For horses possessing speed, stamina, and jumping ability, steeplechase racing often is the first second career for Thoroughbreds after their racetrack careers have concluded. But that is not the end of their activities.
After their jump-racing careers, these second-career horses often find third or fourth careers, and others spend the rest of their lives grazing on farms throughout the East and Midwest.
The National Steeplechase Association’s Steeplechase Safety Committee conducted a voluntary survey of the sport’s trainers to determine the current activities of their former charges. Of more than 400 horses, all have found new careers in the countryside where they were trained.
The survey findings confirm a tradition within jump racing to strive to leave no horse behind. From its very beginnings in the United States, steeplechasing has found new occupations for its participants or has provided them a retirement home in rural pastures. This tradition continues to today.
Steeplechase racing grew out of fox hunting, and it is hardly a surprise that a substantial number of former steeplechase horses are now hunting. Of 402 horses in the survey, 165 are engaged in Hunting. The skill sets are very similar. The horse must be a dependable jumper and must possess the stamina to gallop for extended periods.
The show ring is the next career for slightly more than 10% of retired steeplechase horses in the survey (41 of 402). Three-day eventing also fits the skill set of retired jump-racing participants, and 32 were involved in the discipline that combines dressage, cross-country, and show jumping.
Others are destined for a quieter life. In all, 30 were described as pleasure horses, and 94 were at pasture. A life at ease is the traditional retirement for steeplechase horses, who often are turned out at their owners’ or trainers’ farms. For instance, Racing Hall of Fame member Flatterer spent a quarter-century in retirement at owner Bill Pape’s farm before his death at age 35 in 2014.
Steeplechase racing has a growing division of female competitors, and after their careers many are bred and become broodmares. In all, 31 former runners are now broodmares. A few horses, six in all, have retired from racing but have not departed the training barn. They are now working to accompany the horses in training to the locations where they will be galloping. Another has found work as a polo pony.
At least one former steeplechase horse is engaged in work helping humans as a therapy horse. While most steeplechase horses are geldings, one retiree is a stallion.
Here is a breakdown of the 402 active retirees reported in a voluntary survey of National Steeplechase Association trainers. Percentages do not add up to 100% because of rounding.