time to adjust to you. Work slowly and safely.

If you don’t have much experience rescuing horses, I recommend adopting from an agency. They will assist you during the transition and have prepared the horse for its new life after racing. Good luck with your new adventure.

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