On May 9, the European and Mediterranean Horseracing Federation issued a press release announcing an agreement to recognize Thoroughbreds competing in the Olympic Games and other Fédération Equestre Internationale events. Which may have led many people to think, “Wait, they weren’t recognized already?”
No, as it turns out; they weren’t.
Although you’ve undoubtedly seen Thoroughbreds indicated as such in results on competition websites, or their breeding mentioned by an announcer as they enter the ring, due to a 2015 memorandum of understanding between the FEI and the World Breeding Federation for Sport Horses, only those studbooks that are members of WBFSH were credited in official FEI start lists and results. WBFSH is the international umbrella organization representing sport horse studbooks that breed horses for the Olympic disciplines; it has around 85 studbook members in 35 countries.
For example, if you look at the official results from the 2022 FEI Eventing World Championship (Italy) on the FEI’s website, the studbook column is blank for nine of the 90 starters. Five of those are Thoroughbreds.
“Much effort is made around the world to encourage the owners of retired race horses to explore second careers for them. This recognition will both further the message that Thoroughbreds do go on to compete with distinction in other equestrian disciples and prompt more Thoroughbred owners to consider this retirement option for their race horses,” said Dr. Paull Khan, secretary-general of EMHF—the European equivalent of The Jockey Club—and a member of the steering group of the International Forum for the Aftercare of Racehorses.
The agreement between EMHF, WBFSH, the FEI and the International Stud Book Committee will, starting with the 2024 Paris Olympics, allow Thoroughbreds to list the ISBC for their studbook in FEI start lists and results.
“This reflects the fact that, with Thoroughbreds, it is not the studbook that indicates the breed,” Khan explained. “Thoroughbreds may be listed in any studbook approved by the ISBC, of which there are currently 70. Specifically, each Thoroughbred will always be listed in the Thoroughbred studbook of their country of foaling. It was thought most meaningful, therefore, to list them as ‘ISBC.’ “
The ISBC, founded in 1976, establishes the standards of operation for all Thoroughbred studbooks. The Jockey Club, which is the studbook for Thoroughbreds in the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico, is one of its approved studbooks.
While The Jockey Club was not directly involved in the agreement, it’s a welcome development, said Kristin Werner, the organization’s senior counsel, who is also involved with its Thoroughbred Incentive Program for off-track Thoroughbreds. She credited Khan and the Simon Cooper, vice-chair of ISBC, for spearheading the effort.
“This is a step in the right direction, so that at least now in the Olympics and other FEI competitions, breeding will be shown for the Thoroughbreds,” Werner said. “That will be something that FEI and ISBC member studbooks will work together to get that information, so that they have the correct pedigree information for the Thoroughbreds.”
Werner said she was surprised at the response when she posted news of the agreement onto the TIP Facebook page.
“I don’t think people realized that the Thoroughbreds didn’t have their pedigree shown. So I think it’s important that this was brought to people’s attention, because it clearly was something that not a lot of people were aware of. But also, I hope this is maybe a step in the right direction where we can start to try to work with the sport horse organizations to really start promoting our Thoroughbreds back into sport again,” she said. “I hope it’s going to lead to some additional space for the organizations to all work together to make sure our Thoroughbreds are getting the recognition they deserve and the opportunities to excel as sport horses on the international level.”
The agreement is another piece in the puzzle that is promoting off-track Thoroughbreds for sport, said Kirsten Green, executive director of the Retired Racehorse Project, which puts on the annual Thoroughbred Makeover competition for recently retired race horses.
“I really do think it’s a defining moment and movement in the right direction, and I’m hopeful that it trickles down to the national federations like [the U.S. Equestrian Federation],” she said. “Even if we can just have complete pedigrees [for Thoroughbred sport horses], it’s very meaningful for both traceability and getting the breed the credit. So, yeah, it’s very exciting.”
While there aren’t very many full Thoroughbreds competing at the Olympics anymore, Green noted that their influence on the sport horse universe is still profound, particularly in eventing, but that it may not be discernible by the average spectator.
RRP partners with Eventing Nation every year to profile the Thoroughbreds competing at the Land Rover Kentucky CCI5*-L, and in 2022 they did an analysis of the entire field to determine the amount of Thoroughbred influence. When the full Thoroughbreds were excluded, the rest of the field averaged about 55% blood.
“So we’re out here riding, you know, Zangersheides or Trakehners and calling them ‘warmbloods,’ but everybody’s openly saying we need the blood to be competitive. So we’re out here riding six- or seven-eighths Thoroughbreds,” said Green. “They’re in other breed registries being called something else, and the Thoroughbred at the core of it is not getting the credit for it, because Jockey Club registry doesn’t track anything beyond racing and racing bloodstock production. So we want to … figure out how we can start better quantifying this and get the breed their credit.”
Green noted that it’s not at all unusual to see off-track Thoroughbreds with pedigree or breeder information missing, not necessarily because it’s been purposefully excluded but it’s just gotten lost along the way.
“I know I’ve had conversations with Kristin Werner about how difficult it is to keep track of the Thoroughbreds once they exit the racing industry, and traceability is a big thing,” she said. “They go on to be successful sport horses, but more often than not, the papers and the registration don’t get transferred with them. So they’re out there being successful, [but] probably under another name, so you can’t find them. And so they’re just not getting the credit that is due to them.”