There is so much going on out there, it’s hard to even know where to begin, so we’ll just start with this article in the Saratogian: “The TAA to the rescue for retired Thoroughbreds.” The writer, Jeff Scott, welcomes the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance as a welcome start from the racing industry to provide a safe landing place for retiring racehorses.
The Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance, announced in this February 9th, 2012 press release, intends to provide aftercare program certifications and fundraising support for Thoroughbred retirement, and is sponsored by some of the biggest names in horse racing, including the Breeders’ Cup, Fasig-Tipton, the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, and Adena Springs North (who already run their own, impressive aftercare program for Adena Springs-bred racehorses—see “Adena Springs: Caring for their own” at this site).
Scott cites New York’s own New York State Task Force on Retired Racehorses Report when examining the far-reaching impact that aftercare programs like the TAA stand to provide:
Any comprehensive effort to aid retired racehorses has to deal with one unfortunate fact: no one really knows the scope of the problem. The New York State Task Force on Retired Racehorses (NYSTFRR) managed to shed some light on the matter in its December report and recommendations. According to figures the task force obtained from Equibase, of 71,662 Thoroughbreds who started in at least one North American race in 2009, 27,948 (39 percent) did not start in 2010. Some of these 27,000-plus horses may have resumed their racing career since, but the overwhelming majority no doubt have been retired.
27,000 racehorses retired in the course of one year… and that is just an educated guess. It’s a good thing that equestrian sports continue to grow quickly, yes? We need places to put all of these horses!
The United States certainly isn’t alone in the sudden popularity and demand for Thoroughbred aftercare programs. The Australian Turf Club and Racing New South Wales have introduced the NSW Thoroughbred Rehabilitation Trust, who already do what the TAA aspire to: established standards for the proper care and keeping of retired racehorses. From this article at Horseyard.com.au:
The horses, which are sourced from within the racing industry and donated to the program, go through a three month re-education and rehabilitation program which includes around six weeks of spelling and six weeks of retraining.
A consistent process has been established by the NTRT team including riding and handling re-education with techniques utilised to successfully rehabilitate Thoroughbreds to a basic or preliminary dressage level.
I hope the TAA takes note of this! It would be an outstanding income stream if the horses could be trained to a show or event-ready state and then sold at a market price. They don’t all have to be adopted. Sometimes, I feel like the constant adoption of racehorses really continues to influence their “no value when they’re done running” status with some members of the racing industry. I wouldn’t be against a trainer who took their horses home—or sent them to a trainer for a few months—and then made some money off of them as a show horse. I think that would be a positive for everyone, and drive forward the notion of retiring racehorses while they are still in good condition and sound for a future career.
BUT if you are going to adopt out racehorses, why not do it in a new way? The Ontario Standardbred Adoption Society took two of their Standardbreds to a Family Day at Western Fair Raceway, so that youngsters could meet up with some retired racehorses in person. It must have really brought home just what they’re seeing out there on the racetrack when those horses go by, for children to be able to pet and feed carrots to two former racehorses. And it might just have given some parents an idea or two…
OTTB showcases and adoptable horses at the racetracks should be a regular occurrence. Most major racetracks seem to have one or two showcases throughout the year, where ex-racers can show off their dressage moves or jump a few obstacles, but I like the idea of taking a few available horses along for show-and-tell, just as dog rescues have their available dogs out and on display for passers-by at fairs and greenmarkets. Especially, of course, if the aftercare agency happens to have one of those really cheerful, sociable horses that just thrive on attention. And possibly has a strange appetite for things like Doritos… that always gets the little kids screaming.
And finally, I have a post up at Equestrian Ink entitled “2012: Year of the Thoroughbred,“ which I hope all of you will check out. I truly believe that the time for the Thoroughbred to regain its place as the great American show horse has come. And we have so many people, both on the backside and on the farms, who are working to make this come to fruition.