‘Horses for Courses’, The British Thoroughbred Retraining Centre giving ex-racers a second career.


Dame Judy Dench is Patron of the BTRC

I haven’t been online for a while again and I’m still blaming the PhD! I have yet more corrections to do but thankfully only minor ones, by mid October. After that I hope to be providing more regular posts. This time I’m going to flag up the work of my favourite equine charity the BTRC. I support them with financial donations and I have donated a horse to them, I would like to have a greater involvement with them in some capacity in the future and to that end I visited them again recently.


Gillian Carlisle, CEO

I first heard about the BTRC when I met its current CEO, Gillian Carlisle last year and was struck by her enthusiasm and sector knowledge.  She’d worked with racehorses in HongKong and now ran the operations at the BTRC base in Halton, Lancashire, with some passion and commitment!  The organisation was founded in 1991 by Carrie Humble CBE with fulsome support from Sir Peter O’Sullevan of racing fame until his death in 2015.  They are a registered charity with John Sexton, racing journalist, as Chairman of the Board of Trustees and Dame Judi Dench as Patron and Frankie Dettori, amongst others, as an ambassador.  Their mission statement says it all really:

‘For the Welfare, Rehabilitation, Retraining and Rehoming of Retired Racehorses’

They don’t just take ex-racers either, sometimes, in the right circumstances they will take any TB that needs to be rehomed, usually with a donation for its upkeep while at the centre.

me n moj

Mojo and former ‘pilot’

So why did I pass my much-loved TB ‘Mojo’ to the BTRC and not just sell him?  We’d reached a point where I felt I had hit the limits of my knowledge and expertise to take him any further, we’d gone through the BD levels to Novice but something just wasn’t quite right.  He wasn’t dangerous but he struggled with turns in canter in the arena and my vet and chiropractor couldn’t find an obvious cause.  He was so sweet in the stable (not so much with the farrier!) and I just felt we had ‘stalled’ as a partnership.  I had seen enough TBs being sold on and sold on, eventually going to waste, or worse… so I contacted Gillian and she took him on.  I was safe in the knowledge that once signed over to them he would remain owned by them and, even once loaned out, be subject to their control and checks.  In fact the rehab. process was so thorough that an injury, missed by all the professionals up to that point, was shown up by a detailed examination.  He had one of the worst backs they’d ever seen but he must have had the injury, a kind of fusing of the vertebrae, for so long that he’d probably built up the musculature to support it.  He therefore wasn’t in pain except in very specific elements of a test.  He was passed as fine for a hacker and that’s the type of home he’s gone to after a meticulous process of preparation and checks.  I do wish him well and don’t regret my decision for a minute.

My interest in the BTRC came from more than just mine and Mojo’s situation though.  My research very definitely straddles the worlds of horse racing and the equestrian pursuits in an attempt to bridge what that is an artificial and unhelpful divide.  I have a paper out, published by Springer, that explores these issues:

‘Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth: regulating for integrity, what equestrianism can learn from Thoroughbred racing’

This research exposes the sports regulation problems that this ‘silo’ mentality and fragmented governance systems can cause and proposes some solutions.  My research isn’t animal welfare focused per se but as a lawyer and criminologist, I’m unhappy with the position that this fragmentary approach to rule-making leaves the human element of the sporting team in.  I’m now working on research into what the advent of cloning will mean as it arrives on this patchwork scene of sports regulation.  This is also a great area for inter-disciplinary research.  The ‘Equine Cultures in Transition’ Conference I attended in Stockholm in October 2016 and the ‘Horses, Society and the Law’ Conference we held at De Montfort University (DMU), Leicester, in April show that.  Disciplines as varied as anthropology, law, sociology, even dance and photography showcased their academic research at these events.  We aim to rename the DMU conference, ‘Horses in Culture, Society and Law’, host the website on this site (see the new menu tab) and make it an annual event.


A TB at the BTRC’s Halton HQ

The BTRC isn’t concerned with sports governance but it does have to deal with a vast array of sports governing bodies at one time or another all with their own rules, received truths and practices.  For instance the youngest age at which a horse can be competed is very different for the BHA compared to most FEI sports and that is a debate which will run and run.  Some SGBs have a very coherent approach to re-homing ex-competition horses and where the money required can be sought.  Some have little or no discernible policies on the matter.  The BTRC takes horses from racing and prepares them for life in the equestrian disciplines.  In an animal welfare context, the organisation and its staff have to live in both worlds and provide a platform for potential co-operation, it’s a model that I can get on board with.




About Dr Jonathan Glen Merritt

Senior Lecturer in Sports Law and Criminal Justice, and a member of the Sports Law Unit at Leicester De Montfort University School of Law, UK. PhD in Equine sports law governance, especially disciplinary structures. Also competing as an owner and rider with British Dressage. Obviously all views expressed are author's alone except where a guest author has contributed.
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