Au-Dela des Pistes Bridges Gaps for Aftercare


An ex-racehorse plays polo during one of the Retrained Racehorse Days of Au-Dela des Pistes | Scoop Dyga


Heightened awareness of animal welfare causes and the plight of retired racehorses over the past 30 years has dramatically changed the landscape in Thoroughbred aftercare and it continues to evolve as more racing jurisdictions recognize the need for institutional aftercare funding. Organizations forming now to provide safe and meaningful retirement for Thoroughbreds have the benefit of an enlightened racing and breeding industry. In the past, the road to establishing necessary partnerships with racing and breeding organizations was often a dead-end. Now, the path is much more direct.

For Au-Delà des Pistes, founded in 2016, an astute, driven and well-connected board of directors quickly partnered with Arqana and Longines. In April 2019, they reached a landmark agreement for funding with France Galop which gave their organization a percentage of the racing handle, allowing them to expand their services and work towards one day being able to provide a safe landing for every Thoroughbred racehorse in need of options at retirement.

Au-Delà des Pistes set out to create a system for trainers and owners to find easy and quick retirement options for Thoroughbreds who had run their last race and an efficient way for every rider wishing to adopt a Thoroughbred access to the right horse. The goal was to get as many horses as possible placed in second careers as sport horses, while increasing people's awareness of the versatility of the Thoroughbred.

“We thought it was the right time [to organize Au-Delà des Pistes] because there were a lot of new associations against racing and against using horses to do anything,” said Aliette Forien, President of Au-Delà des Pistes. “So, we thought that it was important now to let the people know how well the horses are treated in the racing industry. Many people were waiting for an association to help the horses after their racing career.”

Forien is an accomplished show jumper as well as a breeder and owner of racehorses. Since 1984, she has owned and operated Haras de Montaigu which was founded by her grandfather in 1903.

“Because people in show jumping don't know much about racing, I am able to be a bridge,” said Forien. “My experience is helpful because I can tell them how the horses are treated with the trainers and how they are bred at the farms. I love racing and I love showjumping and I think it's important to have the two disciplines working together.”

“France Galop gives us a percentage of the racing turnover,” Forien explained of the unique funding agreement. “This is so important because everybody contributes to that turnover–the breeders, the trainers, the owners, and even the bloodstock agents. We also have help from the sales agencies so now everybody contributes to help the horses after their racing career.”

“France Galop has been involved in the aftercare of race horses for many years, and we thought it was the time to go further and to be more efficient in the way we proceeded,” said Olivier Delloye, General Director of France Galop.  “Now we are getting into a new era, and I'm very confident that the work we'll do with Au-Delà des Pistes will enable us to significantly grow the number of race horses successfully retired and converted into new disciplines.”

Au-Delà des Pistes, at the outset, was primarily focused on transitioning racehorses directly into retraining for a second careers in horse sporting events. As in all of racing, France has horses needing time to rest, and often rehabilitation before they can be retrained.

“The issue that we will have to tackle with Au-Delà des Pistes is to have a specific focus on the horses that need maybe two or three months of specific care before being ready to do something else,” said Delloye. “Focus will be on those horses that need to be cared after.”

While, the general public as well as owners, trainers and racing's leaders were already aware of the arguments for institutionalized participation and funding, there were some hurdles in getting wide acceptance of the organized approach to aftercare in France.

“It was very much a question of right place at the right time,” said Alix Choppin, Head of Marketing and Communications at Arqana and a member of the Steering Committee at Au-Delà des Pistes. “I mean, we probably were right about the timing because it was a time where France was maybe perceived as being slightly behind on aftercare.

“We knew from our own experiences in racing that it would take a while for people to change their habits. And for instance, I've used a comparison with the UK, but in the UK, the slaughter of racehorses is forbidden. While in France, not only is slaughtering of racehorses allowed, but we also have a long history of eating horse meat. So, we sort of knew that we would face the very conservative mentalities of: is it really such a big issue? You know, racehorses being slaughtered is it that bad?”

“Lots of trainers felt a bit offended that we founded this charity as if they had been doing nothing,” said Choppin. “So, they were keen to tell us, 'Oh, but you know, I take care of my retired race horses. I give them to so-and-so. And all my staff always know someone who knows someone who needs an off-the-track Thoroughbred'. And the message we pressed home-and this took time–is that it's not the first year you need to worry about the horse, it's 10 years down the line. So that was probably the biggest hurdle, convincing people that what they were doing was fine, but could they tell us five or 10 years down the line where the horse they had given to the friend of a friend of a friend had ended up?”

The founders were correct in thinking that France had many equestrians who were looking for a good but inexpensive horse, but did not have the level of horsemanship to allow them to buy a horse off the track. They have had remarkable success in placing horses in many equine disciplines at all levels. The organization regularly puts on a Retrained Racehorse Day at tracks across the country where former stars of the track as well as unknowns return to show off their new skills.

“The parade of horses returning on Retrained Racehorse Day, some Group 1 winners, brings tears to your eyes,” said Choppin. “And the non-racing horse lovers get to learn about racing and how racing cares for the horses. It is a wonderful event.”

One to watch is Wont Wait (Fr) (Starborough {GB}), who retired at four and never showed ability on the track or over hurdles.

“Wont Wait was not a very good racehorse,” said Choppin.  “He was useless. And now he is one of the best eventing horses in France being ridden by Clara Loiseau.  I think he will go to the next Olympic Games.”

“I couldn't emphasize enough how important Aliette has been as a chairman of Au Delà des Pistes bringing these two cultures together,” said Choppin. “Another great example of her doing that is Astier Nicolas who represented France at the 2016 Summer Olympics, where he won the gold medal in the team eventing and the silver in the individual eventing. He is riding an ex-racehorse and he is an ambassador to Au-Delà des Pistes.”

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Diana Pikulski is the editor of the Thoroughbred Adoption Network and a partner at Yepsen & Pikulski, Public Policy Specialists

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