Equine Rescue

Equine Sanctuary Certification an Answer for Further Abuse and Neglect

Forward by R.T. Fitch ~ Author/Director of HfH Advisory Council

Ensuring Best Practices is the Key to Horse Rescue Success

Photo courtesy of the New York Times

Over the past several days a dreadful news story has broken about one of the largest Equine Rescues in the world, the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation, willfully and without explanation allowing the care of some 1,000+ horses deteriorate to the point of starvation and death.  Well funded but grossly mismanaged the organization unraveled with the horses, who were promised a comfortable and painless retirement, getting the bitter short end of the stick.

Click (HERE) to read the story and acquire the background.

Of course this sort of disaster has the likes of Dave Duquette, self proclaimed co-leader of a sub culture horse eating club, jumping up and down ranting that bloody horse slaughter plants would have prevented this.

But unlike Duquette and his minions the sane answer that would aide in the prevention of further sanctuary failure is to ensure that sanctuary/rescues meet a high standard of best practices in not only caring for their equine charges but also on how they run their business.  To provide long term care for any animal takes a strategic and aggressive business plan to ensure that funds will be available for the animals, long term.

For many years Jerry Finch, founder and president of Habitat for Horses, and I have sat and mulled the issue of certification/standardization of equine rescues in an effort to ensure that abused and neglected horses would not face a repeat of their pain through the failure of a half baked, backyard horse rescue operation, and there are a wagon load of them out there.

Finally, Jerry found an avenue and agency to achieve this goal through the auspices of the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries.  Proudly, Habitat for Horses is the first Equine Sanctuary to be accredited by GFAS and has been the model for additional certifications as the program has moved forward.  GFAS assures that it’s members are above reproach and offers training and assistance for sanctuaries in an effort to ensure that a host of species represented are cared for at the very highest possible standard.

Below is an article from the NYT stipulating that if the TRF had made an early move to become accredited by GFAS the odds of this disaster occurring would likely have been greatly diminished.  It’s of importance to note that the United States first equine advocacy group, the ASPCA, endorses this concept and points other benevolent organizations to seek this accreditation.

This is an answer and a way forward to help in assuring the future success of sanctuaries/rescues and in so doing ensuring a rightful retirement for our equine companions who have given us their all. ~ R.T.

Reprinted from the New York Times

The New York Attorney General’s Charities Bureau will review complaints about fiscal irresponsibility and improper care given to former racehorses that have been leveled against the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation.

The foundation, located in Saratoga Springs, is one of the largest private organizations in the world dedicated to caring for former racehorses. It has been so slow or delinquent in paying for the upkeep of the more than 1,000 horses under its care that scores have wound up starved and neglected, some fatally, according to interviews and inspection reports obtained by The New York Times.

Despite receiving millions in donations, the foundation has been operating at a deficit for the past two years, according to its financial documents, and as a result has not reliably been paying the 25 farms it contracts with to oversee the retired horses. At the 4-H Farm in Oklahoma, inspectors last month could find only 47 of the 63 retired horses that had been assigned to it. Many of those were malnourished. Inspectors concluded that the rest had died, probably of neglect.

Last week, at a Kentucky farm that is supposed to receive money from the foundation, 34 horses were found in “poor” or “emaciated” condition, inspectors found. One horse had to be euthanized because of malnutrition.

“While we cannot comment on potential or ongoing matters before our office, we take these complaints seriously and will review them,” said Lauren Passalacqua, a spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office.

The foundation also was told last week that it was losing its funding from the A.S.P.C.A. Last year, the A.S.P.C.A. gave the foundation $175,000 from its Million Dollar Rescuing Racers Initiative. Jacque Schultz, senior director of the A.S.P.C.A. Equine Fund, said the foundation was told that to be considered for another $175,000, it had to obtain accreditation from the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries. “They didn’t make satisfactory movement on that front,” Schultz said.

In a statement, Schultz said, “The A.S.P.C.A. Equine Fund grants program seeks to award equine organizations who strive to achieve best practices, including exceptional equine care and innovative and robust fund-raising practices.”

Click (HERE) to read the story in it’s entirety

27 replies »

  1. Unfortunately thing will probably get worse for the 1200 horses under the care of the TRF. Ray Paulick (on the baord of directors for the TRF) is one that should have kept his mouth shut in this situation. http://www.paulickreport.com/news/ray-s-paddock/trf-no-easy-solutions/?commentStart=100#Comments

    Below are my comments to what Ray Paulick has said:

    “Ray with all due respect, I think it would have been best if you had said nothing in this sitaution. Obviously the TRF is in trouble, we certainly didn’t need you to tell us this NOW at this late point but perhaps if you had earlier on, hor…ses may have been saved or kept from suffering. The TRF looks bad enough and now IMHO you have made them look even worse with your defensive attitude.

