Reunion Time

By Tom Gallo
I just finished reading The Blood-Horse's article on ReRun's brilliant initiative to save retired horses from slaughter and reunite them with their original breeders. According to the article, ReRun has created stickers for use on The Jockey Club foal certificate to provide contact information for a subsequent owner who is unable or unwilling to provide a retirement home for a Thoroughbred.

I applaud the efforts of ReRun and other organizations, such as the Thoroughbred Retirement Fund, Blue Horse Charities, Thoroughbred Charities of America, and Thoroughbred Adoption and Retirement Group, who have dedicated themselves to facilitating a safe and dignified retirement for all Thoroughbreds no longer being used for racing or breeding purposes. These organizations have raised millions of dollars for and immeasurable awareness about treatment of our industry's animals in retirement.

Most of us who breed horses get attached to them and don't think of them as simply a tradable commodity. The horses become part of our family and part of our farm's heritage. The horses are often given cute nicknames, and their racing careers are followed and their accomplishments celebrated. It is just like watching your kids grow up, leave home, and achieve on their own. After the fun and the excitement are over and these horses sometimes drop into the claiming ranks, the clock starts ticking and any race could be their last. It is then that a call from the current owner to the original breeder can make the difference in a horse's future and perhaps a well deserved happy retirement.

Many of us would be willing and able to provide retirement care for the horses we've bred but lose track of them for one reason or another.

I, like many of my colleagues in the breeding industry, have been active in a small personal way in the care and placement of Thoroughbreds after they have finished racing and/or breeding. Older broodmares who can no longer produce are retired on the farm, and racehorses are shuffled off to the local riding stable or 4-H programs to provide a child and the horse with a meaningful second career as a riding horse. Through the use of different databases such as stable mail or virtual stable, it is easy to track animals throughout their careers, but sometimes they disappear off the radar screen.

For this reason, it is so important we provide the necessary contact information, such as the stickers, to give one last opportunity for a current owner to contact the breeder and find a home for that special horse.

Many times, a single small but ingenious idea from a grassroots organization, such as ReRun's sticker idea, can be built upon by others and incorporated into everyday use so it becomes standard practice. I'd like to see ReRun's sticker idea be adopted by The Jockey Club so that the safe retirement of Throughbreds would not be an afterthought, but would instead be incorporated into the original foal registration process.

I propose The Jockey Club incorporate a check-off box on every Thoroughbred's registration application that would allow, voluntarily, for the breeder's contact information (including phone number) to be included on the formal registration papers. By checking the box, the breeder indicates his or her willingness to be contacted upon the horse's retirement. Once contacted, the breeder would have the opportunity to arrange and/or pay for the horse to be transported back to the breeder's farm or to its designee. This process would be similar to The Jockey Club registration form's check-off for National Thoroughbred Racing Association PAC donations. Because we fill out the form anyway, it would streamline the process to allow the breeder to take the responsibility for the horse's destiny right from the start. A standardized process such as this would incorporate control at the initial registration of the horse, and I predict it would boost the numbers of successfully adopted horses by 40% to 50%.

It is about time the idea of a safe retirement became the norm and not the exception for these wonderful animals that provide us all a very good living, not to mention the thrills and excitement that make Thoroughbred racing such a great sport.