Judi Dench’s racehorse Smokey Oakey provides therapy to the disabled

The racehorse Smokey Oakey, part-owned by actress Dame Judi Dench, is enjoying a second career with Riding for the Disabled (RDA), the charity that delivers therapy, achievement and enjoyment through horses and ponies to people with disabilities all over the UK.

On the track, Smokey Oakey was a high-class racehorse, notably winning the Lincoln Handicap at Doncaster and the Brigadier Gerard Stakes at Sandown Park. Now retired from racing, Smokey Oakey is based with East Park Riding for the Disabled Group in Lingfield, Surrey. Channel 4 Racing’s Nick Luck spoke to Dame Judi about Smokey Oakey’s transition from racehorse to therapy provider.

Dame Judi, who co-owns Smokey Oakey with her driver and friend Bryan Agar, said she thought carefully about Smokey Oakey’s future when he retired. Bryan works with the RDA at East Park and together Dame Judi and Bryan agreed “this is the best place he can possibly come.”

Racehorses are more intelligent and versatile than many breeds of horse and will often enjoy a second career in contrast to their exploits on the racecourse. Retraining of Racehorses (RoR), racing’s official charity for promoting the welfare of former racehorses, reports that there are over 10,000 horses registered as active in other disciplines varying from dressage and showing to polo.

Dame Judi told Channel 4 Racing that Smokey Oakey has settled “wonderfully” into his new life, and the children “are bewitched by him.”

Dame Judi is a patron of Riding for the Disabled and speaks very highly of the work that the charity does.

“You just have to come and watch really. What they do with children is phenomenal, absolutely phenomenal.

“Some of those children, when they’ve come originally, haven’t been able to get on to a horse, or perhaps been frightened of animals. The idea of getting onto a horse is an anathema to them. And now you see that they can ride round, even without holding. The confidence it gives them makes such a difference.”

Eventually, Smokey Oakey will be part of the RDA’s competitive arm. The RDA has a network of 500 volunteer groups which organise activities such as riding, carriage driving, vaulting and showjumping to up to 28,000 people each year.

Earlier this year RoR donated a former racehorse to Horseback UK, the Scottish charity that uses horses as therapy for recovering servicemen and women. In their recently completed Review of Strategy and Policy, RoR recommended more former racehorses be used for charitable purposes as due to their versatility and ability to adapt to their surroundings many are suitable for careers in animal therapy.

Smokey Oakey enjoyed a successful racing career and is now enjoying his second career too. He is doted on by Dame Judi who says “It’s always a pleasure to see him…he’s been very good to us.”