PhD Research Project

Kindly funded by The John Pearce Foundation

The Selection and Education of Former Racehorses (Thoroughbreds) for Equine Assisted Therapy: Developing the Evidence Base for a Global Standard

RACING TO RELATE focuses on collating a robust methodology, providing rigorous research, collaborative assessment, encouragement and dissemination of best-practice strategies for off-track Thoroughbreds.  They aim to produce evidence-based research detailing why many ex-racers are ideally placed to support those who may need it.

Central to this work is a pioneering and critical collaborative PhD project in association with the University of Bristol. 

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In undertaking this focused research, R2R will gain a broad understanding of the diverse ways in which horses are used within programmes to assist people. It will also indicate how former racehorses might fit into this picture, both now and in the future.

Our research will survey the landscape of EAT in four countries: the UK (inc. Northern Ireland), the USA, France and Ireland, to fully gauge the impact of EAT for practitioners, for beneficiaries, for funding bodies and most vitally for the Thoroughbred horses within these programmes. 

  • UK
  • Ireland
  • France
  • USA

For Researchers

If you are involved in similar research and would like to contact us to find out more please email us at :

For more general enquiries about Thoroughbred Assisted™ projects please contact us via the button below.  Thank you.  

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Human-Horse Relationship
Respect and Support

Long-lasting impact on horse welfare

Prof Siobhan Mullan BVMS PhD DWEL DipECAWBM (AWSEL) MRCVS Professor of Animal Welfare and Veterinary Ethics at UCD, Dublin School of Veterinary Science, Honorary Senior Research Fellow at Bristol Vet School and Co-Supervisor of the R2R PhD research project. Siobhan is a veterinary surgeon and expert in animal welfare science with extensive experience leading equine welfare research, including the Thoroughbred Welfare Study. 

Siobhan says of the R2R project:

“Thoroughbred horses involved in EAT programmes are performing a really special and valuable role in society, and yet little formal research has been done to understand how to optimise their welfare throughout their transition from racehorse to therapy horse and in the course of their new career. I’m heartened by the interest around the world in using the results of our research to develop standards which will have a long-lasting impact on horse welfare.”


Developing the evidence base for a global standard

Dr Mathilde Valenchon MSc PhD is a Research Fellow at the University of Bristol and Co-Supervisor on the Phd project: Mathilde also contributed to the design of the research project. Mathilde is a researcher specialising in equine behaviour and welfare. She is working at the Bristol Vet School as a researcher on the Thoroughbred Welfare Study. The PhD project will benefit from her expertise in horse behaviour, especially in personality, stress and welfare. Mathilde explains why she is so proud to be part of the project:

“I am very happy that we successfully built this research project aiming to understand and facilitate the involvement of ex-racehorses in EAT activities. I have been studying equine behaviour, cognition and welfare for the past 12 years. I have always been impressed by the Thoroughbred’s sensitivity and adaptability. I am delighted to contribute to a better knowledge of their suitability for EAT and the development of standards, as this will significantly and positively impact the horses’ welfare, as well as the humans’. I am especially proud that our research includes the horse’s perspective.”

Equine and human welfare

Claire Neveux BSc MSc is the PhD student for the study. Claire began her career working globally in the bloodstock industry and managing the family Thoroughbred farm in Normandy. She graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in physiology and cell biology and completed a Master’s degree in Ethology. Following her academic studies, Claire founded Ethonova, a consulting agency focusing on horse behaviour and welfare, where she fulfils the role of Head Research Engineer in Equine Behaviour. In discussing the PhD, Claire explains:

“I have worked with Thoroughbreds for about 20 years, mainly with broodmares and young horses, and I have always been amazed by their high reactivity and sensitivity. I’m also fascinated by the human-horse relationship. I had a few opportunities to participate in Equine Assisted Therapy [EAT] programmes as an intern during my graduate studies. That’s why, when I met Jennifer Twomey from Racing to Relate, I took the opportunity to be part of this pioneering and collaborative project, and I’m thrilled to contribute to this research. I’m convinced that a better understanding of the Thoroughbred personality traits and suitability of horses for EAT is essential for equine and human welfare.”

The John Pearce Foundation

Our visionary work is only possible thanks to early support from several established organisations, including funding for the PhD research at University of Bristol from The John Pearce Foundation and ongoing support from The Childwick Trust and The Voice of Racing – The Sir Peter O’Sullevan Charitable Trust.  We hope our vital work on the evidence-base will help to secure long-term funding for this field of next careers for Thoroughbreds.   Emilie O’Herne, Charity Officer of the John Pearce Foundation, explains why the foundation was keen to support R2R:

The John Pearce Foundation was set up in memory of Mr Pearce and champions his favoured causes, including the support of people and animals in need within the horse racing and breeding industry – a world Mr Pearce loved and was an active part of for years. The Foundation’s Trustees are delighted to support Racing to Relate’s work with the University of Bristol, which will help create a greater understanding of thoroughbreds’ suitability for Equine Therapy purposes and – hopefully – allow more horses to find a meaningful career after they retire from racing.

A research-based approach to retraining will further ensure horses are treated with the consideration and respect they deserve while learning to work with a wide variety of people, from veterans and disabled children to those struggling with mental health issues. The cross-industry support Racing to Relate has already received is immensely encouraging.”

Collaborative Knowledge

Racing To Relate research can tie in closely to ongoing industry welfare strategies of racing authorities such as the BHA, their Horse Welfare Board and their official retraining charity RoR and others.  It is also designed to compliment the Equine Assisted Therapy (EAT) sector with very positive feedback worldwide from EAT organisations already expressing interest in becoming involved with the study.  We welcome collaboration and feedback from all related organisations in these sectors.

Research outcomes will be disseminated as broadly as possible: the research is undertaken for the very purpose of sharing. Outputs will be published in suitable scientific journals and presented at academic and industry conferences. Open access is paramount to Racing To Relate, ensuring research findings are available to all in the racing industry and beyond. 

The current ‘audit’ phase of the PhD involves a quantitative survey of the Equine Assisted Therapy (EAT) sector, and it is now available online.  If you are involved in EAT we would please ask you to take some time to participate in the survey and we value your important contribution to strengthening the evidence base for the sector and for equine welfare. Thank You !