Chapter horse rescue
One of the more significant impacts of Fans of Barbaro (FOBs) is their support for horse rescue. Raising funds to help purchase and support horses that are no longer wanted or horses that have suffered neglect and abuse. The major focus of this work is saving horses from the slaughter house. Through June 2008, FOBs have helped save more than 2300 horses from slaughter, raising more than $900,000 to accomplish this. This effort has focused considerable attention on the horse rescue industry and specifically the plight of racehorses that are no longer productive for the horse racing industry. Here I will explore the nuances of the horse rescue industry and the fate of the racehorse.
- 1 FOBs enter the horse rescue business
- 2 Different types of rescues of FOBs.
- 3 Why is rescue necessary?
- 4 Different types of Horse Rescue Organizations: Five areas of distinction for slaughter rescues
- 5 Three sources of outside funds
- 6 Do horse rescue organizations compete with each other?
- 7 From the Racetrack to Slaughter – 4 examples
- 8 So how does a horse go from racing for the thrill of its owners and the betting public, to the infamy of the slaughterhouse?
- 9 What is the horse racing industry doing ?
- 10 Case Studies of successful horses rehabilitated.
- 11 Do all racehorses need rescuing?
- 12 What needs to happen? / recommendations for future.
FOBs enter the horse rescue business
In September 2006, an FOB, who worked with Miracle Horse Rescue (MHR) based in Nevada, discovered that MHR was planning to go to a horse auction in Oregon in an effort to save some horses from slaughter. This FOB advertised this effort on TWR (a web-site that is the meeting place of FOBs) and offered a matching donation of $500. Within a weekend $10,000 was raised by FOBs for this rescue effort. MHR went on its road-trip and saved the horses that were specified by FOBs and these horses were eventually homed at MHR. There were six of them, which included a couple of pregnant mares (Rosie and Misty) who have subsequently foaled (Bobby’s Lil Angel and Spirit).
MHR is a sanctuary for retired horses and it does not frequent horse auctions as some other rescues do. This was it's first and only time doing this. Thus, while this rescue was done with nothing but the best of intentions, it actually was not the most effective use of FOB resources. The cost per horse saved was quite high. This was evident shortly after the rescue gained the attention of others more familiar with horse rescue who decided to educate FOBs while also vilifying MHR and the effort.
It took TWR about a month to resolve this issue and settle into a routine of significant fundraising. The positive outcome of this initial rescue has been twofold. First, it was the beginning of what would lead to the FOBs involvement in the rescue business. Secondly, FOBs were able to learn some important lessons from this initial rescue effort and, as FOBs continue to learn with ongoing experiences, are now much smarter about the horse rescue business.
Different types of rescues of FOBs.
Subsequent to the MHR rescue, FOBs have rescued horses in several different ways. FOBs have rescued horses by participating in fundraising efforts of individual horse rescue organizations, by participating in rescues initiated by other FOBs who act as “cheerleaders” for particular rescue efforts (47 horses were rescued in Kansas in one rescue effort and 60 horses were rescued in Texas in another rescue effort), purchasing horses directly from auction in conjunction with a rescue at the auction, raising money for horse purchases from feedlots (last stop before the slaughter house) advertised by a rescue and buying horses directly from the kill pen (a euphemism for a place where a kill buyer will aggregate his horses before shipping them directly to a slaughter house or a feedlot). The following are four examples that show some of the specific efforts that have been undertaken by FOBs.
Missouri Horse Rescue
The Missouri Horse Heroes is the name given to eighteen horses who survived an early morning, double-decker, tractor trailer accident on their way to the slaughterhouse in Cavel, Illinois. Forty-one horses and one hinny were jammed into a cattle trailer when it overturned on I-44 on September 27, 2006. Earlene Cole, director of Longmeadow Rescue Ranch, and the Missouri Humane Society, spearheaded the rescue along with veterinarians and a team of emergency rescuers. Of the forty-one horses, seven were dead when they were cut out of the wreckage and nine seriously injured horses were humanely euthanized at the scene. The remaining twenty-five horses and hinny were taken to nearby veterinary hospitals and Longmeadow Rescue Ranch with severe trauma and injuries to legs and eyes, as well as cuts and lacerations that would require immediate and ongoing care.
One of the seriously injured horses was given the name Willie, for his sheer will to survive. Buried under the bodies of dead and living horses, he was temporarily paralyzed on one side of his body. Another horse the rescuers named “Stan” had his lip tattoo traced and it was discovered that he was a descendent of Bold Ruler. His registered name is Prince Conley. Two mares were carrying foals at the time of the accident, Princess miscarried and Mama in early spring had a healthy foal, Twist of Fate.
FOBs began supporting the MO Horse Heroes immediately following the accident. An anonymous FOB set up a donation challenge on TWR. The Humane Society of MO (HSMO) has noted the majority of donations to help with the enormous costs of their physical care, over $150,000 in expenses at the onset and ever-growing, came from FOBs. This support continues.
In order to continually help with the costs of caring for these horses, a monthly fundraising program has been set up with HSMO. FOBs have their own online site for donations and money is tallied after each fundraiser. It is the hope of FOBs to raise $25,000, by the first anniversary of the accident, in this manner. After seven fundraisers, $20,200 has been collected for these horses. Fundraisers have included a Valentine’s Day fundraiser, an Easter fundraiser, Father’s Day and Mother’s Day fundraisers in honor of Mr. and Mrs. Jackson, as well as Birthday fundraisers for Mr. and Mrs. Jackson.
Since the accident, three additional horses had to be humanely euthanized because of their serious injuries, five horses have been adopted into loving, forever homes and three are acting as Barn Buddy Ambassadors for Longmeadow Rescue Ranch. The remaining eighteen, including the new foal, Twist of Fate, are in various stages of ongoing care and hopefully all will be adopted out to forever homes.
Brego / Espresso
FOB Julie had been searching for an “off the track thoroughbred” to rescue for over a year. Her hope was to obtain her horse from TB Friends, a local thoroughbred rescue in the San Francisco Bay Area. She had been to TB Friends several times with no luck, she couldn’t find the right horse, and she knew, deep down inside, she would know him when she saw him. On May 1st 2007, she was doing her weekly scan of the Bay Area Equestrian Network site, a site that is everything horse for the Bay Area. The headline that caught her eye was, “17 Hand Thoroughbred With Star Like Barbaro”. She clicked on the link and was taken to Espresso’s page on a Washington Rescue’s website, in Washington State. There, she viewed the pictures of the tall, skinny dark bay gelding who indeed had a star like Barbaro. As she looked at the pictures, she couldn’t get over his eye. Although sullen and depressed, this horse had a gentleness and a calm in his eye, that lay just below the surface.
She contacted the rescue to discuss this horse. She was looking for a horse with which she could do some light jumping. This guy had obvious knee problems. It was advised that X-Rays be done, but the process of a “pre-purchase” exam would in no way guarantee his safety from the Canadian slaughterhouse for which he was bound. After much discussion with both her husband and trainer, she sent the money for his fees to the rescue – opting to pull him off the feedlot to safety and then evaluate the knee. Once off the lot, x-rays were taken and it was clear that Espresso had a couple knee chips, common for racehorses. It was also clear that he wasn’t just any old thoroughbred.
She received his tattoo information from the rescue, put in her request to the Jockey Club and quickly found out that she was a proud new owner of a Seattle Slew Grandson, Captain Dudley. His sire, Yoonevano, was the son of Seattle Slew, as well as half brother to Angel Fever, dam of FUSAICHI PEGASUS, and half brother to PINE BLUFF & DEMON'S BEGONE.
By this point she had received considerable support for the adoption of this horse from other FOBs, and arrangements were made to transport him from Washington to California. When he arrived on June 6th, he was extremely thin and quiet. He still had his racing plates on his feet, even though he had been off the track for 14 months. They quickly went to work determining the condition of his knee, which had 70% range of motion and lameness after flexion tests. While they worked on getting his weight back on, discussions ensued with a local equine orthopedic surgeon who suggested arthroscopic surgery to remove the chips as well as clean up the developing arthritis. Surgery was completed on August 15th 2007 and they are hoping for a very positive outcome. What Julie had originally seen in his eye, that made her fall in love with this horse at first sight, has proven to be heart, spirit and level-headedness. She is extremely grateful.
Nick, the Arabian
Nick’s story is very different. He was an Arabian named El Dinero who was the victim of terrible abuse and neglect. He was born on Valentine's Day some 27 years ago. Love had eluded him as he was barely alive and barely able to stand in the hot Florida sun by the time he was rescued on June 1, 2007. El Dinero means money in Spanish and that is ironically what this horse had failed to earn. This left him unwanted and uncared for to the point of such weakness he could hardly even load onto the trailer of his rescuers.
He came to be called Nick by the FOBs who helped save him. Nick was brought to Beauty's Haven Farm and Equine Rescue. Finally, Nick received the love and kind treatment he had deserved. However, the years had taken quite a toll on Nick's poor body. He was 600 pounds with rope burn scars on his legs and multiple medical problems to overcome. He was frail but his spirit was intact. Great efforts were made to nurse Nick back to health and it seemed for a time that they would be successful. Sadly though, Nick ultimately succumbed to the damage done and was humanely euthanised on July 21, 2007. He passed in the arms of his caregiver receiving some well deserved compassion in the end.
Dream Aster, daughter of Ferdinand
Because of Kentucky Derby winner and Horse of the Year Ferdinand’s unfortunate demise in a slaughterhouse in Japan, interest in his progeny was a topic of FOBs. FOBs Lynn and Mary identified Dream Aster as a daughter of Ferdinand who was still running. They discovered she was running in the lower claiming ranks at Hoosier Park. It was also known that Congressman Whitfield (Kentucky), who has championed horse anti slaughter legislation, was interested in saving Ferdinand progeny. Lynn contacted Congressman Whitfield’s office, informing him of Dream Aster’s whereabouts, and after considerable negotiations took place Congressman Whitfield took possession of the filly.
“Dream” now has a forever home with his new owner Erin, in Hawaii, thanks to a few FOBs and a Congressman from Kentucky.
Why is rescue necessary?
Horses are useful in a career for a certain period of time, after that time they have few options. For racehorses, unfortunately their useful careers are short (average career time of a racehorse is 2.6 years, average lifetime of a horse is 20 years). As a consequence the need to place horses finished with their racing career is very important. There is no natural rehabilitation infrastructure provided by the racing industry in place to help transition horses to new careers. While there are owners and trainers who will retire and attempt to place their horses once they have finished racing, many do not. Therefore it is primarily up to compassionate outsiders (such as horse rescue organizations) to help place such a large number of horses on a regular basis.
Many retired racehorses are very sore and also have permanent injuries exacerbated by the use of drugs to mask the pain of those injuries, thus allowing the horse to continue racing, with the long term effect of worsening the injury. Espresso, noted earlier, is an example of this. This obviously limits their usefulness for the remainder of their lives. Some horses are permanently lame and uncomfortable, at a very young age. Even sound racehorses leaving the track are in jeopardy as there is a need for a transition between the track and other horse sports. Many racehorse trainers simply don’t have the time or don’t want to be bothered with placing their horses.
