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Amirvann: Winning ways

“Do you want to know something about Amirvann?” someone asked me last year at the first of the collaborative Racing To Relate rides in Normandy. “He’s got the reputation as the horse who has had the most jockeys off in Deauville!”

Imagine the confusion in my mind as my eyes tried to calibrate that information with the beautifully poised Amirvann riding around in a perfect shape. The Aga Khan-bred Amirvann was being ridden under the soft hands of French military veteran Johann Dupont in the sand arena at the Longines International Equestrian Centre, Deauville, in 2023, just before the pair headed off on a 20km ride through Deauville and across its beach.

“It took about 15 minutes of meeting and riding Amirvann to understand him,” Dupont said. “And for him to understand what I was asking of him. From that moment, we both agreed we were on the same page. What I'm looking for in a horse is for him to let go, then it's me who has to adapt to the horse. From the moment you understand and ask Amirvann, he will do everything for you. At some point he understood and told me, okay. I frankly adore Amirvann.”

Aga Khan

The now twelve-year-old Amirvann is sired by High Chaparral out of Amenapinga by Spinning World and is owned by Captain Adrian Pratt who bought him in partnership with the late Lord Gerard Clinton and friends in 2015.

The handsome bay with the long white blaze was twice placed in 2015 for Aga Khan trainer Mikel Dezangles before, on the recommendation of highly-respected Deauville trainer Stephane Wattel, the British friends bought him at the Arqana HIT sale for €60,000. Wattel trained him for five seasons and he ran 36 times for his owners, winning six races at two Quintés (national handicaps) at St Cloud and Deauville, and was placed 16 times.

Amirvann has always said ‘okay’ to his preferred riders it seems, having had a particularly good relationship with Theo Bachelot. Maxime Guyon also won on him and Maxient Remy (stable apprentice) won on him at Le Croise Laroche. As a tally his highest rating is 41.5 (GB 92) and he won prizes totalling almost quarter of a million Euros.

Now retired, Amirvann may not be winning money, but he is certainly winning hearts as the poster boy for Racing To Relate and this year, for June’s Mission Respect and Reconnaissance and will be up front for the upcoming Remembrance Rides in September.

“He is a great character,” says Captain Pratt. “He loves carrots and always eats them by biting the carrot in half before demolishing! Despite his new role heading up the team of former thoroughbreds and veterans so beautifully, Pratt admits he hasn’t always been quite so community-minded!

“He sometimes decided on the gallops to tell his rider who is boss by whipping around at the start of his work, invariably depositing said rider and looking down at them reminding them who was in charge! On one occasion at Chateaubriant, he decided to disappear into the woods behind the start!”

“In August 2021, towards the end of his successful career, Amirvann was finding it hard in the big fields, so to give him a morale boost Stephane Wattel suggested we ran him in the charity race on the Deauville all-weather track. A female international show jumper rode him several mornings and they got on well. On the day of the race there was a field of around 10 horses: Amirvann was fast away, he made all…he never saw another horse and won by 15+ lengths!”

On retirement

On retirement, Amirvann found his way to transition into hacking life and has excelled as an ambassador for Racing To Relate and off-track Thoroughbreds in general, riding foot-perfectly under Dupont on both 20km Deauville/Utah Beach rides in 2023. 20 riders from the USA, England, Scotland, Australia, Ireland and France were represented on those rides. For this year’s incarnation, Amirvann rode confidently with fellow off-track racehorses including Black Cat, Backontheroadagain and Thoroughbreds retrained to polo by Pierre Henri Ngoumou and joined this year by four magnificent ex French Trotter racehorses from Mr Patrick Lebeau.

Tara Mahoney of The Equine Immersion Foundation has shared her experience with Amirvann from the June ride and she says:

"The Equine Immersion Foundation has had the honor of facilitating trauma recovery and resiliency projects to thousands of military service members with hundreds of horses. We are often asked, "How do you know if a horse has the head and heart to do trauma work?" 

“Meet Amirvann...His raw athleticism and powerful body inspire respect and awe. Upon entering his stall, he waits at a distance until you have become grounded with a quiet mind present only in that moment. After 15 minutes of unspoken and undemanding connection, Amirvann approaches and lowers his head for the halter. He joins up and walks alongside you to the paddock. Trust is mutually earned. 

