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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2021

Owner-perceived behaviour in thoroughbred horses in secondary careers - A pilot study

Hellmann, Lillian; Hamilton, Natasha A.; Staiger, Elizabeth A.; Sole, Marina; Velie, Brandon D.


With a substantial number of horses entering and leaving the racing industry annually, there is a need to develop techniques to improve the success of thoroughbreds transitioning into secondary careers. While studies focusing on horse wellbeing and traceability post racing are increasing, there is still a paucity of information in this area. Despite this knowledge gap, preconceived ideas that a majority of thoroughbreds display dangerous and erratic behaviors remains a point of contention in the equine industry. With ex-racehorses typically stereotyped by those outside the racing industry as possessing unsuitable temperaments leading to undesirable behaviors, questions often arise as to whether these characteristics may pose as a problem for thoroughbreds transitioning into alternate equine disciplines. The aim of this study was to investigate whether owner-perceived behavioral differences exist between thoroughbreds (i.e. horses typically bred for gallop racing) and horses bred for other disciplines in which thoroughbreds often enter as a secondary career. This information will help aid in the development and modification of programs seeking to place thoroughbreds into the most suitable careers upon racing retirement. Data were acquired through an online, internationally accessible owner questionnaire. Respondents provided basic information on their horse including breed, sex, year of birth and current discipline, along with owner-perceived information on their horse's behavior. Analyses considered behavioral data on 313 horses, from multiple breeds, across four main disciplines; dressage, eventing, show jumping and recreational riding. Although significant differences (p < 0.05) in owner reported behavioral responses between thoroughbreds bred for gallop racing and horses bred for other disciplines were rare, where differences occurred, it was generally the thoroughbreds that were thought to behave more favorably. Thoroughbreds were perceived as more social and were reported as demonstrating higher levels of "self-control" compared to horses bred for other disciplines. This suggests that while potential behavioral distinctions can be made, the notion that thoroughbreds are unsuitable for certain equine disciplines based on their temperament and subsequent behavior is not supported.


equine; horse; racing; wastage; welfare

Published in

Applied Animal Behaviour Science
2021, volume: 244, article number: 105480
Publisher: ELSEVIER

Authors' information

Hellmann, Lillian
University of Sydney
Hamilton, Natasha A.
University of Sydney
Staiger, Elizabeth A.
Auburn University
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Animal Breeding and Genetics
Velie, Brandon D.
University of Sydney

UKÄ Subject classification

Animal and Dairy Science

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