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India: Off-the-Track


When horses retire from racing in India, they are often literally just put out on the streets to fend for themselves. Others are given away or sold cheaply and get put to work.

Here in Ooty, there is a busy tourist riding industry. They use some local ponies but the larger horses are more popular. There are some indigenous horses, such as the Marwari and Kathiawari horses but many are off-the-track Thoroughbreds.

Above: Kathiawari tourist riding horse (stallion).

The day I was in Ooty, this beautiful liver chestnut mare had just arrived, literally straight from the racing stables. She had been in her new environment for less than two hours, she was extremely anxious and already expected to be giving tourists rides.

It's probable that her new home is now on the streets, that she will spend the nights roaming and feeding where she can get food - bits of grass on the roadside or rubbish bins.

Above: Thoroughbred tourist riding horse 'at home' on his break during the morning. Sadly this horse was taken to the WVS Working Horse Clinic the following day with suspected plastic impaction colic and treated but the owner did not believe the horse was ill and refused further treatment. It was found dead on the street two days later.

I spent some time with her new owner, showing him how to get her into the bubble of communication to help calm her down and make the transition a little easier for her (and safer for those around her). The area is very busy with tourists, other horses, handlers and roaming horses and it is all on sloping concrete - not ideal for racing plates (which will not be removed until they fall off in a few months).

Above: Thoroughbred tourist riding horse

Above: Thoroughbred, clearly injured, living on the Ooty streets.

Some survive but many don't and this is always a major problem with OTT horses - their perceived zero value. The attitude becomes "oh well, if I break this one, I can get another". Of course, it's not just a problem here in India, it's global!

Above: The Worldwide Veterinary Service (WVS) is supported by the Peter Sullevan Charitable Trust and Welttierschutzgesellschaft.

The Tourist Riding Horses of Ooty are of particular interest to me and I plan to focus my work on practical ways that I can improve their welfare through the education of handlers and tourists alike. During the course of the next few years, I plan to develop an educational program that we can take to other tourist riding destinations around the world.

Below: This photo is not mine but it is the image that led me to India in the first place. To be honest, I didn't really believe that it could be real, even having seen this photo. Sadly, it is very real (but it is also something we can, and will, change).