With the economy struggling and the buy-back/no bid rates at Thoroughbred auctions rising, the issue of unwanted horses is a growing concern. Antony Beck, president of Gainesway Farm in Lexington, decided to try to do something about it, by sponsoring an adoption service on the Web site of The Blood-Horse’s sister publication, The Horse (www.TheHorse.com).
The site will allow Thoroughbred owners to list information about horses they are willing to give away free to good homes in the United States.
“It’s a sad, but a very definite situation that we’re facing,” Beck said. “A large number of Thoroughbreds are going to be taken out of the breed one way or another, and it would be wonderful if they could go out of the racing orbit into the show horse or pleasure horse worlds. This is a way we can save a lot of lives.”
Because The Horse focuses on providing equine health information for all breeds, the Thoroughbreds offered through the adoption service will be exposed to a large and diverse audience of horsemen.
Beck also would like to see auction companies advertise in equine publications outside of the Thoroughbred industry because “there is going to be a tremendous opportunity to get some really good Thoroughbred blood for very reasonable prices” in the coming months or even years.
More than 5,800 Thoroughbreds are cataloged to the Fasig-Tipton and Keeneland mixed sales in November in Central Kentucky. All but 189 of that total (including one late addition) are in the Keeneland auction.
According to Keeneland’s director of sales, Geoffrey Russell, his company is taking a “wait and see” approach to the situation, but he praised Beck for seeking a solution to what could become a very big problem.
“We commend Mr. Beck for trying to find alternative markets for these Thoroughbreds (that aren’t considered commercially viable), and we think it’s a great idea,” Russell said.
During previous Thoroughbred market downturns, people buying horses for slaughter and broodmares to join nurse mare herds shopped at the lower end of the Kentucky mixed sales. But the $1,000 minimum bid at both Keeneland and Fasig-Tipton was designed to make horses too expensive for slaughter buyers, and it also probably will shut out nurse mare owners as well.
In addition, there no longer are any horse slaughterhouses operating in this country, which makes buying horses for human consumption less financially feasible.
“What happens to the mares that don’t get sold is something that we are going to have to address,” said Mill Ridge Farm’s Bayne Welker, who is the president and chairman of the Consignors and Commercial Breeders Association.
“My guess is that some of these horses will get pushed off into regional markets where there are good state-bred programs and people can get some breeders’ bonuses if those mares can produce good runners. I can tell you the issue has been discussed with Geoffrey and Chauncey Morris at Keeneland, and I’ve brought up the idea that maybe we could do package deals for emerging markets with some of these mares that don’t get sold, so we can make sure that they get homes.”
Because of overproduction in the Thoroughbred commercial breeding industry, “the market won’t take care of every horse,” said Kitty Taylor of Warrendale Sales. “People have to have a plan B. They have to be willing to say, ‘OK, this mare is coming out of production, and I’m either going to find a good home for her or she’s going to live in my back field, or I’m going to donate her to the University of Kentucky or whomever (for research).
"Everybody is really going to have to start thinking about what they are going to do. It’s very sad for me as a person who loves horses and loves animals, but I would advise a client with an older horse, if they can’t care for that animal anymore, to euthanize it. Don’t let it go down a route in life that is going to be distressful or damaging or a bad way to live, because once you let them out of your control, that’s what can happen.”
The Humane Society of the United States recommends humane euthanasia performed by a veterinarian as an alternative to slaughter, and some equine veterinary practices are offering low cost euthanasia clinics. In a recent survey conducted by TheHorse.com., 89.1% of the readers who responded said low cost euthanasia clinics should be widely available.
“If there are as many horses not sold as we fear there might be, there needs to be some serious discussion about what to do next,” said Dan Kenny of Four Star Sales. “The solutions run the range from rehab farms that are supported by the industry all the way to euthanasia. When you have to take horses back (after they fail to sell), you do the best you can to get them placed somewhere else, which is fine if you’re dealing with a handful, but I think we are going to be dealing with significant numbers.”
John Stuart of Bluegrass Thoroughbred Services believes only a limited number of the lowest-priced sale Thoroughbreds will find new homes with people involved in other areas of the equine industry.
“The sport horse people want a special kind of horse,” he said. “They want something that has the looks, the soundness, and the temperament they like, and they buy those horses, which are really nice ones, for good money privately off the racetracks long before they would ever hit the sale ring.
"If you just want a horse to ride, there are all kinds you can get for free. I fox hunt, and every day on my e-mail, there are messages about horses that I could have if I would just go and pick them up.”