Retirement is inevitable for every horse on the racetrack. Those that do not have a pedigree suitable for breeding or those that simply do not like racing have other options off the racetrack.
Up until recently, a portion of racehorses wound up in kill or holding pens, en route to slaughterhouses in Mexico and Canada. Sadly, the connections of these horses rarely faced penalties and the cycle perpetuated itself. A lucky few were purchased by Thoroughbred rescues or by individuals looking for a project horse to re-train in a different sport.
Thankfully, connections and the industry itself are much more aware of the slaughter issue and have taken steps to correct it. Many racetracks now have a zero tolerance policy; meaning any connection affiliated with a retired racehorse in a kill pen can have their stalls at that track revoked . Sadly, some horses still wind up in bad situations regardless of the policies put in place. The industry is aware of the problem and is actively working to fix it.
There are many aftercare programs that will take sound and healthy racehorses and give them a head start in a new career such as jumping or dressage. Typically, when an owner gives his or her horse to such a program, a cash donation is also given to help offset the costs.
Thoroughbreds are making a comeback in the hunter/jumper ring with new Thoroughbred-only hunter classes being offered in lower- and upper-level shows. Many thoroughbreds also excel in the jumpers, especially in the child/adult divisions since they carry their speed and are brave around the jump courses. Thoroughbreds are also the breed of choice for many three-day event riders due to their endurance and bravery.
Just because a horse failed on the racetrack or does not have a good enough pedigree to warrant being bred does not mean he cannot have a good life after the racetrack. As a whole, Thoroughbreds are quick, brave, honest, kind, and learn quickly and these qualities make them suitable for almost any sport for a wife variety of riders.