The UAE’s world-class racing scene has been bringing joy to equestrians for decades. Now a UAE-based non-profit organisation aims to do the same for the racehorses that once illuminated the iconic Meydan racecourse.
Life After Racing was launched on February 15, 2021, by Dubai-based expats Debbie Armaly and her co-founders Sophie Dyball and Karen Stewart. The league aims to encourage ex-racehorses and their riders to compete in new disciplines, and runs till April 30, 2021.
“They can go on to compete in new disciplines… show jumping, dressage, cross-country, or just a general happy hacker - they don’t have to compete in their new lives,” says Armaly, a syndicate member of the Emirates Entertainment Racing Club who has been rehoming ex-racehorses from the UAE for over a decade.
She has rehomed horses such as Prince Shaun, Los Barbados, My Catch and Shamaal Nibras who have all ran on the World Cup night in previous years.
Several countries have similar leagues, but LAR is the first of its kind in the UAE, seeking to find both retired thoroughbred and Arabian racehorses new homes and get them recognised as successful all-round competition and family horses.
Despite launching in the middle of competition season, LAR already has 61 registered horses and seeks to increase the number in the coming days. The roster boasts talents such as Jamr (2014 Dubai Gold Cup), Jutland (2013 Dubai Gold Cup) and Sanshaawes (2014 Dubai World Cup) who have all also raced on World Cup night.
Co-founder Sophie Dyball explained that once riders registered with the league, they would get a unique horse registration number. They are then encouraged to compete in local shows at stables in their emirate and send LAR their scores.
“We have a points system where we recalculate their points,” she said. “We then have our own leader board and towards the end of the season, we’ll have a championship.”
The leader board is updated weekly and posted to the organisation’s social media pages so competitors can view their rankings.
Gaelle Franke currently leads the thoroughbred show jumping ranking with her 13-year-old ex-racehorse Jamr, whose last race was at the 2014 Dubai Gold Cup.
“It’s nice to be able to recognise the people when we are in the show because we always see the same faces, but we don’t necessarily know each other,” she said speaking of how the league helped bring the racing community together.
“It opens conversation; you end up talking to somebody you may not have talked to before.”
The opening season of the Life After Racing is sponsored by Allsopp & Allsopp Real Estate, allowing the league to offer its winners bigger and better prizes.
“Life After Racing holds a special place in my heart after owning race horses both here in the UAE and in the UK for many years,” said Gary Allsopp, Chairman of Allsopp & Allsopp.
“The work that Debbie and her team do is magnificent, and it is my pleasure to be able to support them in their endeavours.”
Life and training for racehorses, who Armaly says are mainly bred for speed, is very different after retirement.
“We always say to people, ‘take a few months and let them go out on the paddock- let them become a horse again’,” she says, explaining it can take a while before the horse is retrained to compete in another discipline.
Although it currently operates mostly online due to the Covid pandemic, LAR hopes to be able to offer a forum for ex-racehorse owners to ask questions and seek community support, as well as offer seminars from professionals.
“We’re trying to come up with new ideas, and ask as well, what they would like,” said Dyball.
Life After Racing encourages equine enthusiasts in the UAE to support their cause by spectating at local shows held throughout the country and joining them on their social media pages.
They also invite new members to join their fraternity by registering their own ex-racehorse or ex-endurance horse, or by considering rehoming a horse if they have the necessary experience.
“They have a great time racing, and then they have a great time in their second career,” said Armaly.