Increased Concern

By John Hettinger

To my way of thinking, one of the most positive developments in our industry in recent times has been the increased concern for the health and welfare of the horse.

The common denominator which unites participants in racing and breeding is our attraction to the animal--this is what got most of us in the business in the first place.

That concern for horses has been manifested by the generosity of those in the industry who have given to organizations such as the Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation, the National Thoroughbred Racing Association's Race Horse Adoption Referral program, and the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation (TRF).

Even a cursory glance at the three organizations reaffirms the vital role they play in our industry. Grayson has allocated over $1.5 million for 35 research projects the past two years and in the past two decades has contributed $9 million to approximately two dozen universities for more than 160 projects.

The current studies focus on topics such as immunology, infertility, condylar fractures, equine gastric ulcers, development of safer horseshoes, and causes of colic, among others.

Nothing epitomizes the ongoing need for research more dramatically than the recent outbreak known as mare reproductive loss syndrome. In fact, some of the donations made to the Foundation have been earmarked for studies that will explore possible causes for those problems.

The Race Horse Adoption Referral program was formed just over one year ago as a clearinghouse to facilitate the adoption of Thoroughbreds with no future in racing or breeding. Owners gain access to a database of nearby organizations that place ex-racehorses in good homes.

Potential adopters include private homes, handicapped riding schools, police forces, and other sites where the horses will receive appropriate care.

The database now includes more than 100 organizations and the toll-free number is averaging about 20 phone calls per day, mostly from people looking to adopt a horse.

The Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation was started in 1982 and has found safe homes for thousands of retired racehorses since then, whether it is at one of the 11 TRF farms, adoptive homes, satellite farms, or in equine education programs or programs created for handicapped and physically challenged individuals.

Some of those horses, like Creme de La Fete and Banker's Jet, were well-known competitors; others were horses you probably never heard of, but were certainly just as deserving of a good retirement home.

The TRF has expanded and made progress on many fronts through the years and the recent establishment of "safety net" programs in the backstretch areas of numerous racetracks has saved countless horses from the slaughterhouse.

As you can see, these three organizations--and many others too numerous to mention--are making great strides toward improving equine health and welfare on a daily basis.

At the end of the day, it doesn't much matter which equine charity you choose to support, as long as you choose to support one of them.

The late Paul Mellon, a noted horse lover, set a marvelous example for Thoroughbred owners by virtue of multi-million-dollar donations--before he died and through his estate after he died--to the Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation and the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation. This year, owners such as John and Debby Oxley and Prince Ahmed Salman pledged and donated 1% of certain stakes earnings of their respective stars, Monarchos and Point Given, to Grayson.

All of the above implies a sense of responsibility to the animal whose welfare is entrusted to us.

We must maintain responsibility for his health and welfare while he is productive and the same level of responsibility for him when he can no longer generate revenue.

At the end of his useful life, he should be retired, adopted, or humanely euthanized if no better alternative can be found; anything else makes a mockery of the words we have used for centuries to describe our game: The Sport of Kings.

JOHN HETTINGER is chairman of the Grayson-Jockey Club
Research Foundation and a board member of NTRA Charities and the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation