Thinking about what that next chapter looks like for racing standardbreds is something every harness professional should consider.
Many standardbreds finish racing while they’re still young, healthy and with many years of adventures ahead of them.
Retirement from racing no longer means a life standing around in the back paddock.
Today, standardbreds are a sought-after choice of mount for riders seeking a fun, safe, intelligent, versatile horse to enjoy a range of ridden pursuits.
Preparing your standardbred for life beyond racing offers a fantastic opportunity to give your racehorse a proper send off and to ensure the transition to ridden training is as seamless and positive a process as possible, for all involved.
"A lot of our owners pay good money for the horses but they don't have a place to keep them when they retire so they're always looking for the best home after racing for their horses, the HERO program just provides peace of mind," leading trainer Emma Stewart said.
"The horses have been good to us and good to their owners, so we want to reward them after racing,"
To be accepted into the HRV HERO program, each horse will undergo a veterinary examination prior to being sent to a retrainer, which is paid for by HRV HERO.
The pre-acceptance examination involves a range of general health and wellbeing checks, as well as flexion and gait analysis to detect any soundness or movement issues that may present issues under saddle.
To give your standardbred the best chance of passing this test, it’s advised that the horse is sent to HERO within a healthy weight range and in good overall condition.
The horse’s hooves should be neatly trimmed, to allow them to move freely and pass their biomechanical checks (sore feet may make the horse appear lame or uneven).
"We look at their musculoskeletal health, cardiovascular health, hooves, nervous system, eyes, just to name a few, along with an assessment of their temperament so that they can be best fitted to the right retrainer and have the best chance of a successful transition into their new life," HRV veterinarian Dr Lesley Hawson said. "Making sure they are fit, healthy and ready to go onto their next career is paramount."
Any history of dental checks, worming or vaccinations will also be helpful information for the attending veterinarian and to ensure that no doubling-up of treatment occurs.
Once a horse has passed its veterinary examination and formally accepted into the HERO program, they will be assigned to a recognised retrainer.
HERO has a team of highly experienced recognised retrainers, with passion and skill in a range of equestrian disciplines that mean your horse will have a fantastic opportunity to sample some different styles of riding and see where their talents lie.
"They're outstanding horses, their temperaments, they try so hard, some are really suited to being performance horses at the top level and others are a little more laid back and suit that pleasure lifestyle," HERO retrainer Nicole Touzel said. "It's just about finding where their talents lie."
The HERO nomination form becomes a guide to help HERO retrainers to know as much as possible about each horse before they commence work.
Having an awareness of positive traits, quirks, vices, fears and things the horse loves will enable the retrainer to introduce or keep watch for these things as they settle the horse into their new home, which can greatly reduce the stress on the animal and cut down the ‘figuring out’ time required to get to know each horse’s unique needs.
"As HERO retrainers we depend on as much information as possible about each horse, so we know what we are working with," HERO retrainer Heather Paix said. "Information such as any quirks, idiosyncrasies, previous training, injuries, et cetera. This ensures we can match a suitable home that will continue to support each horse in their journey beyond the track."
HERO horses undergo an intensive (but immensely enjoyable) process of specialised retraining across the weeks leading to rehoming, which is often documented via posts on social media.
The people who purchase standardbreds from HERO retrainers often become deeply passionate about the breed and pride themselves on providing exceptional care to their four-hooved friends.
"He will be really loved!" said Charlotte, who purchased Greshar, now known as Winston, from Shory Park Horses. "My mum has fallen in love with him and after having kids she fell out of riding. I’ll let her have her time back in the saddle on him too - he’s adored already by the whole family!"
If you’d like to set your standardbred up for a long, happy life full of rich experiences beyond the racetrack, then please consider the above information as a guide to ensure your retiree is in optimal condition to pass pre-acceptance HERO checks and take some time to fill out the paperwork, including as much detailed information as possible.
If you have any further questions about life after racing options for your standardbred, please reach out to the HERO team on 0411 499 051 or firstname.lastname@example.org