Racehorses are only one type of horse that needs rescuing. All breeds of horses, ponies, burros and mules are at risk of being slaughtered. Slaughter is only one aspect of rescue. Horses also need to be rescued from abuse and neglect. Since horses are large animals that require considerable resources for care, and can live a long time, neglect occurs even when the original intent of the owner is nothing but positive.
The PMU foals are born so the PMU industry can collect the urine of the pregnant mares. This urine is an input product for the Premarin industry. PMU foals are weaned from their mothers at about 100 days. They are then either rescued or slaughtered.
Nurse mares are needed for foals whose own mares can no longer care for their foals or died during birthing. They are also sometimes used to care for foals whose mothers are being shipped to another farm to be covered. These foals are taken away from their mothers at any time after their birth, and consequently are very high risk. Last Chance Coral specializes in rescuing nurse mare foals.
Both these sets of foals are considered a byproduct of the industry in which they were born and are often considered disposable.
Horse rescue has been an issue ever since horses served people. The ASPCA began operations in New York City in 1866 with a seal depicting a fallen cart horse being protected from a cruel driver. The following year the ASPCA introduced the first horse ambulance, prior to the introduction of the first human ambulance. Ryerss Farm, a sanctuary rescue based near Philadelphia, claims to be the first horse rescue. It was established in 1888. Horses have always needed rescuing, whether from work (agricultural, commerce, frontier) or recreation (horse racing, showing, pony clubbing etc.) Current estimates put the number of non-profit horse rescues in the United States at 200 - 300 with a capacity of about 4,000 horses. This number does not include private rescues. Of course more than 4,000 horses are rescued each year as a rehabilitation rescue can replace one adopted-out horse with another rescued horse.
Different types of Horse Rescue Organizations: Five areas of distinction for slaughter rescues
The main focus of this chapter is on rescues for horses headed for horse slaughter, those that are no longer wanted by their current owners. Clearly there are rescues for abuse cases too. An abuse case is typically a horse (horses) that is the property of a person who is unable, or unwilling, to provide the horse the necessary care. Some rescues will rescue abuse cases as well as horses headed for slaughter.
For rescues rescuing horses from slaughter, horse rescues typically look to purchase horses (or take horses for free and provide a tax deduction to the donor) that are being unloaded by their current owners. These horses may have found their way to an auction, such as New Holland in Pennsylvania, Sugarcreek in Ohio, or Shipshewana in Indiana or they may be purchased privately. The rescue ensures the horse is not sent to slaughter or left to neglect and abuse. The slaughter transaction yields the owner some return ($100 - $200 for a racetrack horse which is sold to a dealer who ships to auction or direct to slaughter), while humane euthanasia costs the owner (anything up to $300 - 400, which includes euthanasia drugs and carcass disposal).
Here we will explore the horse rescue industry broadly, the types of horse rescue organizations, how they operate and the contentious issues that are apparent within the industry.
Rehabilitation versus Sanctuary
A horse rescue will provide a horse with a home either temporarily, until it can rehabilitate the horse and move it to another permanent home, or permanently, in the case of a rescue sanctuary. Thus rescues fall in the category of either being a permanent final “sanctuary” (for example MHR and Old Friends) or a farm that intends to move the horse to another home to make room for more horses (for example Mid Atlantic Horse Rescue and Another Chance 4 Horses). The latter is the dominant model and a rescue that adopts this model is able to save more horses as each horse adopted out provides room and resources for another rescued horse. This distinction is not absolute, some sanctuaries move horses on and some rehabilitation rescues keep horses permanently.
Type / Breed of horse
A second distinction among horse rescues is the type of horses that the rescue takes in. Some horse rescues will rescue any hoofed animal (mules, donkeys, goats and even pot bellied pigs), others will rescue a certain breed of horse. For racehorses there are rescue organizations that specialize in rescuing thoroughbreds off the racetrack (Mid Atlantic Horse Rescue, CANTER, TBFriends and The Exceller Fund for example).
Ways of rescue
A third distinction among horse rescues is how and where they do the rescuing. A few rescues will wait for phone calls and applications from those who need their horses placed, for example New Vocations and Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation. A more proactive approach is to seek out those horses in need, horses that are most at risk of being slaughtered. Horses that have entered the horse slaughter supply chain or are about to enter the supply chain. Among rescues that pursue the proactive approach, there is much contention as to how to accomplish this, either at the source, at auction or at feedlots and kill pens.
Rescuing at the Source
It is most difficult to identify the source, where horses reside, prior to their journey to the slaughter house. Having said that, it is well known that many horses come off the racetracks and enter the slaughter supply chain. Some racetracks and horsemen are reluctant to work directly with rescues so this option is not always open to rescues. That being said, TBFriends’ model is to go directly to Northern California racetracks and compete with dealers for horses that are to leave the racetracks and are in jeopardy of slaughter. CANTER also works directly with horsemen on the racetracks to provide an avenue of opportunity for retired horses. More on rescues which work directly with racetracks is covered later in the chapter.
Rescuing at Auction
a. it still enables the rescue to get the horse relatively cheaply (the rescue is simply paying slightly over what the kill buyer had intended to pay but perhaps more than it costs to get the horse from the racetrack)
b. if the horse is not rescued, the rescue has bid up the price to the kill buyer, whose cost of doing business has risen, and thus the attractiveness of the business is (slightly) diminished.
Another approach to rescuing a horse at auction is to stop bidding against the kill buyer and let the kill buyer get the horse more cheaply, then buy the horse from the kill buyer privately.
