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What is horse 'wastage' in the racehorse industry?

Article ID: 235
Last updated: 25 Oct, 2017
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Wastage refers to the number of horses that are ‘lost’ from the racing industry. Wastage can occur at any stage of the horse’s life, including prior to racing.

In 2002 it was estimated that Australia had 1.2 million horses including Thoroughbred and Standardbred racehorses. A large number of horses exit the Thoroughbred and Standardbred racehorse industries each year though there is limited research on the full extent of the wastage problem in Australia. It has been estimated that in any one year, 1000 Thoroughbred mares are required to produce about 300 horses that race [1]. This estimate accounts for many factors including mare fertility and foal survival. The structure of the breeding industry is such that it depends on the need for ‘replacement’ racehorses however, this high rate of horse turn-over raises serious concerns about the fate of the horses leaving the industry. Similar pre-racing wastage has been found in Standardbred horses (trotters and pacers).

Horses may be rejected from the racing industry due to poor performance, illness, injury and behavioural problems. Across all equestrian disciplines, the single largest reason for wastage is musculoskeletal injury. Only a certain proportion of these surplus racehorses can be used by the equestrian industry or join breeding programs, which means that thousands of young and often healthy horses are sent to knackeries and abattoirs every year. Thus the horsemeat industry represents a significant direct destination for a lot of these horses. The Australian horse meat industry consists of slaughterhouses selling the meat as pet food in the domestic market and those exporting the meat for human consumption.

A 2004 report found that the total wastage rate for horses in training or racing was 39% for Thoroughbreds and 38% for Standardbreds [2]. Despite the similarity in wastage rates in the Thoroughbred and Standardbred industries, the destinations of the two breeds differed substantially. Thoroughbred horses were more likely than Standardbreds to go to stud, auctions or to enter ridden equestrian pursuits. In contrast, Standardbreds were more likely than Thoroughbreds to go to different trainers or directly to slaughterhouses. This difference may reflect the perceptions of the suitability and performance of ridden Standardbred horses.

Of the 39% of Thoroughbreds which left a racing stable, 6% were reported to have been sent to a knackery while 17% of Standardbred horses were reported to have been sent to the same destination. The authors noted that these figures possibly underestimate the true rate because they do not take into account those horses that left a racing stable for another destination and then subsequently went to a slaughterhouse.

The RSPCA believes there should be nationally consistent, detailed mandatory standards to safeguard the welfare of animals at all knackeries across Australia.The standards must include species-specific handling and humane slaughter standards.

Various studies also highlight the short duration of the career of the majority of racehorses, despite the fact that these horses were bred specifically for this purpose.

The RSPCA has funded two separate reports into wastage of horses: one examined the fate of horses leaving the Thoroughbred and Standardbred industries and the other looked at the condition of slaughter horses. You can download these reports through the links below.


[1]  Bourke JM (1995).Wastage in Thoroughbreds. In: Proceedings from the Annual Seminar of the Equine Branch. New Zealand Veterinary Association, Auckland.

[2]  Thomson P, Hayek A, Jones B, Evans D and McGreevy P (2014), Number, causes and destinations of horses leaving the Australian Thoroughbred and Standardbred racing industries. Aust Vet J, 92:303–311. doi:10.1111/avj.12204

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Attached files
file Slaughter of horses (Doherty) – RSPCA Research Report June 2008.pdf (1.26 mb) Download
file Thoroughbred and Standardbred wastage (Hayek) – Research Report Oct 2004.pdf (278 kb) Download

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folder What is the RSPCA position on racing two-year-old horses?
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folder RSPCA Policy C05 Horse Racing

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