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Dubai Racing's Retirement Home - Heather Copland

The UAE flat racing season is well underway with the International Racing Carnival to kick start in four weeks time; but it is important to highlight what happens to these equine athletes after they have fulfilled their careers on course. This week I caught up with Heather Copland, manager of the Retirement Home and Rehabilitation Centre for off-track racehorses, funded by Dubai Racing Club.

Heather started her Dubai adventure 27 years ago in 1994, as a work rider for John Matthias before moving to Zabeel Racing Stables as a rider/racing secretary for 14 years then on to Emirates Stud and Retirement Home in 2011 and has been with them ever since. “The best part of my job is seeing a horse go on to a nice home and have an after racing second career, I love to see them become part of someone else’s family so to speak.”

The Dubai Retirement home was established 20 years ago but the facility was far from ideal, especially in the summer months as the stables were outdoor with no air conditioning which can become a challenge in 50+ degrees of heat. It was in 2005 when the retirement operation moved to Emirates Stud Farm that lies on a stretch of Oman between Dubai and Hatta, with over 200 A/C stalls, 70 large turn out paddocks and 4 walking machines, Copland says “it was the perfect home for retired horses”. Unfortunately due to the COVID-19 pandemic they had to relocate yet again because it was becoming increasingly difficult to retain supplies for the horses, call out vets at short notice, request maintenance crews etc as the border to Oman was shut and no movement was allowed, “this relocation meant a considerable reduction of space so our horses have been split between 2 yards but we have put up several turn out paddocks so all the horses can still be turned out for 6-8 hours a day and loose lunged”.

The yard is situated in the heart of the city between Saeed Bin Suroor’s HQ for Godolphin, Doug Watson’s Red Stables and a few skyscrapers. The home currently cares for a mix of 47 retirees, including some big names in UAE like crowd favourites, Tiz Now Tiz Then (USA), 2011 Jebel Ali Sprint winner Spin Cycle (IRE), Group 2 winner Massyar (IRE)- who is also the oldest thoroughbred at 31 and Flash Magic being the oldest Arabian at 35!

Once the horses have been retired from the racing yards they are given a minimum of one year off of riding before they slowly start retraining and reintroduced to schooling to assess the individual horses suitability for rehoming. Heather includes “we re-home as many horses as possible and 28 have been rehomed in the last 6 months, any that are suitable will be ridden on a daily basis for a couple of weeks prior to viewing but the rest are left to enjoy their retirement”. Some horses have even been relocated with new owners to the USA, UK, Denmark, Bahrain and Ireland. One notable mention would be the 14 year old ex Mark Johnston Layali Al Andalus, who has been retrained and has a new career as an outrider pony in the care of Alexander Thompson, so keep an eye out for them at the races!

Heather now works closely with Debbie Armaly and Life After Racing (LAR) as they have a broad network of clients who are interested in off-track horses which doubles the ability to re-home them, “I think LAR is a great concept and certainly has enlightened people to the possibilities and advantages of owning an ex racehorse, the league also encourages their new owners to go out and compete at whatever level they feel most comfortable”.

Racehorses are incredibly versatile and still have plenty to offer after they retire, it is fantastic to see the retirement home go from strength to strength and become more known and accessible within the UAE.

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