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All Thoroughbred horses can trace their ancestry back to three original Arab stallions which are the Darley Arabian, the Godolphin Arabian and the Byerley Turk. If the name Darley and Godolphin sound familiar that is because they are still two famous names on today’s flat racing scene. His Royal Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum has a prolific stud of this name which stands stallions around the world in six countries including the UK at the heart of British racing, Newmarket. Newmarket is also home to Godolphin stables another very successful race yard producing winning horses on the flat.
The Thoroughbred is synonymous with racing not just in the UK but all over the world. However it is not confined to flat racing; larger horses with more bone are used for jump racing as well. The Thoroughbred is the ultimate speed machine and the breed was maintained and developed down the centuries for the so called “Sport of Kings” – racing. On average, they weigh in at between 450kg - 600kg.
All racing Thoroughbreds are registered with one organisation in the UK and this is Weatherbys which was established in 1770 for the registration of Thoroughbreds and the administration of racing for the British Horseracing Authority.
As a cross to introduce quality and lightness to other breeds, the Thoroughbred also has no equal. After the Second World War when there was no longer any requirement for remount or cavalry horses, the motor car had arrived with vigour and agriculture was becoming mechanised, the Thoroughbred was used to lighten draught breeds to produce riding horses, sports horses and hunters. The Thoroughbred has also had a huge influence in the pedigrees of modern European warmbloods, being used to introduce athleticism and quality to heavier warmblood breeds. The Thoroughbred influence is everywhere.
A popular cross in the UK has been with the Irish Draught to produce a quality hunter or sports horse. The Thoroughbred is also a good first cross with some of the larger native breeds of pony such as the Connemara and the New Forest, again to produce a competitive animal that has the ability and quality of the Thoroughbred combined with the toughness and hardiness of the pony. As a competition horse away from racing, the Thoroughbred has seen perhaps the most success in the three day event where the full or 7/8TB is an accomplished eventer although this dominance has been threatened in more recent times by the modern warmblood.
Thoroughbreds do feature in other equestrian disciplines but are perhaps not the first choice for either show jumping or dressage although they can excel in both disciplines. A more recent development which has really raised the profile of the breed has been the appearance of new societies and organisation which are designed to take horses after their racing careers have finished and rehabilitate them for a ridden career.
The racing industry has long been criticised for the wastage in unwanted racehorses, horses that had come out of training either because they were simply too slow or had suffered injury which put an end to their racing career. Schemes appeared to gather up some of these horses and rehabilitate them into riding horses. Darley have a re-homing scheme, Moorcroft is another prominent name but in fact an internet search will reveal a lot of organisations both large and small.
Ex racehorses have sometimes made appearances in the show ring after their racing careers have finished, they can excel in hack and riding horse classes. However this whole area has been revolutionised by a recent organisation called RoR – Retraining of Racehorses – which has brought together under one umbrella all those individuals and groups interested in promoting the racing Thoroughbred as a riding horse. The profile of this group has been widened by the introduction of actual show classes specifically for retrained racehorses, these can be found at all levels from local through to county. Some of the qualifiers are held at prestigious locations such as the Burghley Horse Trials and the final for the Racehorse to Riding Horse of the Year is held at the Horse of the Year Show in October. Consequently this has become a very popular series and is a wonderful showcase for the Thoroughbred racehorse as a riding horse. Although the final at the Horse of the Year Show is on the flat, jumping classes have also been introduced. Retraining of Racehorses has also recently begun a pilot scheme working in conjunction with the international welfare charity World Horse Welfare at their headquarters in Norfolk in order to develop their rehabilitation work further.
There is a wealth of information on the RoR website for those looking for a former racehorse. Whilst the Thoroughbred is not suited to every rider – they are perhaps too quick and sharp for a novice – not every ex racehorse is a speed machine. Thoroughbreds are suitable for all the equestrian disciplines although clearly their forte is eventing because of the requirement to gallop.