Lets look at an example. A rescue and the kill buyer are the only two bidders at $200. The rescue drops out, the kill buyer buys the horse at $250 instead of the $450 he would more likely have paid if both had continued to bid. The rescue then buys the horse from the kill buyer for $350. The rescue saves $100 and the kill buyer makes $100. This transaction costs less to the rescue than winning the horse at auction. The rescue does run the risk that the kill buyer needs the horse to complete a shipment for slaughter and will therefore not sell. Another advantage of bidding at auction is that the rescue will tend to know others at the auction bidding, and will be able to pull out of bidding once the rescue is assured the high bidder is a nice home for the horse, and the price for the horse has risen above the “kill buy” price. On the one had this allows rescues to target their resources where they are truly needed. On the other hand it allows a horse to go to a private buyer with no contract or assurance for its future. Something some horse rescues appear to be very strongly committed to for their own horses (see: Adoption Contracts).
For other horses that have been purchased by the kill buyer, a rescue can also try to work with the kill buyer to buy the horses from the kill buyer privately after the sale.
The ability to buy horses from the kill buyer depends on two issues:
a. does the rescue have a decent working relationship with the kill buyer (it is better to know your adversary and cooperate than to have an antagonistic relationship)
b. how much does the kill buyer need the horse(s) in question in order to fill his order for the slaughter house that week. The slaughterhouse is the kill buyer’s major customer. And the kill buyer is the kill auction's major customer.
Some will argue that by buying from the kill buyer, the rescue is simply lining the pockets of the kill buyer and enabling him to profit further from the auction and buy more horses. Typically a kill buyer will charge a $50 - $200 markup. While this may be true, it is a useful tactic for the rescue to ensure that the rescue has access to all the horses that go through the auction.
Notorious “kill auctions” include New Holland in PA, Sugar Creek in OH and Shipshewana in IN. It is not a coincidence that each of these auctions is located in the midst of Amish country.
Rescuing from Feedlots and Kill Pens
Once an auction is over, kill buyers will aggregate their horses in their own “kill pens” or “feedlots”. Some horses go directly from the racetrack to kill pens and feedlots avoiding the auction process. Horses are there waiting for the last leg of their journey to the slaughter house. Some rescues focus their energies on saving horses at this stage of the pipeline. Columbia Basin Equine Rescue (CBER) is one such example, albeit a controversial example. They have helped rescue more than 2,500 horses from the Yakima feedlot in Washington State, including Julie’s Espresso.
Saving horses at this stage of the pipeline is on the one hand a last resort rescue for the horse (they are either saved by the rescue or slaughtered) but on the other hand it provides an additional cash flow for the kill buyer, providing him more business opportunity. A kill buyer who understands his local business can perhaps deliberately over purchase horses for kill knowing that he has additional customers (horse rescues as well as the slaughter house).
CBER’s business model is to be an advertising platform for horses in the Yakima feedlot. Unfortunately CBER does not own any of the horses it advertises until they have made the purchase from the kill buyer, which is after they advertise the horses and raise money for the purchases. The kill buyer’s willingness to sell the horses to CBER is dependent on the current contract he has with the slaughterhouse in Canada and the number of horses currently at the feedlot. If the kill buyer needs horses to fill a load, it won’t matter that CBER has been able to raise money and find homes for those particular horses. The horses will be shipped to slaughter. Thus there are additional risks associated with trying to save horses at this stage of the slaughter pipeline (kill buyer ownership whose primary business goal is to fulfill a slaughterhouse contract) that do not exist when a horse is at an auction. Essentially purchasing a horse from a kill buyer at the auction is less risky for the horse than trying to purchase it once it gets to a feedlot / kill pen situation as the horse may no longer be for sale at this point. It is also important to note that horses are more expensive at this stage of the slaughter pipeline. The kill buyers have now invested some time and money in the horses and the price the slaughterhouse is willing to pay for the horse is now the value of the horse to the kill buyer, and thus a proxy for the horse’s asking price to the horse rescue. To counter the increased expense of the horse is the added information available about the horse as it resides in a feedlot / kill pen situation. This added information can enable a rescue to select horses it knows it can rehabilitate and adopt-out. Purchasing from auction allows little time to assess a horse.
Non profit versus Private rescue
A fourth area of distinction between horse rescues is the status of the rescue organization, whether it is a non-profit 501-(3)-© organization or private rescue. A non-profit organization provides certain tax advantages for their fundraising efforts and can provide a tax deduction for those gifting horses to the rescue. Non-profit status also requires a certain standard for accounting and a board. Other rescues are private farms that provide the same types of services to the horse yet cannot provide tax advantages to their donors.
A fifth distinction manifests in the types of adoption contracts and the means of follow up with horses that are adopted out. Rescues include a contract with the adoption of the horse that ensures they are able to closely follow up with the horses they have adopted out and limit the risk of adopted horses falling back into the wrong hands or being neglected by their adopters. Many rescues have adoption policies that will not provide the new adopter ownership of the horse; ownership is retained by the rescue. Thus the intent of the contract is to protect the horse.
However these contracts can raise issues. If the contract is too onerous, it can turn off potential adopters unwilling to jump through necessary hoops to take on a horse. Many horse owners want to own their horse for example. Rescued horses with contracts that do not provide full ownership may turn off these potential adoptees. It is also necessary to enforce these contracts, and most likely enforcement is not feasible or scalable over a large number of horses over a long period of time. New Vocations, which rescues many ex-racehorses, transfers ownership of an adopted-out horse after two years. A rescue also needs to be concerned with liability issues related to owning horses that are adopted out and therefore out of their immediate control. That being said, many rescues will argue that the only way to truly protect the horse in the long run is to retain ownership. The adoption contract also allows the adoptee to return a horse, this can be a useful marketing tool to adopt out horses to new adoptees.