    From the bloodhorse article did state: “We’re current through the end of the year, and we’re not proud that we haven’t been able to keep these farms current because it is a financial strain on them,” Ludt said. “Now, due to its financial strictures, the TRF is restricting the number of horses that it accepts into its retirement program, according to Grayson and Ludt.

    How stupid does this sound? In one sentence they admit that they have failed but they are going to restrict the number of horses that they help? How about rstricting that number to a BIG FAT ZERO!

    And if that isn’t bad enough, you now are comenting (I think #22) that: “In your opinion, there is a big difference between “starving” and “very thin.” Are you serious Ray, because I certaily hope not! I am upset at this commet, outraged, almost hurt and very angry. You better get yourself together and take a step back and take a real good look at this situation. A very thin horse is the same as a starving horse Ray. Lack of food is the cause for both. There is NO difference so I am certainly glad that this is “just your opinion”

    The fact that the TRF has now fired the vet just goes to show that they are guilty and if they are not, they cerainly need some good advice on how to handle PR situations like this in a better way. Firing the vet is certainly a huge mistake and will only cause donors to stray away.

    Well I am sorry Ray but there is no excuse for dead or starving horse. The TRF should have spoken up before it got to this point as well as the farms that keep the horses. In the end, money was the only thing that seemed to have mattered to anyone and unfortunately this is an all too familiar situation where the horses are suffering.

    Now what I fear the most now is that we have 1200 horses that are already jeopardized due to lack of funds and it is th attitude that you have just shown us that will later cause a greater lack of funds to the TRF and then the horses will suffer even more. Perhaps the TRF should allow heads to roll, suck it up and say they are sorry and then at the very least, beg for help!!!


  2. does the term Over Breeding mean anything? Plus is it true there are government funds for some breeding programs? I’m sorry,I don’t understand the treatment of these wonderful creatures after everything they do for us. Poor things, people want from them and than for payback,leave them with nothing,or kill them


  3. I have always despised the racing industry. Industry being the key word here i.e. for profit.
    And I rather dislike the use of the word “backyard” as I am one of those backyard horse people that bred a few well placed ponies and have taken better care of my charges than 90% of the so called prorfessional that I read about including the bunch mentioned above.


  4. Sad, our rescue / sanctuary keeps about 40 horses and it is a full time job fundraising and seeing to their needs. Sometimes when we hear that some organizations get millions in funding or the BLM’s budget is in the $50M range we wonder where the money goes. We pay rent , feed hay 24/7 see to their vet needs, feet, blankets and so on. Those able to work do, giving lessons generally to young kids or handicapped people. We do shows, events, pick up junk, collect labels, beg, borrow and still just scrape by but the horses are never compromised. The simple reality is we all get stigmatised by bad press and a sanctioning organization is a great idea. If the public gets the sense that rescue organizations are a scam then even more horses will wind up down on their luck.


  5. The American Sancutuary Association which includes among its memebership the famed Black beauty Ranch has been around a long time. The problem is that there is no requirement to join. This is a case of financial mismanagement, lack of responsibility and human greed. I do not believe that board memebers of non-profits should be paid. Actually once the article broke, members of the thoroughbred industry started donating to them. How difficult would it have been to ask for help before the horses suffered? I also find it very disturbing that anyone would quit feeding a horse because they were owed money. I have had boarders abandon their horses but I can assure you I am still feeding them and providing them with vet care. None of the horses should be left in the care of those who neglected them as they have shown that they do not have the horses best interests at heart. They too could have asked the public for help. Also, any organization that gives a large grant should be responsible enough to visit the establishment that received the monies. The situation is not an argument for slaughter as I am sure some will argue, but rather is yet another sorry commentary on the human species. One I am sure that Mark Twain could have predicted. If you assume the obligation of caring for any living creature, then you have a moral/legal obligation to do so. There is no excuse for not doing so and if you get in a bad situation ask for help. It is never acceptable to allow those in your care to suffer. It was also odd that a 24 year old had no teeth. I have what I consider elderly equine those past the age of 30 and they usually loose their teeth in their late thirties early forties. Then of course they require special feed, soaked hay pellets etc. However, I can tell you that horses in their thirties are extremely difficult to keep weight on. Unfortunately, the problem here is the problem in general human beings who do not take their obligations seriously. The board has a commitment to guarantee that the horses are properly cared for and the people who took them in also have a responsibility to care for the horses. The entire situation represents the failure on the part of all parties involved to set up to the plate and take their responsibilities seriously. In (as RT would say) my humble opinion the entire board plus all the farms in which the horses were not receiving adequate care should be fired/ removed and face legal charges for defrauding the trust. In ethics some claim that the country suffers from opraywinnfredization that is failure to accept responsibility for our actions or lack of. They are all responsible and the blame falls squarely on all their shoulders. The Mellon Trust needs to get rid of them all and find people who will carry out the mission of the trust and provide our retired athletes with the retirement they deserve. If only there was a way to guarantee that those we pay and entrust to care for our elderly valued compassion over greed, the end of life not only for our equines but for our elderly humans would be so much better. However, as it stands the media will continued to be filled with stories of both human/animal abuse as the correlation between human/ animal abuse is well documented and those caught and charged with abuse will always whine and supply some excuse as to why it is not their fault. It is their fault and they have all failed miserably in their duties to the trust and the horses placed in their care.


