Things I love about the Retired Racehorse report

The New York State Task Force on Retired Racehorses gave us their recommendations on how to fix the sport’s unfortunate throw-away mentality, and I have to say, I think it’s a wonderful thing.

This can’t have been an easy report to put together. Over the course of three years, a group of people with wide-ranging interests, from the Chairman of the New York State Wagering Board to a director of  the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation to Thoroughbred owners and enthusiasts, had to come together and agree on not just the failings of the Thoroughbred industry, but how they were going to fix them. These meetings must have been… interesting.

At any rate, what they came up with is really spectacular. Here, in no particular order, are my favorite suggestions.

1. ALTERING TRAINING REGIMENS SO THAT HORSES CAN BE MORE READILY RETRAINED FOR OTHER USES

This includes educating owners on the value of sport, therapy, and lesson horses, including their tax benefits, and a “Track-side triage program” which not only catches horses who need saving but keeps records on trainers who “Consistently retire horses that fall into a euthanasia category or those who consistently retire horses that have good chances of successful retraining and placement.”

I am for anything that involves education and extensive record-keeping.

I also like maintaining tabs on the “starts per stall” in order discourage potential abuse of lower-level runners.

Also under this heading are suggestions for new claiming-box rules to prevent dumping a lame horse in a cheap race, including

  • If a horse is claimed, it should not start in a claiming race for at least 30 days from the date of claim for less than 25 percent more than the amount for which it was claimed.
  • When appropriate, horses must demonstrate a workout between races that displays fitness and soundness.
  • Voidable claims: Claimed horses that do not finish a race or those that sustain a catastrophic injury during the race remain the property of the original owner at the option of the prospective new owner.

2. CREATING AN INCREASED MARKET FOR RETIRED RACEHORSES

This heading cites the Thoroughbred Incentive Program for show horses, as well as Virginia Horse Center’s Thoroughbred Celebration Horse Shows, as good jumping-off points for New York Racing. Everyone should be emulating these programs; that’s a given. Here’s a cool suggestion: “Encourage horse-related publications to include the breed and registered name when describing or listing horses (e.g. “Little Flower (Thoroughbred, registered name: Qwerty) won the Amateur Owner division”).

We can’t make people use the incredibly horrible vanity statements that owners tend to inflict upon their horses; as happy as it would make me to see every Thoroughbred in the show ring have an easily traceable registered name, no thirteen year old girl is going to show her horse as Jojo Dadogfacedboy (how is this for real? You’re a sick person.) and we shouldn’t expect her to. But this would be an acceptable compromise.

There are actually too many good ideas in this section to mention them all, but I love creating an award for the breeder or owner who has done the most for retired racehorses, allocating portions of owners’ and breeders’ awards as grants for re-training programs, and establishing a regular conference with sporthorse trainers.

3. INCREASING COMMUNICATION BETWEEN OWNERS AND POTENTIAL ADOPTERS

I mean, obviously. But the New York Report suggests that not only should the Jockey Club’s Thoroughbred Connect, the Kentucky Horse Council’s Save Our Horses Welfare Fund (SOHO) and the U.S. Trotting Association’s Full Circle programs be connected and run by a single North American body, participation by owners and breeders should be mandatory.

YES. After all the paperwork you’ve already done to register the foal, nominate it for breeders’ awards and state-bred status and stakes races, a little more won’t hurt you. Register that horse so that someone who loves it can find it.

This is also a cool idea:  “Develop a “Buy/Adopt Retired NYS Racehorse” online placement site and encourage trainers to post horses at least 30 days before a horse can no longer stay at a track or in training. This should be facilitated through a relevant state agency or by the individual tracks.” Run in conjunction with a page that also listed qualified trainers and instructors, this could be a very interesting development.

Okay. These are just a few of the ideas I like. The thing about this report: these are suggestions. We need as much public support as possible to make these suggestions become reality. I encourage everyone who cares about retired racehorses to look at this report, blog about it, post about it, be vocal about it. If you do, email me your post and I will add the link here.

Let’s get loud about retired racehorses!

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13 Comments

Filed under Media Coverage, Outside Sites, Racing, Retirement Options, Uncategorized

13 responses to “Things I love about the Retired Racehorse report

  1. Julie

    Love this article! I would love to update my OTTB’s previous breeder, trainer, owner on how successful this boy has been in the year off the track, and encourage they continue to “rehome”. Do you recommend I try to contact them to send video/pic’s and if so how do I begin to try and find them. I have names…
    Thanks for your time,
    Julie Frykman and “In Classic Fashion” aka Calvin Klein 🙂

    • I have always had good luck with this myself. I once looked up my OTTB’s breeder in the Ocala phone book, called him up, and asked about a horse he’d bred twelve or thirteen years earlier.. he was happy to talk about the horse and was really pleased to hear about all the things we had done together. I think if you can do a little search on the old Facebook you’ll probably find them and just send them a message.. “hey, I love my boy, here’s a pic of us together!” that kind of thing!