It does make more sense to adopt horses out without transferring ownership for rescued horses who are old and infirmed. For rescue horses that have a long future life potential, where the new “owner” can also continue to rehabilitate and develop the horse, full ownership may be an important incentive to do so. It will also provide the owner freedom for resale and other rights of ownership. Owners that resell a horse are likely candidates for future adoptions thus increasing the adopter pool, critical to increasing the rescue industry's impact.
Either way, a horse that is rescued and then moved on, will always include a contract that provides some level of future protection for the horse regardless of whether ownership is passed on or retained by the rescue.
Three sources of outside funds
As an operating business, a horse rescue needs to raise funds in order to rescue horses and fund the horses’ rehabilitation or retirement. There are three outside sources of funds for a horse rescue.
The first source of outside funds comes from the general public, via fundraising efforts, special events designed to raise money, and membership opportunities which may provide access to monthly newsletters and other levels of access to information on rescued horses for example. This is the area in which FOBs have been most involved, raising more than $900,000 to rescue more than 2300 horses as of June, 2008. The funds are raised by a request from a rescue, or a request of a private individual (FOB). These requests for funds are often placed on sites like TWR for groups like FOBs, but there are other rescue boards and fundraising efforts, and these have been ongoing long before TWR appeared. TWR just happens to host a very active funding source -- FOBs.
The second source of outside funds is from grants from other organizations like the Thoroughbred Charities of America (TCA) and Blue Horse Charities (BHC), and through grant writing in general. This type of funding takes time, but with time applied there are opportunities available. Grants are only available to a non profit organization.
A mix of the above two types of fundraising is targeting private individuals who provide significant donations to individual rescues (Lost and Found Horse Rescue receives more than $100,000 / year from a benefactor in Reston, VA for example).
The final source of outside funds for rescues is the revenue generated from the adoption of the horses rescued. For rescues that rehabilitate horses and are able to charge a premium for the rescued horse, this can be a significant source of cash flow. Mid Atlantic Horse Rescue buys its horses for about $400 and resells the horses, after rehabilitation work, for $2 - $3,000. Oddly this does actually become another source of controversy within the rescue community. It can be perceived as profiteering by a rescue when in fact it is simply sound business planning and can increase the likelihood the horse will not fall back into jeopardy from an economic perspective. It would make little sense to spend $3,000 on a horse and then send it back to a kill auction. That being said, it is important to note that even when selling for a significant mark up, the primary goal of the rescue must remain to find a suitable adopter that fits well with the horse being adopted. It is not as simple as finding someone willing to pay the most for the horse, it is about finding the right match for the horse itself. This type of sale takes a lot of time on the part of the rescue.
Adoption fees are not a source of funding for rescues that serve primarily as sanctuaries, where horses live out the remainder of their lives. These types of rescues must rely more heavily on grants, benefactors and general fundraising.
Finally some rescues, especially private rescues, have to rely on their own sources of funding. Inevitably it is risky to rely on self-funding for a significant portion of funding the rescue.
Many rescues make choices of how best to fund their operations, and it is critical that a rescue has a well-developed business plan in order to sustain its business over the long term, and also in order to be able to focus its energies on rescuing horses. SAFERpastures, a Vermont-based horse rescue, closed down in October 2007. One reason it cited for its need to closedown is its financial situation.
A rescue that has a significant portion of its outside funds coming from the adoption of its horses has its incentives aligned with seeking out suitable adopters. Expanding the pool of adopters is critical to the growth of the horse rescue industry and the number of horses rescued (thus it is good that adoption is the motivation for funds). Blue Horse Charities recognizes this and provides a grant per ex-racehorse that is adopted out of rescue.
Do horse rescue organizations compete with each other?
Plenty of horses need rescuing so the answer should be an emphatic “no”. In fact we need more horse rescue organizations and more adopters to help care for the horses that are in need of rehabilitation and homes. That being said, there are areas where rescues do compete, primarily due to their means of funding and their philosophical approach to rescue. It has been interesting to witness fundraising efforts of horse rescue organizations on TWR and see how efforts are sometimes derailed by these competing parties.
The efforts are being derailed for one of three reasons:
a. The belief that rescuing from feedlots and kill pens simply lines the pockets of kill buyers who replace the horses saved with more horses to go to slaughter (horse slaughter is certainly a demand-driven business)
b. The belief that the fundraising effort is suspicious, and that suspicion is portrayed by "rescue police"
c. The belief that the fundraising effort takes away from funds that could go elsewhere
There is an understanding within the FOB community that fundamentally rescuing from feedlots and kill pens does not reduce the number of horses that go to slaughter and does add cash flow to the kill buyers. However, the mission statement of the community explicitly states that we will not forsake a horse for the larger horse slaughter issue. That being said, there remains those within the community that abhor feedlot and kill pen rescues and will do their upmost to “educate” others to their way of thinking. Unfortunately much of this “education” can occur in the midst of a fundraising effort and this then tends to distract from that effort.
There is no doubt that this is one logical and utilitarian approach to horse rescue, yet there are many rescues filling many niches within the horse rescue business. One strength of the horse rescue industry is the diversity of operations and goals of horse rescues, rescuing horses from each stage of the slaughter pipeline as well as abuse and neglect cases.
The second issue, that of suspicion, is less clear cut. That suspicion is often driven by those who have an agenda to foster suspicion. Given the nature of the horse rescue industry, most horse rescuers get into the horse rescue business because of their love for the horse, not the money the industry generates. Methods of doing business are sometimes less than smart and this is reflected in some of these rescuers’ need to raise funds to cover emergency situations. This can create suspicion among those who see rescue as being a business that should be managed more professionally. It is imperative for any business, whether for profit, or non profit, to have a sound business plan that generates a positive cash flow. It is hard enough to deal with the business of horse rescue than to also have to constantly worry about how the bills are to be paid.