    • Faith, I second everything you’ve said. Yesterday there was another NYT article entitiled: “Charges of Neglect Bring Review by State Officials”, stating “The New York Attorney General’s Charities Bureau will review complaints about fiscal irresponsibility and improper care given to former racehorses that have been leveled against the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation.” So this is being pursued as a case of fraud, as it should be.

      This site contains links to numerous articles about the issue:
      It includes “Investigation: Retired racehorses starving”, which starts: “The president of a New York foundation set up to take care of retired racehorses says he is surprised to learn that many of them are starving.” Obviously higher-ups hadn’t been minding the money or the operation!

      I read Mary Matthews excellent comment to “No Easy Solutions”, and noticed another (#83):
      “(TRF) spends at least 85% of its revenue directly on the care of horses, using the remaining 15% for administration and fundraising (board members are neither paid nor reimbursed for their time or travel expenses). Ray, can you please provide documentation on this claim. I looked at this angle a few years ago and found that less than half of TRF budget was actually used to pay for care of horses, ergo, more than half was administrative. Granted, categorization of some of the expenses wasn’t very clear….I really thought that made the administrative angle EVEN higher. Perhaps you’re massaging figures by saying “% of revenues” because apparently revenues don’t equal expenditures so none of the administrative costs are being paid? That’s cherry picking to be sure. Can you provide a link to financial documents?” So what happened BEFORE this crisis?


      • This 2008 article from “The Horse” implies TRF had some pretty good plans and partners in place at that time. What happened? Note that several other TB rescues are profiled. What’s been going on with them?

        One bright spot from March 13th’s “Saratogian”: “War horse whisperer: Retired racehorses help returning soldiers.” Maybe it was published to offset the horrible news about TRF, but it’s uplifting none the less. BTW, the Defense Department will provide $4 million of our tax dollars to fund this program. I hope the GAO

        I found this comment re: changes to the tax laws that may or may not be true, but is worth investigating: “For what it is worth a lot of this all grew worse following changes to tax laws in the 80s. Prior to this, breeders just put to pasture at least some of ones they would deem non-productive due to soundness or simply behavior problems. Then they could write off the loss to cost of operations. No longer is this so true, and with open land at greater premium, incentive is no longer there. So too along goes mercy.”

        My takeaway is that large grants/donations to any charity – registered or unregistered – can be a big temptation to unscrupulous people. Just like corporations, there are numerous ways charities can redirect funds and “cook the books.”


      • “I hope the GAO…” should read “I hope the GAO will monitor the funds and the success of the program to make sure OUR money is being spent wisely.”


  6. One of the things that would really make a difference for Retired Race Horess i s this, out of every Purse there should be a percentage that goes automatically into a fund used only for retired or injured racehorses, for far to long the Horse Racing Industry has used and abused and then just thrown away these very Special Horses, I am saddened everyday of the abused all horses endure, when in fact they have been in every facet of all of our lives , they are beauty poise trust love and anyone who ever has had one knows this, and out of this should come for the horses , something good and wonderful for them……… Horses are not Livestock (although these poor animals are another problem of extreme abuse)……………..Horses are living breathing Legends, They are the most Beautiful Symbols of Freedom… and we all should make sure that provisions are made for all of them………………..The Horses contributions to us must not go unnoticed and unrewarded…………………………………. just to address the over breeding, if one would address the biggest unnatural Over breeders it would be AQHA start there ………….They throw away horses like yesterdays newspaper……………. Always start at the source or core of the problem …………


