What is courage? Let me tell you what I think it is. An indefinable quality that makes a man put out that extra something when it seems there is nothing else to give. I dare you to be better than you are. I dare you to be a Thoroughbred.
Since the turn of the 17th Century, the Thoroughbred has maintained a unique place in the human world. It has worked to achieve incredible feats of speed and stamina alongside the people who have bred, ridden and trained it. Most who have worked with Thoroughbreds would offer testament that in the silent early mornings or darker nights, the Thoroughbred has proved a sentient companion to those who have sought solace. Man is connected inextricably to the Thoroughbred. The Thoroughbred has given its all to us, both on the racetrack and off. Within this off-track realm, Racing to Relate (R2R) was established to help protect the welfare of former thoroughbred racehorses as they transition into new careers within Equine Assisted Therapy (EAT) and beyond.
R2R is pioneering a collaborative research project which has, at its very heart, deep respect for the racehorse. R2R has racing industry support and is endorsed by the British Horseracing Authority and their official retraining charity, Retraining of Racehorses (RoR). R2R’s visionary work has received backing from several established organisations, including generous support for PhD research by The John Pearce Foundation and ongoing support from The Childwick Trust and The Voice of Racing – The Sir Peter O’Sullevan Charitable Trust.
Founded in 2019, R2R focuses on nurturing a long-term positive impact on Thoroughbred welfare and supporting the Thoroughbred/human partnership beyond racing. R2R hope to create a global standard for off-track Thoroughbreds within the EAT sector, implementing a long-term research programme, engagement and education, and disseminating evidence-based guidelines within the racing industry, EAT, and the wider public.
Equine Assisted Therapy has been on the increase over the past fifteen years. More recently, there has been a shift of focus on the welfare of the off-track racehorse. Thoroughbred welfare has become a priority consideration within the racing industry, with the duty of care extending beyond a horse’s racing career. The recent Horse Welfare Board’s ground-breaking strategy for the British racing industry: A Life Well Lived sets out several vital areas for consideration of welfare within the industry, both on and off the track.
“Set up by the legendary Sir Peter O’Sullevan, his Trust has continued, since his passing in 2015, to distribute funds to charitable concerns mainly in the equine sector. The Trust now supports charities set up to assist in the field of mental welfare and areas such as Equine Assisted Therapy which is proven to be so effective. When Jennifer Twomey first contacted me, I immediately encouraged her to make an application to the Trust for core funding to assist in the start-up of Racing to Relate. Equine Assisted Therapy is a passion of mine, and all our Trustees are of the same mind. I arranged a meeting for Jennifer with the legendary Monty Roberts, which she really enjoyed. One or two other grant-makers have followed our lead and supported Racing to Relate financially, which has pleased me greatly.”
“Shortly before he died in 1992, Jim Joel established The Childwick Trust and amongst the causes he espoused, was the support of racing charities. Over the years, the Trust has funded a wide range of charities both in the United Kingdom and South Africa, a country for which he had a particular fondness. Racing to Relate is a charity which I felt fulfilled the ambitions Jim Joel envisaged for the Trust and as Chairman, I was delighted to be able to offer support towards the initial costs of establishing Racing to Relate and to provide an additional grant for the ‘Capacities and Resources’ stage of the organisation’s development, including the design stage of the PhD research collaboration with Bristol University. We are proud to support Racing to Relate’s evidence-based approach to a long-term positive impact on thoroughbred welfare beyond racing and within the Equine Assisted Therapy and I believe Jim Joel would have been too.”
“Retraining of Racehorses (RoR) is British Horseracing’s official charity for the welfare of horses that have retired from racing. The charity promotes the versatility and adaptability of racehorses for other equestrian activities following their retirement from racing. It also protects horse welfare through a nationwide ‘safety net’ that is available to assist any former racehorse considered ‘vulnerable’. RoR are delighted to work with R2R in their common goal of placing former racehorses in new careers, namely Equine Assisted Therapy. The use of former racehorses in this area is a relatively new concept so this type of work presented a requirement for in depth analysis. R2R’s research project will provide valuable insight into how to safely transition the former racehorse in their new career and once there ensure the horse’s welfare is paramount.”
Emilie Greener, 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. We were particularly excited to learn about the new Thoroughbred Assisted pilot project in Ballygraffan, Northern Ireland. We look forward to learning more from the team there and in Bristol over the coming months.”
R2R focuses on collating a robust methodology, providing rigorous research, collaborative assessment, encouragement and dissemination of best-practice strategies for off-track Thoroughbreds. To produce strictly 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 Bristol University entitled, The Selection and Education of Former Racehorses (Thoroughbreds) for Equine Assisted Therapy: Developing the Evidence Base for a Global Standard.
The PhD team undertaking the research could not be better qualified to do so:
Professor 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.”
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.”
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.”
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. The research will survey the landscape of EAT in four countries: the UK, the USA, France and Ireland/N 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. This research will closely monitor the horses’ transition from the racetrack to off-track (including the Covid19 crisis).
The core function of the R2R research is to create a recognised welfare standard, ultimately to help the racing industry as a whole to optimise welfare support for off-track racehorses going into a career in EAT (and beyond) after racing. The research output will help industry and stakeholders more successfully fulfil evolving requirements of today’s welfare strategies. Once trialled on Thoroughbreds with EAT, R2R can hopefully adapt welfare recommendations for all types of post-racing careers for the ex-racehorse.