      • Julie

        Will do, thank you! And thanks for your writing skills, I love to read each article 🙂 Keep em’ coming…

  2. ann betsch

    Too many adoption programs talk about “forever homes” and with a large number of them, you CANNOT resell the horse. This creates a couple of problems; 1-trainers looking to retrain OTTBs can’t sell them after they have retrained them which limits the number of horses they can take off the track, 2- you must be a non-profit to make this work as a business. There are tons of other careers for OTTBs, unfortunately the horse industry is a bit insular, race horse people don’t know or talk to horse show, dressage, eventing, polo people & vice versa. By increasing interdisciplinary communication, you could vastly increase the resources to find a home for the horses who are finished racing, but I used to live in a horse community where just that happened & I have seen it throughout my life between disciplines, they don’t talk, let alone share resources. This needs to change for the horse industry as a whole to be able to place all the horses that are in it.

    • Good point! I agree, if you are looking as a trainer to train and re-sell a horse, you can’t go the adoption route. You have to go through the trainer-listings (CANTER and other organizations often offer sales listings where you can inspect and purchase a horse directly from the racing trainer) and I think we need to make this step more visible.

      The task force report calls for regular conferences between sport and racing trainers… I definitely agree. And I think we need a big summit to start things off right. What do you think?

    • ann betsch – “There are tons of other careers for OTTBs, unfortunately the horse industry is a bit insular, race horse people don’t know or talk to horse show, dressage, eventing, polo people & vice versa. By increasing interdisciplinary communication, you could vastly increase the resources to find a home…”

      We also have experienced a lack of interdisciplinary communication. We start our Tbs and work our rescues at a farm that arenas and a track. When we find a young horse that is bored with the track, we will focus their initial training on arena flat work with poles and some small trail rides. One horse in particular, 2 yr old CA bred, has a gentle attitude but was not confident with a rider and had little interest in track work. We had one of the local trainers (who has a nice, small, light handed assistant) start working the horse over trotting poles and eventually small cross rails. His confidence increased in himself and the rider (you could see he was proud of himself after several of his sessions) and now has a good work ethic on the track. This is an example of how we can use other disciplines to not only get a horse ready for the track, but to develop the fundamental skills for a horse post racing career. Also, the assistant had never worked young thoroughbreds before. She enjoyed training the horse and this experience has opened her eyes to world of Tbs. Unfortunately, it has been difficult for us to find non-racing trainers open to the idea of working our young Tbs. Our organization has developed an educational program that both encourages the general public to bond with thoroughbreds and reaches out to other disciplines to work with our horses before and after a their racing.

      @Highgunner – The Voice for the “Unwanted Thoroughbred”

  3. I really appreciate your insights! I’ll have to go read the original article soon; I don’t know terribly much about the racing industry, but I haven’t thought it entirely fair to put the burden of reducing “unwanted horses” just on Thoroughbred breeders- while on one hand excessive breeding should be discouraged, you are more likely to find the best horse when selecting from 100 rather than 10. But then the burden for caring for the lives of the discarded horses does rightly fall on the breeders, like you mention the article touches upon- I think the idea of record keeping is great for trainers who retire horses. And while I am partial to my warmbloods, I think there could be a lot of great homes for the OTTB…. though that may or may not be the biggest glitch in the whole plan, I would think 4 yo TBs might be too hot for the average recreational rider. Of course, it all depends on the discipline in which it is being used. Food for thought, at least we are making positive strides to finding a solution! Corinna

    • Absolutely, Corinna, and I think way too many people place all the blame on “the original breeder.” As in, this horse needs a home, WHERE IS THE ORIGINAL BREEDER?

      To a certain extent, when big-name breeders step up to the plate and claim or adopt under-performing or in-danger racehorses, I approve. It’s good PR for the breeder, it’s good PR for racing, it makes a nice story.

      BUT on the other hand, if I buy a show jumper and he bows a tendon, I’m not calling the original breeder and saying, “This piece of crap horse you bred bowed a tendon, take him back.” I’m aware that I have a potential retirement situation on my hands and I handle it accordingly.

      So why do you see owners with a racehorse with a bowed tendon, and they’re looking around and saying “Well, who’s going to deal with this for me? I’m certainly not responsible.” And then when the horse gets into trouble, bystanders start blaming the breeder?

      The problem with breeding great numbers of questionably sound horses may belong solely to the breeders, but the problem of disposable racehorses will have to be solved, in a large part, on the backside of the racetrack..

    • Well I was thirteen when I got my 4 y.o. OTTB, and we managed. It depends on the horse. You know that! 😀

  4. p.s. found you from Haynet, and happy to become your newest follower- looking forward to reading through your archives!

    • Thank you! If you go way, way back you’ll find my training diary with an OTTB named Final Call; somewhere in the middle I went to the racetrack to be an exercise rider, and then for the past year I’ve just been sort of ranting about whatever falls into my lap. We have fun. I like to think so, anyway.

  5. Woodstock

    Is anyone talking about raising a minimum racing age? I believe if TBs are saddle broke and start racing even a year later they may be stronger and have less soundness issues later in life.

    • Nobody is talking about that right now, to my knowledge. I agree that we could do a lot of good for horses if we stopped running them at two. Maybe down the road we can make that happen.