“During the next three hours of grooming, groundwork and grazing, Amirvann becomes loyal and playful. You experience his intelligence and eagerness to engage. He wins your heart as you release stressors in the humbling presence of a majestic horse who chooses to welcome you into his herd. This is how you know a horse can partner with humans as agents of change healing trauma. Amirvann continues his work in his second career through equine assisted services."

Before the Mission Respect and Reconnaissance ride, Amirvann was sent to Coralie Pettinato at Haras de Saint Arnoult (renowned stud and training facility of the late Larissa Kneip) for a re-introduction to work after time off over winter. Coralie offers breaking and pre-training and works with yearlings and broodmares also. Rich with grass and excellent facilities, plus sympathetic training, Coralie’s care with Amirvann was the perfect place to prepare him for his special job this year. 

“Amirvann is a very nice horse, but he is a little bit cheeky!” Coralie admits. “He knows his people, but he knows exactly what he needs to do too. He is a very funny character, you need to have a (good) rider on him, you can’t just put anyone on him - you need to select responsibly with former racehorses - not all of them can do what Amirvann did, and not just anyone can ride Amirvann too. You really have to be aware of this and take the time to find the right people for the right horse. The amount of work is important so that the horse understands to be calm and still as required, and to remember and understand he’s not at the races anymore.”

 “Regarding riding Amirvann in June, I’d like to thank 1/ST Racing and Aaron Gryder - a renowned former jockey with an excellent career - and Amirvann who gave him much pleasure. I’d also like to thank France Galop, thanks to their support, and Au-déla des Pistes, Thoroughbreds have a life after racing. That’s very important because they are so kind and quite sensitive. They are horses that merit a beautiful life after all we ask of them in racing and after all they give to us.” 

“I really wanted to thank Cornélia Schröter (such a big heart this woman), President of the charity which inherited part of the Haras de Saint Arnoult from the estate of the late Larissa Kneip, Un Espoir pour les sans Voix (Hope For the Voiceless), without whom I couldn’t do what I do here. To Larissa also, for whom I worked for seven years before she sadly passed away two years ago. We think of her all the time and I think she would have adored the Remembrance Rides and the fact that there are so many animals to support  that can now be given a new life and job thanks to her Haras de Saint Arnoult.”

Connection and collaboration

An important thing to understand about Racing to Relate is that first and foremost it is about connection and collaboration – that’s between Thoroughbreds and humans and any combination of those two. Our main objective, in its simplest form, is to help former racehorses help people and vice versa, and to support those who are trying to do the same, within an equine assisted services context and beyond.

Last year, the collaboration formed between the Horse Human Research Foundation, BraveHearts and HorseBack UK came together as a European first Trail To Zero ride alongside the groundbreaking Horses and Humans Research Foundation and Racing To Relate international symposium entitled, The Universal Language of The Horse, which took place at the Longines International Equestrian Centre, Deauville.

The symposium was an innovative format, bringing research from the lab to the arena, quite literally, featuring a number of live interactive demonstrations with research and equine-assisted practitioners and horses, including former racehorses and veterans working with horses. Speakers from all over the world presented on a variety of equine assisted service research. Human and horse interventions are positive, but the research explains the how and why.

Honour the fallen

For 2024 the collaborations continued, with 1/ST Racing, France Galop and Furniss Insurance onboard as sponsors and the veterans and representatives riding from the Equine Immersion Foundation, HorseBack UK and Racing To Relate. June’s successful event was the Mission Respect and Reconnaissance ride and next is the upcoming Remembrance Ride which will take place 18-29 September 2024.

Aaron Gryder,  Senior VP of 1/ST Racing rode Amirvann in the Mission Respect and Reconnaissance ride and had this to say of his new friend:

“It was such a pleasure to ride Amirvann in the Remembrance Ride early in June for the 80th anniversary of World War II and for all those veterans that lost their lives to fight for our freedom. Amirvann is a very well-mannered horse. As a jockey I rode over 30,000 races, but probably have been on somewhere in the number of 200,000 Thorougbreds. Amirvann was a pleasure to ride. And what I’ve always found with horses is it wasn’t about me being a great rider, it was about me riding with them - becoming one with them. Amirvann was very easy to get along with, he has a great personality and I got to spend some time with him earlier in the day before the ride.

