Karon helps racehorses romp home with a new lease of life

THEIR fate when they trot off the racing turf for the final time is often bleak. The same aggressive instincts which make some horses a success on the track mean they rarely find a welcoming home when they retire.

But East Lothian trainer Karon Carson rescues horses which have been written off by everyone else and offers them a better future.

The 36-year-old – whose work is to feature in a TV documentary on the fate of some of the 4000 racehorses that retire each year – is particularly proud of Stan, who raced under the name Off To Work We Go.

"Stan was a racehorse, but he was never going to make it," she said. "He was basically a thug on the course, a totally wild animal – if he was a human being he would have been given an Asbo.

"He would bolt at the slightest thing, he was bucking and rearing and generally not wanting anyone to ride him. When I saw him I very nearly didn't buy him, as I wasn't sure what I could do, but I can't imagine life without him now."

Her work, teaching him to be more relaxed, means Stan now competes in national dressage events – the ultimate test of a horse's control and composure.

Karon's achievements at Fyrish Equestrian Services at Redcliff Stables, Whittingehame, has led to inevitable comparisons with the famous "horse whisperers", but she is quick to distance herself from the idea. "Please don't call me a horse whisperer. It is annoying that this has lent some mystical element to what is basically good horsemanship," she said.

"There is nothing mystical about training horses. It is common sense. They are prey animals with a fight or flight response, so if they feel someone putting a saddle on their back and round their belly for the first time, their instincts tell them it is a predator, so they buck and rear and try to bolt.

"Getting them used to it involves patience, and an understanding of how wild horses behave, and why they behave that way. It is really counter-productive when people think there is some magic trick to getting horses to behave. It takes time, and a lot of hard work."

Without her help, Karon says Stan and many horses like him are likely to have gone to "the factory", a modern term for knacker's yard. "One of the first horses I rehabilitated was Tully Lusk. She would have been sent to the factory for sure if I hadn't been given the chance to work with her.

"It took me about five months to make her rideable, as she was basically wild. She would rear-up if anyone rode her. After we had finished with her, though, she was great and found a new home."

Trainers now are increasingly mindful of a horse's life after it stops racing and tend to give them more basic training, said Karon.

She added: "Really, unless a horse is seriously injured it should be able to live a useful life outside racing."

Karon's work with the Scottish and Northern Ex-Racehorse Club features on Landward on BBC2 Scotland on October 3.