A new life for an ex-racehorse

julie et feu francis

In this blog post, we’re going to take an in-depth look at the process to successfully retrain an ex-racehorse, from daily requirements after time on the racecourse to their new lives.
Get an exclusive snapshot of our ambassador, Julie Gaudelheid, and her ex-racehorse, Feu Francis.

What is an ex-racehorse?

An ex-racehorse is a finely-tuned athlete from the racing industry. Whether they come from harness or flat racing, ex-racehorses start very young and often have an intense training regime to be the best. That means the horse comes with significant baggage.
Speed, courage, determination and obedience are the main qualities sought in racehorses.

Once they retire from racing, they commonly start a new chapter in their lives. They are taken in by specialist facilities or associations that retrain them to help them find new homes.

Here are a few examples of associations that specialise in retraining racehorses :

  • Association Au-delà des Pistes : Set up in 2016, this association works with thoroughbreds. Its goal is to showcase the horses’ abilities and versatility after their racing careers. The association also informs the general public about the potential of these horses.
  • Fédération Française de la Reconversion : This is a group of equestrian professionals working for ex-racehorses. They help horses with a tailored programme to find a fresh start away from the racecourse.
  • Passerelle Association : Formed in 2020, Passarelle is one of two official associations to retrain French harness-racing horses. Their efforts help provide a new life for the horses where they are happy and well looked after.

Horse welfare is the FNCH’s – Fédération Nationale des Courses Hippiques uppermost concern. That’s why they have introduced a process called Race and Care to campaign for equine welfare in the equestrian sector.
In 2023, FNCH held 76 day-long events dedicated to this groundbreaking programme. FNCH’s goal is to encourage those in the equestrian industry to uphold their commitment to the welfare of racehorses.

We asked our Antarès rider, Jean-Bernard Eyquem for some tips to ensure ex-racehorses stay healthy and happy:

Jean Bernard Eyquem

« To successfully retrain a racehorse, you first need to take time to see when it is happy.
Based on the answers the horse gives you, patience is the watchword for its entire retraining programme.
Of course, all horses have a right to a happy life but ex-racehorses deserve it a bit more ! »

That said, they do have to learn the rules of being a ‘saddle horse’. As such, retraining them is long and packed with information to take in. Yet, if the rider is patient, well-prepared and has a can-do attitude, ex-racehorses can surprise you.

Keeping an ex-racehorse healthy and happy

Like all horses, in general, keep a close eye on their health. Even so, ex-racehorses need special attention when retraining them

Here are some points to check to keep your ex-racehorse in good shape.

Physical and mental state

When a racehorse is prematurely retired from racing, for whatever reason, its overall health needs to be checked.
Its condition depends on its past history and the physical exertion when it was racing. Regular veterinary care and the right exercise programme are key to sustaining its physical and mental health.
Emotions and behaviour are equally important in an ex-racehorse retraining programme.

A balanced and suitable diet

The choice of personalised diets depends on the physical transformation to come. When they train, racehorses are used to eating huge amounts of calorie-rich foods. Once a horse starts a retraining programme, it doesn’t have the same requirements. That’s why you must readjust its diet.
If, for example racehorses are fed oats, this can be replaced with fibre to loosen up the horse and make a smooth and steady change to its diet.

A healthy environment in which it can thrive

Every horse takes time to get used to its new surroundings, spending time in the paddock day and night for those horses that can do this.
You have to let your horse adjust and get used to its new life. That’s why we advise you to take it gently.

See all our riding tips in our blog post.

The right horse tack

To help your ex-racehorse regain confidence and balance in a new riding discipline, we advise owners to use horse tack that is suited to their horse’s body shape and the type of work they will do.

Here is a range of Antarès products to keep your horse relaxed and flexible in complete comfort when working out :

1. Tailormade saddle :

We advise using a saddle that is perfectly suited to your needs and those of your horse.
Both horse and rider deserve the right saddle.

Book your fitting session now !

As we can call on so many equestrian sector specialists and advisors, why not take a look at our exclusive interview on various innovations on our Extra Contact saddle.

2. Anatomical bridles

We’re constantly in search of excellence for horse welfare and two of our saddles are ideal to provide them with maximum comfort.

3. Adjust Pad

With its memory foam technology, this half pad hugs your horse’s back. Its 3D mesh reduces any pressure points while soaking up shocks.

Product benefits ?

The half pad features pockets to make the tiniest adjustment to best fit your horse.

Find out how to spot a good half pad here.

A snapshot of a successful conversion: Julie and Feu Francis

35 year-old horsewoman, Julie, has been riding from an early age. Fanatical about riding but mostly about horse’s themselves, she dreamt one day of having her own horse. So, she decided to start searching for one. She first looked at horses owned by Selle Français but had no success.

As a fan of eventing, she kept a close eye on leading riders such as William Fox-Pitt or Clara Loiseau who made their names in top events riding ex-racehorses.
That was when her web search led her to retrained horses and Francis instantly became her favourite.

Feu Francis, better known as “Francis” is an AQPS (non-thoroughbred) and was born in 2015. Coached for steeplechasing, Feu Francis ran in four races under his trainers, Camille and Philippe Peltier before being transferred to a specialist facility for retraining ex-racehorses.

A few days later, Julie set out to meet her on-screen fixation and this quickly became love at first sight.

Julie et Francis
© Julie Gaudelheid

“I was instantly attracted by his lovely face and fine features”, confirms Julie.

After a couple of test rides and visit to the vet, Julie and Feu Francis’ adventure together began.

Before becoming the triumphant duo they are today, they spent some time getting to know each other. Julie gave Feu Francis time to lose his inhibitions and for her to take stock of parts of his past life.
Gradually, a team formed around them including a farrier, a vet, physiotherapist to name just a few. Together the team was able to progress through the various stages to get Francis back into peak form and great shape.

Francis was a bit reserved at first so Julie began working with him on-foot to leave him more time to be himself but also to build his confidence and trust in his new owner too.
Bit by bit, they forged a real connection. Now, Julie senses when Francis obeys her suggestions for exercises and when he enjoys following her lead.
After quite some time, Julie, who has always been hugely enthusiastic about eventing, gradually coaxed Francis to compete in cross-country events and the results were there for all to see.
To keep building on this momentum, Maxime Livio (weblink) rode Francis in young horse the eventing category at Saumur in 2021.

« I wanted Francis to be ridden by a professional rider to make the best of the young horse season and get an expert opinion to set me in good stead for the future » says Julie.

Nowadays, the duo compete in Amateur 3 class eventing and 115-120 cm show jumping competitions. Both horse and rider can take great pride in their achievements!
This success story reflects perseverance, a skilful team but most of all, patience.

© Julie Gaudelheid

« They’ll be no other horse after Francis. He’s the horse of a lifetime »

Julie and Francis set us a fine example. Ex-racehorses are all the more able to accomplish great things when you give them time to trust in themselves and their capabilities, both on an emotional and professional level.

Follow this duo’s adventures championing ex-racehorses here.