The third issue, how monies are spent within the entire rescue community, ties in with the first issue. The argument here is there is only a finite amount of resources available, and if some of those resources are diverted to a type of rescue that is not considered appropriate, then that is money diverted from a more appropriate type of rescue.
CBER is an example of a rescue that has been heavily criticized within the horse rescue and horse slaughter communities. That criticism is designed to derail their fundraising efforts. There are rescues in the business which have seen an opportunity to play a “middleman” role and simply advertise horses that are in a feedlot situation. This is CBER’s model of business. “Purists” are not only concerned that this is rescue at a feedlot rather than at an auction, but also see this approach as exploiting a situation, especially since CBER is applying its own fee on top of the price of the horse. The fee is of course necessary in order to cover the operating expenses and overhead of the rescue organization. Purists argue that CBER is merely a horse broker. These are semantics. Whether CBER is considered a horse broker or a horse rescue, horses bound for slaughter have a last chance of rescue thanks to CBER’s business model.
In summary, the many potential ways of rescue essentially creates contention among the rescues and their supporters. This is exacerbated by those whose business model relies on fundraising and competes for the same pool of money.
From the Racetrack to Slaughter – 4 examples
Now that we have established how rescues work lets focus on how a horse finds itself in need of being rescued. We will focus on the horse racing industry.
Lower level racetracks, such as Penn National in Pennsylvania, are notorious for sending horses to slaughter. Once a horse has become unproductive for its owner / trainer, it is in jeopardy since many of these owners and trainers do not have anywhere to keep and retire the horse. A horse that is well beaten in a bottom claimer ($3,500) often has few options. For example, E22134 ran at Penn National on Friday June 8 in such a race. He had been running in low level claimers for a couple of years. That Friday he finished last. He finished last in his previous start. Monday, June 18, ten days after his last race, he was at New Holland auction. He looked depressed and at a loss as he stood, very quietly with his head dropped, in a stall at the back of the pens. In his career he had made a modest $60,000 over four years, this certainly was not enough to ensure himself a safe retirement. In a way, though, he was somewhat lucky. Being at New Holland there was a chance a rescue would take him.
Others are less fortunate and shipped directly to the equivalent of a feedlot to await slaughter.
One might wonder why a horse would go directly to slaughter and not via an auction (even though the prognosis of being at the auction is very grim there is still a chance of an after-life for the racehorse). The answer is pretty simple. Sending a horse directly to slaughter increases the likelihood that the actions of the owner and trainer remain private. There is no exposure for the owners and trainers regarding how they dispose of their horses. By running the horse through an auction, the connections run the risk of being exposed for what they are doing. E22134 was rescued, albeit only from slaughter. His future is compromised by the huge left front ankle he has accumulated over the years of running close to the bottom of our racing system. No doubt this ankle had been injected with legal steroids to enable him to continue to run for his owners and the oblivious racing public.
E22134 was ridden into the sales ring at New Holland, under a western saddle, ten days after he made his last start at Penn National.
He was a horse that provided his owners high aspirations. He is a stakes winner and as a young horse he ran in the Grade 1 Wood Memorial, a Derby prep race won by Derby winners including Fusaichi Pegasus, and more recently by the popular NoBiz Like ShoBiz. A14518 did not win the Wood Memorial, nor did he run in the Kentucky Derby. He did earn more than $200,000. Unlike his more illustrious peers his career started to spiral downwards. After nine years of racing he was spotted in a kill pen, on his way to slaughter. He had his kill brand painted on his side (see photograph). One of the final tasks of the kill buyer is to apply his own branding so he gets paid by the slaughter house. However this kill buyer showed compassion. He alerted a rescue of his presence in his kill pen (the kill buyer had his papers and realized he was no ordinary horse). He would have been processed for meat in Canada and shipped to Europe or Japan if not for the intervention of the kill buyer.
A chestnut filly was spotted in a kill pen not too far from New Holland within a day of being shipped to Canada for slaughter. Fortunately the kill buyer allowed us access to the pen to see if we wanted to rescue any horses. There were many horses awaiting the last leg of their journey. Luckily there were too many to fill the particular shipment that was being prepared. This chestnut filly was standing in amongst them. To me she appeared very quiet. Somewhat forlorn with her circumstances perhaps. She had a lip tattoo that identified her as a racehorse. She was one of two horses we rescued. We could not take her outside to see if she was sound, but she looked clean-legged.
The troubling issue with this case is that this filly turned out to be a four year old, sound and with a very decent race record at Belmont Park. She ran five times, and won her last two races late in 2006. There appeared to be nothing wrong with her. She also has broodmare value.
Subsequent to being rescued from the kill pen G28701 came down with strangles. This is a common, and sometimes deadly, ailment that horses suffer that have come from auctions, feedlots and kill pens where mingling of horses is standard practice. This filly was fortunate and recovered. She is also sound. She has now been adopted out into a loving home.
How did a young filly, with so much promise, end up in such a sad situation? What we do know is that this filly was dropped off by a “dealer” who had purchased her from an auction (she still had her auction tags on her hind end). She was a nice filly, perhaps there was a small problem with her, and her owner gave her to a nice home. At some point she was given to the wrong person.
A gelding was purchased by the kill buyer to go to slaughter. He was a thoroughbred and was probably a racehorse. I checked and he had his lip tattoo. One can only speculate, but by looking at the picture of his knee (picture provided), he likely ran and had the knee injected (legal steroid drugs) a few times to remove the pain so he could continue running. When we assessed him for purchase and rescue we determined he was too far gone and not a horse we could rehabilitate. Industry waste. We gave him a pat – small comfort. That was all we could do. This was a Monday, Tuesday evening he would have crossed the Canadian border with other horses bound for slaughter, he would have been slaughtered by Wednesday afternoon.
