Meet the Former Racehorses, Including Burrow Seven, Retraining near York
Living North meet the founders of New Beginnings near York who retrain and rehome former racehorses to offer them the best quality of life post-racing
New Beginnings, a registered charity in Bishop Wilton, was established in 2010 by Kevin and Pam Atkinson. Kevin started riding as a child and developed his love of thoroughbreds as an adult, and Pam started riding at her local riding school as a 10th birthday present but got her first former racehorse later on in life. For the past 14 years they have been providing a safe and secure environment for former racehorses, where they can adjust and be retrained for a second career. ‘Some horses come to us straight from racing but more often now we seem to get more horses coming from private post-racing homes where something has gone wrong,’ says Kevin. ‘It could be a welfare case or owners simply can’t afford to keep the horse anymore – it could be for numerous reasons.’
They also assist the RoR (Retraining of Racehorses) through their Vulnerable Horse Scheme to provide care and stability for the most vulnerable former racehorses that need extra support, which can vary from one horse to another. ‘If they have come straight from racing it’s normally quite straightforward, they just have to learn to live life at a slightly slower speed and we need to then get them working in different outlines, using their body differently,’ explains Pam. ‘They no longer have to be running fast in straight lines like racehorses do, but we need to teach them to carry more weight than a jockey. So we start from the beginning and we reschool them to be riding horses.
‘Some of the horses that come in through the Vulnerable Horse Scheme have already been a riding horse. Quite often with horses who are tricky to rehome, we’ve got to then try and establish what’s gone wrong in the relationships that they’ve had. Quite often people send us a “problem” horse and it isn’t actually the horse that’s the “problem” – it might have just been a breakdown in the relationship with their handler, for example. The horse might be worried and anxious. We have to unpick all that and work out how to reassure that horse and how to get it into a good, safe space again so they’re happy to work with us. There’s no set timescale for this, it really depends on each individual horse. Some horses are quite bold while others are quite timid, so we’ve got to nurture them and get them to the best possible place.’
New Beginnings are unique in the vital support they offer their horses. ‘Once a horse is a New Beginnings horse it’s got security for the rest of its life because even if the home that we find for it doesn’t work out, then the horse will come back to us,’ says Pam. ‘We hope they’ll stay in a forever home for the rest of their natural life but things happen (people lose their health, income, confidence) – a lot can happen and we’re there to help.’ Kevin describes it as ‘a bit like sending your children to school’. ‘You send them to school for an education, so when they leave school they can get themselves a job,’ he explains. ‘That’s basically what we’re doing with these horses – we’re giving them the education to give them the best footing of a secure life beyond racing.’
New Beginnings attend race meetings throughout the county to promote their work and the welfare the horses receive both during and after racing. Some of the racehorses at New Beginnings attend race meetings allowing the public to get up close and stroke them, and that’s often the first time many racegoers will have had the opportunity to do that. The horses are also taken to local schools and open days. Kevin and Pam also take the horses to visit local hospices and care homes to offer comfort to those that need it.
A recent addition to New Beginnings is Burrow Seven. He flew the flag for the Burrow Seven Racing Club, a fundraising concept to raise money in response to Rob Burrow’s Motor Neurone Disease diagnosis, and he raised more than £100,000 for those affected by MND and Leeds Hospital Charities through membership sales to his racing club. Burrow Seven is now an ambassador for New Beginnings. ‘He didn’t run many races because he damaged a tendon in his leg which scuppered his racing career,’ Pam says. ‘But he came to us because he’s a very precious horse. Obviously he’s quite well known because of his relationship with Rob Burrow, The Good Racing Company and the MND Association. As a fairly high profile horse he came to be one of our ambassadors so we can promote not only the good work of Rob and MND [fundraising] but also life after racing. He ticks so many boxes, and he can really fly the flag for various good causes.’
Kevin and Pam believe Burrow Seven has got the right personality to go back onto racecourses as well as into hospices and care homes. ‘He’s a very friendly and people-oriented horse,’ says Pam. ‘He’ll put his head on Rob – he’s quite an affectionate horse and quite gregarious. We’ve had people visiting the yard and open days for the Rob Burrow Racing Club and The Good Racing Company and so far he’s certainly happy to have attention, he’s happy to pose for the camera and he’s happy to have people stroking him – we’re really pleased with his development. He’s a striking horse – a beautiful grey (people love a grey!).’
Burrow Seven’s efforts will help in advancing New Beginnings’ Thoroughbred Interaction and Engagement programme (TIE). ‘It’s about people getting up close and having that wonderful interaction with them,’ Pam says. ‘We always say every time someone strokes a horse they smile. There’s just something very cathartic about it.’
‘We are actually at the moment working on expanding our TIE programme,’ Kevin adds. ‘Instead of taking horses out, we’ll also look at bringing people in – predominantly children to work with the horses in a controlled and safe environment, to allow them to learn more about themselves through their interaction with horses.’
Whilst Burrow Seven has been finding his feet at New Beginnings, Rob has been able to visit him at the yard and in Masham for the launch of Black Sheep Brewery’s Burrow’s Blonde. ‘Ten pence from every bottle sold will support Rob Burrow and the MND community,’ says Kevin. ‘It’s a fantastic thing to do. It’s nice beer as well,’ he laughs.
Burrow Seven joins current New Beginnings ambassador, Goldream (fondly known as Remy), who has been a dual Group One winner in the 2015 King’s Stand and the Prix de L’Abbay in France. He’s a finalist for the RoR Community Impact Award 2024, supported by The Sir Peter O’Sullevan Charitable Trust, and Kevin and Pam are encouraging locals to vote for him to win the award. With support from New Beginnings and York Racecourse, Remy visited St Leonard’s Hospice, St Gemma’s Hospice and Clifton Green Primary School this summer. During National Racehorse Week he met more than 1,200 children and families in 24 hours. ‘He was a little pocket rocket,’ says Kevin, ‘He’s the only horse left in the competition that’s in the North. It’s the first time they’ve ever done a community award so it’d be nice if we could win that and bring it up to the North.’ The public vote closes on 19th January.
Both Kevin and Pam have high hopes for the future of New Beginnings and the horses there. ‘The route we’ve chosen hasn’t been an easy one but it’s a very worthwhile one,’ says Pam. ‘We’ve helped a lot of horses over the years and we just want to continue growing. We want to get our TIE programme off the ground and we want to get our new ambassador horse out there. We don’t do this for money, but we need money to do it, and everything we do is for the horses. We want to continue helping horses and people in the community and continue raising the profile of life after racing.’