  7. SOMETHING SMELLS HERE. Waiting until this horrendous saga for the horses unfolds. Bet there is some “dirt.” Corruption. It is a too familiar story. Big $$$$ and going “poor.” This has been going on for some time, the so-called lack of funds. Two years? I wonder. There is a chain of command and responsibility, from the top to the the farms. It is mind-boggling, incredulous, that this could go on so long at the expense of the horses: suffering, dying. Whatever happened with the TRF management/Board/ CEO? However, I hold those most accountable on the ground with the horses, the farms…and other parties who knew and apparently stood by watching as horses got thinner and thinner, starved, ill, diseased, dying, dead. How can anyone live with and watch horses slowly dying and not do something? Like feed! It can be done you know. Where there is a will there is a way. Like blow this sky-high to animal control? Animal humane organizations? ASPCA, a major donator AND animal RESCUE! When I first heard of this TRF “neglect,” the first thing that came to mind was the “NEBRASKA 200.” 3-Strikes Ranch, Alliance, Nebraska, April 2009. Starvation, neglect, abuse, torture. No water! About 200 horses rescued, barely alive; @ 100+ dead. A formerly well-funded ranch run by a sociopath.


  8. I agree with you Arlene. Not only should a percentage of the purse go to helping the retirees, but there are many other aspects that should be drawn from. I think everyone who is potentially earning money from these magnificent creatures should have to contribute in some way. Tracks, Betters, Owners,Trainers, Jockey’s The registries, (Jockey club, Thoroughbred, QH etc.)
    Tracks should charge more for admission, even if it’s $1 or so it would add up. Betters and jockeys should contribute something from their earnings, Each horse that is registered should pay an additional fee. etc. There are many ways to raise funds to give something back to these horses, Even if it’s just some hay and a nice place to spend the rest of their lives.I worked at a race track for many years, there is a real dark side on the backside.


  9. Can you say Jason Meduna?????

    Good grief. Can’t say what I really wanna say here. Suffice it to say that as this thing unravels–people ought to be outted for allowing this to happen. To the lowest employee who may or may not have been threatened with his job if he told, to the highest–everyone needs to know who didn’t act when they shouldda.

    Starvation isn’t something that happens overnight. YOU choose not to feed. That makes it your responsibility that the horses were starved. YOU cruelly and deliberately with malacious intent starved those horses.

    Sorry but I think prison time is just too good for these folk. They get squares, a roof over there heads, cable tv medical care.

    I think sticking them out in an HMA with a tent only in the dead of winter–locked in in such a way that they can’t escape will start to drill into their pea sized brains what they did. Give them enough food for a week and water–if they go through the rations in days tough.

    HMA’s are multi use. I think this would be another useful way to use OUR lands.



    Update Mar. 14, 2011: The Utah House of Representatives has approved H.B. 210 that would allow the killing and torture of feral animals in areas where hunting is not prohibited.
    This after the House Judiciary Committee voted to reject the language in the original bill that allowed the shooting and killing of feral animals.
    The bill as amended now goes to the state Senate.
    Find your UT state senator here. Write (faxes or letters are best) or call and urge him or her to vote NO on H.B. 210. Please be polite and be sure to tell the state senator that you are a constituent.
    Original report: As the Utah 2011 legislative session gets underway, state Rep. Curt Oda wasted no time in introducing a bill that reflects his legislative priority. He is not using his position as a legislator, however, to try to create jobs, improve schools, or protect children, for example. Instead, his bill, H.B. 210, encourages the torture and killing of animals.
    Oda wants to amend the state’s animal cruelty law, Section 76-9-301, to exempt “pests” and “feral” animals from the definition of animal. This means that to the extent they were protected, these animals would no longer be protected by the state’s animal cruelty law.


  11. The more I think about TRF the angrier I become. I have two friends that rescue horses. One is a rescue the other a sanctuary; neither one makes a dime from the horses and scrimp and save to make sure the horses are cared for and have a good life. The sanctuary has 50 horses and they are well fed and fat. Until recently she paid for their care herse through house cleaning etc. When she realized she could no longer do it alone she asked the animal community for help and of course the same animal people who always respond responded with money and hay. My other friend not only contributes her own money to the care of the horses but actively fundraises in order to guarantee that the horses are well cared for. Her rescue has been up and running for 10 years. It seems from the monies owed that these retirement farms are for profit organizations. Again compare a non-profit long term care for the elderly to a for profit long term care. One’s primary goal is profit maximization the other compassionate care. When the sanctaury asked me to help, I did because I believe that those of us who are against slaughter need to step up and help our local rescues. We need to put our time effort and money where are mouths are and remember think globally but act locally. The good rescues are usually run by individuals who really care and unfortunately they usually do not have the business savvy to get the big grants and run on a shoe string but their horses are well cared for and loved. Others like the retirement farms seem to see this as a business opportunity to make a quick buck with little effort. TRF needs to investigate where the horses are going. My first suggestion is to avoid these factory farms for horses and identify and work with the well run non-profit rescues. Just think some would actually claim that we are a morally superior species.