So how does a horse go from racing for the thrill of its owners and the betting public, to the infamy of the slaughterhouse?
Horses at Penn National are typically older.
Racing on August 8 2007 at Penn National were:
Breeze The Whistle: an 11yo maiden, he had made 58 starts;
Legitimada: a 10yo mare who had earned $212,000 was running for a $5,000 claiming price;
Humberto: an 11yo El Prado gelding had earned $294,000 and was running for $3,500 claiming price;
Dance Mary Jane: 9yo a mare who had earned $152,000 was running for $2,500 claiming price;
Luv U Me: a 10yo Honor Grades mare had earned $123,000 and was running for a $2,500 claiming price
Many horses running at lower level racetracks like Penn National are close to the end of their racetrack careers. Some of the horses had previously raced at more notable racing circuits. Once their racing careers are finished at Penn National, there are really few further racing options available to them. Many of the horses are slower due to the normal wear and tear of lengthy racing careers. Their injuries are exacerbated by the legal use of drugs (and sometimes illegal) designed for a quick fix and mask the pain that allows horses to continue to race. These injuries further limit their future potential for performing in other horse sports.
The following are the options available to owners and trainers with respect to their horses once they have finished running:
a. Work directly with a horse rescue to place horses (Murray Rojas and Mid Atlantic Horse Rescue, their vet is their connection). While it makes sense to seek out a horse rescue in order to place a horse, often times the trainer / owner is seeking more money for the horse than the horse rescue is prepared and able to pay. $2,000 - $3,000 may be sought, this number comes down the longer the horse remains unsold. The difficulty occurs when the price falls close to the kill buyer price, the trainer is exhausted with feeding the horse and then takes the most convenient option (d. below) rather than going back to the horse rescue and arranging a deal which may require a little more time and effort.
For some trainers there is also a perception issue with respect to working with rescues. Some rescues exhibit a “holier than thou” attitude to racehorse trainers and this attitude leads trainers to seek different options.
b. Find homes for the horses themselves. This requires that the owner / trainer has a network of horse people who may be willing to take on the horse. This option is also risky unless the new horse owner is known well and trusted. It is not unusual that the trainer finds a home for a horse that he / she assumes is safe, then the horse ends up at an auction or in a kill pen (this may well have happened to G28701, the Belmont Park filly). Dealers have been known to misrepresent themselves to trainers in order to acquire horses to take to auction. This type of misrepresentation was the inspiration for the Finger Lakes Adoption Program, noted later.
c. Work with CANTER, TBFriends or similar organizations that helps place racetrack horses in new homes.
d. Work with a horse dealer who visits the racetrack on a frequent basis and will pay cash (typically between $150 - $200) and take the horse away immediately regardless of the condition of the horse. This is the most convenient option available to a trainer who is in need to free up the stall for a horse which may be too sore to continue to run, simply needs a month or two's break from racing, is no longer be competitive or has lost it's eligibility to run at the track. Many racetracks allow dealers access to their backside for this purpose.
e. The breeding shed. Mares and colts have this option when they have finished their racing careers, geldings do not.
f. A few trainers or owners may own their own farm. If that is the case this provides a temporary option and can serve as a stop gap while trying to place the horse (option a, b, c). A few owners and trainers will provide a forever home for their retired horses on their own farms.
g. Humane euthanasia. Not ideal, but given the state of some of the horses once they have finished racing, this is more humane than placing the horse in the horse slaughter pipeline. Carcass disposal becomes an issue in this case.
Critical to the choices above are compassion, access and resources of a horse’s connections. If a trainer needs to free up a stall immediately then option d. may be opted for even if it is not preferred. The temperament of the horse also impacts the choice made by its connections. If a horse is perceived to be too risky (a run away for example) then that may limit the options above to d., f. and g.
There are a few ways a horse goes from racetrack to slaughter. The following outlines the process. A dealer or dealers (option d.) will visit racetracks on a regular basis. Trainers will know who they are, and a trainer will alert a dealer to a horse he (she) would like to move on. A dealer may also get phone calls ahead of a visit from trainers. The trainer may have few options because he needs the stall for a productive horse or will lose the stall entirely (the racetrack will not allow the trainer to keep a horse that is not running; the horse may have run out of eligibility and may no longer be able to run at the racetrack; the trainer cannot afford to continue feeding an unproductive horse). Many trainers are also concerned that a horse may end up with another trainer, who improves the horse which makes the initial trainer look bad. This increases the attractiveness of working with a dealer, and also means the trainer will not let the “papers” go with the horse. Without papers, or a bill of sale from the owner who had the papers, the horse cannot race again or breed. Not letting the dealer have the horse’s papers also removes the risk the horse will be resold as a racehorse and reemerge at another, cheaper, racetrack. For example, Columbus Park in Nebraska gets horses that were running on the east coast.
The dealer has three options with the horses he acquires from the track. He can try to move them on to private buyers for a second career (or, as a worst case scenario, as a racehorse at another track if the dealer has the horse’s papers). Finding a private buyer for a second career takes some work on the dealer’s part, but for some horses this may be appropriate and does yield a higher return than the slaughter price. For horses that are sore and have permanent injuries, this is unlikely. The dealer can take the horse to an auction such as New Holland (horses come from Penn National, Philadelphia Park, Monmouth Park, Finger Lakes, Charles Town etc.) Sugar Creek (horses come from Mountaineer Park, Beulah Park) or Shipshewana (horses come from Mountaineer Park). The dealer may know some horse rescues and alert them they are coming to the auction with a load of racehorses. Working with the dealers can be useful for the horse rescues in order to provide them greater access to the horses. Of course, if the rescues do not take the horses that are at auction, there is a strong likelihood they are bought by the kill buyer.
