Finding Alternatives

By Reiley McDonald -- Summer is a time of promise and hope for those of us in the Thoroughbred industry. With the Triple Crown behind us, we begin the search for potential stars of the future, whether they are stretching their legs as foals, being shown at yearling sales, or competing in 2-year-old races.

Unfortunately, a large percentage of these young horses will not make it to the Triple Crown races, or for that matter, into allowance or stakes competition. As a seller of many Thoroughbreds, I am acutely aware of the dark existence and subsequent ending that these animals often encounter.

The Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation and other similar organizations have been very successful in providing "retirement homes" for some of our old warriors. Unfortunately, despite the growing number of retirement facilities across the country, space is limited and only a small percentage of Thoroughbreds that need help are accommodated.

Organizations such as ReRun or New Vocations rehabilitate and adopt-out Thoroughbreds for other equine performance activities such as three-day eventing, foxhunting, show jumping, riding for the handicapped, or as companion field animals. The people who run these operations have large hearts and strong backbones, but their resources and capacity have been extremely limited.

We must take care of the animals in our lives that provide us incredible sport. We need larger rehabilitation facilities designed to heal and re-train horses to a point where they can be competitive in other equine performance activities. I know from experience that the Thoroughbred rivals any other breed in many of these activities.

For example, the owner of a gelding named Bonnie Rob, a grade III winner who was competing marginally in allowance company as a 6-year-old, wanted his horse to have a good home, and donated him to ReRun. The horse got six months off and is now competing in upper-level three-day events and foxhunting.

Owners must realize there is an alternative to running their horses into the ground until they are chronically unsound and useless for any other purpose. There is an alternative to paying large training and veterinary bills for horses whose racing performance is on the decline. Before we put our horses through the pharmaceutical meat grinder, and while they still have an opportunity to be productive, they can be retired and donated to a rehabilitation facility. Give your horse a chance, cut expenses, and realize whatever tax benefits you might derive at the same time.

There is good news. Through the generosity of the Kentucky Horse Park and in conjunction with the Kentucky Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation and the Racehorse Adoption Referral Program, a first-rate rehabilitation and adoption center will be developed on land located at the Horse Park near Lexington. This facility will have several priorities, including the identification of horses eligible for re-training, the rehabilitation and training of Thoroughbreds, marketing these animals to the many thousands of people who visit the Horse Park each year, and the promotion of Thoroughbred racing.

The Racehorse Adoption Referral Program, whose offices will be located at this facility, will also work to develop cooperative communication and information networking between all the rehabilitation and retirement facilities in order to more efficiently move our athletes into other activities.

We all need to do more and the Kentucky Thoroughbred Rehabilitation Center is hopefully just the first step in developing bigger and better rehabilitation centers around the country. The center needs financial support and the cooperation of owners who may have bred or bought yearlings that show little ability or have too much wear and tear to be competitive. The Kentucky Thoroughbred Rehabilitation Center also needs the help of anyone in the industry who can provide an equine service.

Before your horse starts the painful downward spiral to obscurity, get it off the track while it can still be productive. There is an alternative.

Information may be obtained from Missy Klick at the TRF, (859) 846-9981; Palmer Fargnoli at the RARP, (859) 846-9981; or the author at (859) 233-4021.