The biggest takeaway message from a panel on transitioning Thoroughbred racehorses to second careers during the Welfare and Safety of the Racehorse Summit at Keeneland June 28 was how trainers need to protect their horses while they’re on the track in order to give them more fulfilling opportunities down the road.
“There is absolutely a market for retired Thoroughbred racehorses, but they have to come off the track sound,” said Allie Conrad, executive director of CANTER Midlantic, which has helped place more than 10,000 horses in new homes. “Injecting a joint and running a horse one last time, it might come off the track sound for the trainer, but it’s not going to be sound for a second career.
“(In terms of medication rules), I know you cannot legislate morality, but you can push ethics on people that injecting a horse’s knee when it has chips to run it a second and third time after it nearly broke down; (rescue organizations) can’t do anything to help that horse,” she added.
Conrad said the best way to find a new home for a racehorse is for trainers to research programs already in place at a given track. CANTER Midlantic, which has volunteers at nearly every racing facility in the region, seeks out trainers and lists horses that are ready to be retired from racing as a free online classified service.
Phase II of CANTER’s program focuses on retraining and 'rehoming' the horses.
“Trainers should know that it costs us thousands of dollars for (CANTER) to rehabilitate a horse,” said Conrad, who noted the organization also euthanizes horses with catastrophic injuries. “The best thing to do is give the horse to someone who has the finances to rehabilitate the horse or humanely euthanize the horse. We used to provide homes for unsound horses, but we no longer have the resources.”
Dr. Jim Smith, the veterinarian for the Kentucky Equine Humane Center, said if a horse is sent to the farm that will never be sound, if the animal is suffering, or if it will require extensive surgery, it is euthanized. Like many other rescue organizations, the Kentucky Equine Humane Center simply does not have the funding or resources to keep an unlimited number of unwanted horses.
But the silver lining is that KEHC has recently started a retraining program to prepare the sound horses at the farm for second careers. The program has proven extremely successful, and the retrained horses have been quickly adopted, Smith said.
All panelists stressed how the only way for their organizations to keep afloat is by garnering funding from both inside and outside of the industry. They said racetracks, horsemen, and jockeys need to be supportive and committed to nurturing and creating more organizations such as CANTER, as well as Turning for Home, which is based at Philadelphia Park.
Barbara Luna, the program administrator of Turning for home, explained how the organization is funded by the Pennsylvania Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, the racetrack, and a percentage of winnings from the jockeys and owners. Through that funding, Turning for Home has been able to find new homes for more than 400 horses off the track. “I think that any racetrack can do this,” Luna said.
“(TRF) is starting to do more marketing of ex-racers that are doing well in eventing or the show world,” said Diana Pikulski, executive director of the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation, which has more than 1,230 retired Thoroughbreds boarded at 18 farms across the country, several of which are at correctional facilities. “It’s so interesting to see these horses blossoming in their second careers until they’re 10-15 years old. It’s important for people that own or train racehorses to be thinking about that horse’s potential when it finishes racing. There is so much more time for it to be successful. For every Thoroughbred out there winning in the show ring, it’s great advertising for racing, because the people participating in that event will think racing is doing the right thing by these horses because of how well they’re doing in their second careers.”