There is minimal research to date on the welfare of horses within EAT programmes, and especially on the impact such work may have on their well-being. In particular, the R2R research will unpack the educational process for all horses within the EAT sector, gaining a clearer picture of why and how horses are selected for particular purposes. The aim is to further comprehend the current selection and training methods within the sector and identify specific attributes that the Thoroughbred has, which may prove valuable (or not) for a career in EAT – no two Thoroughbreds are necessarily the same. The study will also explore details of the life and routine of equines within EAT, examining existing perceptions and considerations of horse welfare, facts over presumption.
R2R is an essential organisation in the evolution of racehorse welfare in the future. Not only in its originality but also because it compliments the work of RoR and the BHA, amongst others. The research can tie in closely to ongoing industry welfare strategies and compliment the EAT sector. R2R has had very positive feedback worldwide from EAT organisations expressing interest in becoming involved with the study.
Research outcomes from R2R 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 R2R, ensuring research findings are available to all in the racing industry and beyond.
The R2R team are committed to evidence-based leadership in the sphere of off-track welfare. As an independent Thoroughbred welfare charity, they aim to make a significant and symbiotic contribution to the racing industry efforts on welfare. It takes courage to begin a project such as this, however with courage comes reward. In this case, courage offers the strengthening of a positive and healthy Thoroughbred/human relationship for future generations.
Co-founder Jennifer Twomey is a law graduate from the University of Warwick. Passionate about Thoroughbreds, she has advocated for off-track Thoroughbred welfare and worked collaboratively as part of a steering group (including Aga Khan Studs, Godolphin, Haras de Montaigu, Ecurie des Monceaux, Entraîneur Nicolas Clément, Arqana and France Galop), to set up France’s official Thoroughbred retraining charity, Au-Délà Des Pistes, in 2016.
In 2015 Jennifer was invited to Kentucky to participate in the first international Aftercare Think Tank organised by Godolphin (now IFAR) alongside representatives from major racing jurisdictions and their respective official aftercare organisations. Coming from a military family who had experienced significant loss, it was in a quiet moment of realisation, upon seeing the impact of Thoroughbreds on people at an equine assisted program during this visit, that it became clear to Jennifer she could combine her love of the Thoroughbred with their ability to support humans who may need it, including ex-servicemen and women. From here, Jennifer and her collaborators have built the volunteer-led international organisation that Racing To Relate is becoming.
Chair Adrian Pratt is a vital asset within Racing to Relate. His steadfast support of the project, enthusiasm for its possibilities and faith in the R2R team is matched only by his generosity of time and positive spirit. Adrian has a wealth of knowledge and experience when it comes to the bloodstock industry. Alongside working for many years in the insurance business, he has spent a lifetime with horses; from his time in the Cavalry to amateur jump jockey, an incredible 40-year career as a steward at Newmarket, Goodwood and Ascot and 46 years as both a successful jump and flat horse owner.
R2R has an extraordinary group of trustees, collaborators and ambassadors who each bring unique expertise and boundless enthusiasm and are invaluable to the progression of the organisation.
Dr Anna Marie Buckingham is the R2R Mental Health professional and is a licensed Clinical Psychologist with a Doctorate in Psychology, a postdoctoral Masters in Psychopharmacology and trained as an Equine Specialist and Mental Health Expert in Equine Assisted Psychotherapy and Personal Development. Anna is a bona fide farm girl at heart, an experienced horse owner, and an avid horseracing fan and also a military spouse. Combining her professional expertise with her passions, Anna is a crucial part of the R2R team.
Reporter, Producer and Creative Director of Full Field Agency, Fanny Salmon is an accomplished and enthusiastic voice for all things international horseracing. Fanny is an ambassador for R2R and helps spread the word on all of its international projects.
Trustee Jeremy Harbord spent most of his career in financial services, latterly in wealth management as a financial adviser at James Hambro & Partners. Earlier in his life, he held a commission in the Life Guards and qualified as a barrister. He is a director of Household Cavalry Museum Enterprises Ltd. Jeremy is committed to helping us to develop and pursue our strategic aims both generally and specifically with particular curiosity and interest in the role of former Thoroughbred racehorses in assisting serving and former military personnel and their families.
Trustee and Treasurer Peter Drown has been advising clients for over 40 years and has a wealth of experience. His specialism is in advising owner-managed businesses of all sizes. Peter is Senior Partner of Beavis Morgan LLP, who also support R2R with bookkeeper Mariske Byrnes and Communications and Marketing Director Georgina Swain both of whom work wonders for R2R.
Dr Helen Sharp PhD is an experienced Equine Journalist working full-time for The Irish Field where she writes and edits the Horse Sense section of the weekly publication. She edits The Irish Horse pages in Irish Country Living magazine, writes for World Breeding News for Sports Horses and contributes the Irish features for Horse and Hound. Helen is a fully qualified Equine Sports Therapist for some of Ireland’s most respected equestrians via her company Equi-S Therapies Ireland. She runs Equi-S Recover as part of her practice, providing free equine therapy treatments for EAT horses. Helen holds a PhD in philosophy of art and worked in arts facilitation in conflict areas for 15 years, working across communities in Northern Ireland. She is a hobby breeder of Irish Sports Horses and combines these passions writing for Racing to Relate. Her talent for capturing in words what we all feel in our hearts so succinctly and eloquently is an immeasurable boon to our charity.