Adrian Pratt, his owner, dearly loves this horse, but the horse very much loves Adrian. Right away when Amirvann saw Adrian he went straight to him because he’s expecting his carrots, which of course Adrian had for him!

The whole day was such fun, being at the farm with Jennifer Barker who does such a great, great job working with Racing To Relate. I really enjoyed the ride itself, not only for the people that were with us but with Amirvann too. During the ride Amirvann and I, and the others, crossed streets, through neighbourhoods, through thick forest and onto the beach. I was so pleased with how Amirvann acted. He got a little excited a couple of times but he’s a racehorse that’s been retired to do different things and he just adapted so well. So for me, it was a great ride, it’s always fun to be on a racehorse that has transformed and moves on to show that they have value in every aspect; to make people feel good, to get along with human beings, and to take you on great rides!

To me, Amirvann is a very special horse and I thank Captain Pratt for letting me ride him, and I thank Jennifer and Racing To Relate for the great programme they have. I look forward to riding Amirvann on my next trip!”

The rides in June were to recognise the 80th Anniversary of the D-Day Battle of Normandy, to remember the fallen, to honour the present, and to ride towards an ongoing legacy with horses and contemporary veterans paying unique remembrance, helping to raise funds and awareness to support the recovery of injured service people. 

The ride also served as reconnaissance for the aforementioned Remembrance Ride in September 2024. The French authorities and key military personnel organising this year’s landmark 80th Anniversary of D-Day and the Battle of Normandy were impressed with what the team of veterans, horses and organisations achieved and have invited us to take the concept forward and build an ongoing legacy paying tribute to military past, present, future and to the horse. 

Our Remembrance Rides link international and particularly US and UK memorial tourism to the economic importance of the equine sector to the Normandy region. It is testament to the growing recognition of the importance of horse-human relationships to mental health and wellbeing, particularly for veterans, and also to the deep connections and relationships Racing To Relate has been building within the relevant local and national authorities in Normandy, also the military, equestrian and mental health sectors.

We are honoured to demonstrate this to a world-wide audience with our contemporary military veterans from UK, USA and France, including many special forces and former Navy Seals.

Both this year and last, every horse and rider showed nothing but willingness and trust in each other throughout what was not always a straightforward ride. This June the Reconnaissance ride took the former racehorses, polo ponies and former Cavalry horses past the Merville Gun Battery, the memorial stone of the 9th Battalion and across the beach at Merville-Franceville-Plage. 

The Reconnaissance Ride helped us gain a deeper understanding of what such rides can look like for the future. There were many moments which were emotional to witness; whether it was the forming of relationships between horse and rider, the meaningful conversations between veterans or the touch of thanks from a veteran on a Thoroughbred’s neck at the end of the day.

Hand of collaboration

As our PhD research with The University of Bristol (funded by the John Pearce Foundation) is beginning to prove, Thoroughbreds have the sensitivity and personality to make particularly good partners in equine-assisted services. Our aim of developing an evidence-based standard for selecting and educating post-racing Thoroughbreds for EAS is on-going and rides like these provide some of the fuel to our hearts. 

Racing to Relate are out there extending the hand of collaboration. We are delivering evidence-based international research and on the ground events and practical examples, in order to help create a global standard for off-track Thoroughbreds within the Equine Assisted Services (EAS) sector. Racing To Relate are implementing research programmes, engagement and education in partnership with the racing industry, contemporary welfare debates and with equine assisted services.

Discover the amazing equine assisted services programmes involved in 2023 and in this year's Remembrance Rides :

HorseBack UK (HBUK)

Equine Immersion Foundation (EIF)

Bravehearts - Trail To Zero

Racing Hearts - Australia

Groundwork EAS - Northern Ireland

If you would like to know more about how to rehome, retrain and care for a Thoroughbred that has retired from racing please do not hesitate to get in touch with the following official Thoroughbred retraining and aftercare programmes who all provide expert advice and links to approved retraining centres and can help you place or source an ex racehorse.

Do not hesitate to contact Racing To Relate to ask about our work collaborating for an evidence-based approach to ex racehorse transition into Equine Assisted Services globally


International Forum For The Aftercare of Racehorses


Retraining of Racehorses (RoR)


Au-déla des Pistes ( Beyond the Tracks):


Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance (TAA)


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