A roundtable designed to look at long-term solutions for retired racehorses set a short-term solution in motion when the California Retirement Management Account stepped up to pay for surgery to save Fabuloso, a 4-year-old filly with a fractured rear ankle.
CARMA invited representatives from several California rescue organizations to a roundtable April 8 at Santa Anita to discuss ways the groups could work together to save Thoroughbreds and rehabilitate them for second careers. Bonnie Adams of CANTER (Communication Alliance to Network Thoroughbred Ex-Racehorses) California said Fabuloso was a horse needing immediate help. With surgery, the 4-year-old daughter of Smoke Glacken stands an excellent chance of recovering to become a riding horse, according to Adams, but there was no one to pay for the surgery and rehabilitation.
“We will get the surgery done,” said Marsha Naify, vice president of CARMA. “We’ll pay for the surgery and the rehab, and then we will place her at one of these facilities.”
Primarily through money owners set aside from their purse accounts, CARMA grants funds to rescue organizations caring for Thoroughbreds that started at California racetracks. Naify and CARMA president Madeline Auerbach set up the roundtable to help the groups define areas that need to be addressed and allow them a way to network.
It made for a sometimes lively discussion about topics that included available resources, long-term plans to keep the groups in operation following the death of the founders, and educating racehorse owners about options for ex-racehorses. Ideas ranged from how to identify available grants to expanding a facility’s operation to use horses therapeutically, for example, with autistic children or with military veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
CARMA is in discussions with Dr. Jaymie Noland of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo to begin a pilot program using racehorses off the track. Noland said at the roundtable that currently two horses are being evaluated as part of a student program with the ultimate goal of selling the horses into appropriate second careers.
“We have a tremendous amount of labor, energy, and excitement,” said Noland. “I cannot express to you how motivated and excited and dedicated the students are to the idea of working with and helping horses and doing whatever they can to contribute.”
Noland explained such a program would be part of the university’s curriculum, which involves several equine courses. She said she would like to be able to build a template that other universities could use to establish similar programs.
One of CARMA’s goals, Auerbach said, is to examine such programs as Noland described to move more horses into second careers instead of retirement facilities, which have limited resources and space to warehouse horses for the rest of their lives.
“Most of you who know these horses know that they really don’t want to go sit by a fence,” Auerbach said. “A lot of them would like to have a job and a function.”
Naify and Auerbach brought up Santa Anita and Golden Gate Fields’ policy of denying stalls to any owner or trainer who directly or indirectly transports their horse to a slaughterhouse or an auction company that engages in selling for slaughter. Naify explained that the National Thoroughbred Racing Association is developing a certification process for racetracks that will include a requirement for similar retirement policies.
Several rescue representatives said trainers often give horses to grooms in a “don’t ask, don’t tell” manner that allows horses to be sold for slaughter.
“I’ve had conversations with three big-name trainers,” said Auerbach. “They have all been called in by (Santa Anita president) Ron Charles, and they have all been told, ‘You’d better explain how Horse X got from here to there.’ All three of them re-examined how this could happen. All three of them are fixing the problem.”
Jennifer Wilson, a show horse trainer from Ramona, Calif., who frequently buys horses off the track to develop into hunter-jumpers, said that racetrack trainers now require people to sign documents that they will not send horses to slaughter.
“It is having an impact,” Wilson said.
“Almost everybody on the racetrack has really good intentions,” said Auerbach. “They don’t want anything to happen to these horses.”