After 15 years of fighting to pay the bills, Priscilla Clark, president of Tranquility Farm, is in the process of downsizing her model horse retirement operation and relocating to Northern California.
The herd, which usually numbered around 100 and has been as large as 130, required $20,000 a month for such things as feed, insurance, irrigation water, and labor and workmen's compensation costs, Clark says.
"The overhead is just too much on a place like this," she said of the 40-acre spread in the Southern California foothills of the Tehachapi mountains 70 miles northeast of Los Angeles. "The cost of everything just keeps going up. I can't continue to raise that amount of money."
Tranquility Farm, one of the first of its kind and a model for many that followed, was the largest retirement facility in California.
Clark is taking 20 of the remaining herd—horses that have willing sponsors—to a new 10-acre site in Cottonwood, south of Redding in Shasta County near the Sacramento River. She notes that water alone in her new home, at $900 a year, is what she pays per month in Southern California. Currently in the process of packing her bags while working on adoptions for some of the horses, she said she expects to be settled sometime in January.
The farm has mainly subsisted on the primary support of founding member and benefactor, Gary Biszantz, a breeder and owner who named Tranquility officially for his father, the Harry A. Biszantz Memorial Center for Thoroughbred Retirement. A small cadre of other devoted owners such as John Amerman and Beverly Lewis, also have been instrumental.
"It just got to the point where I couldn't keep asking the same people for more money. It just isn't right," Clark said.
Clark said her fund-raising efforts for the farm she is leaving will continue. Dr. Tom Willis, a veterinarian, has purchased the original Tranquility property and "is willing to board as many horses as I can get sponsorship for," she said.
Until that happens, she says, she will continue to pay $250 per month for each of the 40 horses still on the grounds that she will be leaving behind.
"I just adopted out three but those were the last of the younger horses that would be good for riding," Clark said. "Most of the rest of them are retired horses that have been here for a long time."
Some of the horses that need sponsoring are familiar names to racegoers, such as Oceanus, Geronimo, Areyoutalkintome, Hemet Thought, Running Free, Publication, Stormin Away, Mananan Mclir, Wild Diplomat, and Mr. Fire Eyes. Among those moving with Clark to the new spread are Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) winner Buddy Gil, Lennyfromalibu (who once held the hillside turf course record at Santa Anita Park), and Cigar Pal, all of whom have sponsors.
Central to all of this, of course, is Clark's frustration with today's generation of horse owners.
"Deadbeats," she calls them, people who are unwilling to pay for a horse's care once it is no longer of use for racing or breeding. "And they will not be shamed," she adds.
Clark said programs such as CARMA, a voluntary effort through the Thoroughbred Owners of California in which some of the money comes from owners donating a small portion of winning purses to horse retirement, and contributions from track owners such as Frank Stronach are helpful, "but unable to support a program of this scale."
The only long-term answer, she feels, is legislation requiring a percentage of the wagering takeout be earmarked for horse retirement. But with wagering in decline, she said she realistically doesn't expect the racing industry to get behind such an effort.