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No “Unwanted” Retired Race Horses

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Horse Racing (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Story by Chris Kenning of the Louisville

National group will raise money, accredit care programs

When a thoroughbred thunders past cheering racetrack crowds, it does so with the help of an off-track entourage of trainers, handlers and owners providing constant, doting care.

But for the horses no longer making money on the racetrack or in the breeding barn — when they become too old, injured or too slow to race — that attention quickly evaporates. And their future becomes anything but certain.

Only a minority of former racehorses get cushy retirements in bucolic pastures. While some are retrained as show horses or adopted for personal use, others are sold at auction, leaving them subject to neglect or being bought for slaughter in Canada and Mexico.

“There aren’t enough homes for the horses that need them,” said Kathy Guillermo, an equine specialist with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. “And there has historically been a lack of collective responsibility for what happens to thoroughbreds once they finish racing.”

Now, a broad coalition of thoroughbred industry stakeholders has kicked off racing’s most comprehensive initiative to date, establishing the Lexington-based Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance to act as a national fundraising and accrediting body to oversee, and help fund, the horses’ retirement care.

Supporters hope it will bolster a patchwork of smaller, private rescue and retirement programs that have struggled with funding and, in some cases, inconsistent oversight.

Funded by seed money from the Breeders’ Cup, The Jockey Club and Keeneland Association, the organization will inspect and accredit after-care facilities using standards covering operations, education, horse management, facility services, insurance and adoption policies. It will also begin raising millions of dollars to award programs that pass muster.

“People are starting to acknowledge that it’s a major issue for the sport,” said Mike Ziegler, interim executive director for the group, who said he’s optimistic it will bring substantial improvements to a side of the “sport of kings” that few spectators ever see.

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20 replies »

  1. The sport of racing absolutely has to be responsible for the horses that it uses up and discards. Thoroughbreds are given great care during their careers on the track. Unfortunately when some TB’s finish running, if they are not wanted for breeding, they are in harm’s way for sure.

    The Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance is a wonderful idea, I hope it continues to grow and prosper for the horses.


  2. Now this is what I am talking about. Those that participate in the horse racing industry taking care of their own. Taking the responsible road instead of the easy way out. Just think how great the entire industry could be if every single person in it would help in just a small way. It would certainly change it’s face to one of beauty!


      • Sometimes the route to h*ll; sometimes truly retired or retrained if they are young enough.

        Our Mims retirement facility in KY specialized in broodmares, like Michael (Blowen of Old Friends) does for stallions. I don’t know if they (Our Mims) are still around.

        The dam of Swaps was starved to death and Our Mims (a great racer and broodmare) was found neglected.


    • They are excellent candidates for refresher training and rehoming. Here is my friend’s – got her out of the kill pen last fall. She is 19 now. 100% sound. Going to the show ring later this summer.

      I say all the time, if anybody ever wanted to fund it, I’d LOVE to do a rescue just focused on restarting and rehoming 15+ year old TB mares. I’m just not good enough with money to handle the business end, but I’ll get on them!


  3. As for the racing industry…It’s time to clean up a tarnished reputation. As for the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance BRAVO!


  4. Saturday night here in Lexington there was a dinner showcasing OTTB’s. Bruce Davidson gave a riding lesson as did Chris McCarron (who gave a wonderful lesson on learning to ride a racehorse.

    Does anyone remember the race call “The Wife Doesn’t Know/The Wife Knows Everything? I got to see The Wife Doesn’t Know cause he’s been retired and was being shown learning a new career.

    Old Friends started this journey although I didn’t know about it for a while. Then Barbaro came along and lots of people learned the horrors of what really happens. There are starts, there are stumbles and yet we need to keep pushing always onward.

    RT you’ve always said it best “It’s About the Horse”. No matter if its Wild Horses, Track Safety (etc) I think you’ve said it best.


  5. They say that one foal out of 30,000 has the capacity to become a winning mount. But what about the other 29,000 who give their all for their owners and jockeys. I think the thoroughbred people have finally seen the reality of their horses. I will say at least they are truly trying to do something about the problem. Many race tracks around the country have a number of stalls which the horses can be put in if the owner decides to relinquish them. They then were taken to rescues for retraining. None of them were to be sold to slaughter. I did hear some fell through the cracks, but those who were involved in this activity were fined and in some form discredited. Its not perfect yet, but at least they are doing something about it. Some prespective horse owners pass them up because of their size. However, their hearts are as big as their size and will love you just the same.
    The Quarterhorse industry doesn’t give a rats ass about the foals, yearlings and the other fine horses they send to the “Killers”. They just promote the breeding of more and more. I think the reality of horse slaughter is really coming to the fore front. Its about time that we pass legislation to once and for all protect them all as they should be.


  6. Unfortunately there have been many groups, such as the Thoroughbred Retirement Fdn., who supposedly take care of retired racehorses, and don’t pay their bills. This results in horses being left to starve.

    There should be major changes in the racing industry. Delaying the age when horses may be started to race and disallowing the usage of pain medications for racing horses are two ideas put forth by the EWA. It’s entirely shameful that state budgets are becoming dependent on gaming which includes horse racing.


    • All rescues need oversight to ensure that the standard of care remains high. That’s why I’m such a strong proponent of the GFAS accreditation process.

      Also, it’s not just racing – I believe ALL show circuits should ban riding competitions for horses under 3 years of age. How many broken down cutters and reiners and WP horses go to kill? TONS.


  7. “Retired” Thoroughbreds make wonderful equine companions, if & when given the chance. My daughter & I know several people, lots of her high school age friends, who have retired former race horses, & have retrained them successfully. Most recent, just last week a friend of my daughter who rides at the same stable, brought her new horse straight off the track. He’s still pretty young, & he lost all of his 6 races, but he’s beautiful & sweet. She plans on training him to be a hunter/jumper, which may take a year. I think anyone who adopts a former race horse & gives it another chance is awesome! 🙂 I wish all horses, thoroughbreds or not, would be given that chance at a better life, what a wonderful world that would be! We visited Old Friends in Kentucky a couple of years ago & it’s truly a great place & the people are all wonderful & so nice!


  8. all horses are wonderful gifts from our Creator. Thoroughbreds are so versatile. they can do just about anything! carry your kids with a halter, cut cows on the ranch, race you to church on time, pay your bills when they win! truly a great and faithful helper are our awesome Thoroughbreds!


  9. fantastic to see the TB industry looking after their own. But what about all the other racing breds: STBs, race-bred Arabs, racing QHs? In my area, the “retirement” awaiting Standardbreds is often to be a buggy horse. Eventually he gets worn out, so from there he might go to a livestock auction (and we all know where that leads!) The “racing industry” label needs to apply to ALL breeds of horses bred/used for racing.


  10. I think this is beautiful thinking; and I hope they get started sooner than later. I agree that if you are going to do this through breed associations then all breed associations should put these actions in place. hell, they make enough money off the sweat if these animals why not let thm live out their lives with dignity.


  11. I think that we have to set up a thoroughbred show circut. This would give a venue for these horses after the track. Just an aside…I am a trainer that used to be into show horses. My horse is running in Fort Erie at the end of May and going to a dressage show a week later. A special guy trains at the track and comes home a couple days a week for dressage training. Runs off on the track and lazy at home.


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