  13. Anytime a person or group of people starve a horse or any other animal which doesnt not have ready acess to food, it is the second worst form of cruelty at it worst,when we take on a rescue or any type of place that deals with an animal , we must know in our hearts, that we are now a caregiver of the most important kind, in the horses case especially, cause you already know they have been innocent victums of abuse, and should know now we also are very important to give to these animals the best care and feeding humanly possible, it is all in our hands,,,,,,,,,,,,,There is always a helping hand available if they find that they are losing ground or in need of extra help, JUST AsK FOR IT …………No one can guess that help is needed, just dont let go to the point of an Horse staving to death in your care, this has happened to many times lately…………Animals cannot speak therefore they cannot ask for help, we having brains that can think and reason should always do so, horses depend on their caregiver…….


  14. I agree with Arlene and some of the others above. Monies should be put in a fund for the retirement of these beautiful animals. I remember reading a time ago, of a beautiful former racehorse that won over half a million dollars, that had the temperment of an angel, that was sold and ended up slaughtered. What on earth is wrong with these people.
    Breeders, trainers, jockeys, and owners should all contribute to these horses retirement years. And, yes, increase each ticket to get in at the track by a dollar and that would also add to the fund. As far as the TRF and its farms that was supposed to take care of the horses, each and every person with each of these organizations, from the top on down, should be prosecuted for animal cruelty and their personal bank accounts should be frozen and the funds be given to care for the affected horses. ANyone that knew what was happening that didn’t have a hand in it, but saw what was happening, should also be punished, because they could have turned all these guilty parties in to the authorities. There is no excuse for these actions and it is unsciounable. All of these people are despicable. They should all pay a hefty price, not only in monetary funds but in prison time. Unfortunately, their families will also pay a price, but this is what must happen in order to make a point and show that it is unacceptable and a price will be paid for these people’s actions against these beautiful animals.


  15. This is beyond tragic. I am not as eloquent as others on this site, but, didn’t anyone oversee what was going on? How could a person of any worth just walk by the horses day after day and see the starvation? The horses suffer due to neglect of these people. Horrible outcome!


  16. Today, 3/21, Ray Paulick gives link to an article from Horse Racing Insider, 3/21: “Ennui Over Racetrack Afterlife.” Joe Drape’s breaking-news article, 3/17, “Ex-Racehorses Starve as Charity Fails in Mission to Care for Them,” prompted a MEDIA TELECONFERENCE. Participants: National Thoroughbred Racing Association (NTRA), Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation (TRF), Joe Drape (NYT), Michael Blowen (“Old Friends” TB Retirement, KY), media. Mr. Blowen: “We have horses here that have generated $75 million in their careers, and they have no Social Security and no 401-K….” TRF asked for help, therefore NTRA hosted the teleconference. This article re teleconference, is in praise of Joe Drape’s “flammable” expose’, as he is risking the horse racing industry’s friendship. *TRF’s response: DAMAGE CONTROL. And noting, Joe Drape’s article has generated donations to TRF . http://www.horseraceinsider.com/Zasts-TrackWords/2011-03-21ennui-over-racetrack-afterlife/


    • Ronnie, thanks for the link. I can’t believe people are donating DIRECTLY to an organization that’s under investigation for potential fraud, misuse of funds, and, possibly, collusion in animal abuse. Donations should be to an organization with a good track record for accountibility (ASPCA?) specifically for the care of these horses which, hopefully, will be removed from the irresponsible facilities and placed in genuine rescues. Anything collected should be distributed exclusively among those rescues, or donated directly to them. If TRF ends up in court, money from well-meaning donors could end up paying lawyers!

      This is the TRF Facebook page. Lots of questions and not many answers since the NYT article broke.


  17. And now, from the NYT: “Veterinarian Fired After Finding Neglected Horses”. Does the TRF have things to hide? YOU BETCHA! Why else would they take this action? They’re searching for a vet who will put a “Seal of Approval” on the operation in an attempt to salvage what’s left of their “reputation.”

    This is a good post from Kindred Spirits with a link to the NYT piece, and also to an excellent response by Dr. Sheila Lyons “Equine Rescue Under Fire – How to Make Things Better”. Lots of good information and ideas.


    • Ginger, I could spend all day posting your links at FB but I am hoping some of those here will help do it!! Great stuff! I will post some of this for sure… mar


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