The final option for the dealer is to work directly with the kill buyer providing the rescues very limited access to the horses. Once purchased by the kill buyer, the only option for the horses is from the rescues that have a working relationship with the kill buyer and have access to the horses after the sale, at the kill pens, where the horses are tagged, shoes are pulled, and they are readied to be loaded onto the slaughter truck (G28701, the Belmont Park filly and A14518, the Wood Memorial runner). Success for the rescue at this stage is also unfortunately very dependent on the number of horses the kill buyer needs in order to fill the load(s) he needs to complete his contract with the slaughterhouse. (see diagram that maps out all the options horses face.)
When a race meet comes to a conclusion the number of horses available to a dealer increases as it is more economical to unload a number of horses to the killers than to give them time off or ship them to another racetrack. More than one racetrack (Hoosier Park in IN, Columbus Park in NE) host paddock sales at the end of their respective meets for this purpose.
Note, recently some racetracks have adopted a zero tolerance policy for its horses. Those tracks plan to penalize the connections of horses that are discovered in the slaughter pipeline. This policy is no doubt well intentioned. Sadly there are unintended consequences as horses that would have gone through public kill auctions will now be diverted directly to feedlots and kill pens where horse rescues and private buyers will not have access.
What is the horse racing industry doing ?
At the macro level the industry is doing very little. The National Thoroughbred Racing Association (NTRA) appears neutral on horse slaughter. A neutral stance, taken when horse slaughter is legal, can only be interpreted as a pro-slaughter stance. Having slaughter available is convenient.
Individual racing jurisdictions and most racetracks pay little attention to the problem of disposal of their stars. The fact that kill buyers and horse dealers are allowed on many of the backsides of racetracks confirms this. Finger Lakes is one of a few racetracks that has recognized this problem publicly, and has set up a rescue operation on its racetrack, Finger Lakes Adoption Program. A few other racetracks have adopted a zero tolerance policy for slaughter as noted above. Sadly without the support of resources for the horses at risk, this policy can actually backfire.
Looking a little more broadly, the American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA), American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) and the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) are explicitly pro slaughter. It is a business issue that allows horsemen to abdicate their responsibility for the horse. Essentially the belief is that we need slaughter in order to control the population of horses.
At the micro level much is going on. Many individuals are doing wonderful things to try to provide for horses after their racing or breeding careers are over. This chapter has focused on a few horse rescues. Without these organizations going to racetracks and working with trainers, attending auctions where horses are at risk of being purchased by the kill buyer, working with kill buyers to buy horses, working with feedlot owners to buy horses, and connecting racehorses that are rescued with their adopters, more horses would end up slaughtered.
We should also highlight some of the novel approaches taken to connect the racetracks to horse rescue.
Finger Lakes Thoroughbred Adoption Program (fingerlakestap.org): Finger Lakes is the first racetrack to publicly acknowledge the problem of horses leaving its track to slaughter and has created a horse rescue program on its facility, The Purple Haze Center. The General Manager at Finger Lakes has created a line item in his budget in order to help fund this rescue. The program was established in late 2004 and has steadily grown in impact. In 2004, it rescued 42 horses, in 2005 62 horses, and in 2006 100 horses. Its goal is to rescue 125 horses each year. To explore its overall impact on stopping horses from going to slaughter, we can look at the impact this rescue has had on the dealer who frequents Finger Lakes. In 2006 45 – 50 horses went to the dealer and by mid August of 2007 only 17 horses had gone to the dealer. The dealer will try to resell the horses to second careers but will not hesitate to send to slaughter those that cannot be resold.
The Purple Haze Center was established when it was discovered that a lady was frequenting the backside at Finger Lakes pretending to be able to find nice homes for horses she was given. She then sent the horses to slaughter via an auction in Athens, PA.
LongRun (http://www.longrunretirement.com/): LongRun is based at Woodbine Racetrack in Ontario, Canada. It is the first such program, based at a racetrack that receives some of its support from the racetrack. Unlike Finger Lakes Adoption Program, it does not have its own facility, it uses foster homes to rehabilitate horses and prepare them for adoption. Thus far LongRun's program has graduated xxx horses, and it currently has yyy horses in its program.
Turning for Home at Philadelphia Park is the most recent example of a direct partnership with a racetrack. 
CANTER (Communication Alliance to Network Ex-Racehorses, canterusa.org) provides an advertising platform for horses that trainers would like to move from their care. CANTER was founded in 1997 in Michigan. CANTER is run on a state by state basis, and each CANTER affiliate takes care of each of the racetracks within its state. CANTER covers PA (Penn National, Philadelphia Park), MI (Great Lakes Downs), OH (Beulah Park and Thistledowns), Northern IL (Arlington Park, Hawthorne and Sportsman Park), Southern IL (Fairmount Park), New England (Suffolk Downs) Mid Atlantic (Pimlico, Bowie, Laurel, Charles Town) and CA. CANTER volunteers visit the racetracks, network with the trainers and photograph and advertise their horses on the CANTER site. Horses are listed on its site with the contact number of the trainer for potential new owners to follow up. This does require the trainer then to deal directly with the potential purchaser (other sports rider) which is not something all trainers have the time and patience to do.
Some CANTER affiliates are set up to do only trainer listings. Some affiliates, like Ohio, Michigan, Mid-Atlantic and New England also do PHASE 2, which is a rescue, rehabilitation, and placement service. In this case, trainers donate horses to CANTER or, in some cases, CANTER is able to purchase at-risk horses to keep them from going to Sugarcreek, New Holland or Shipshewana.
Since its inception, CANTER has helped rescue well over 3,000 racehorses. FOBs helped raise the money required to buy a once classy old campaigner Eye Pea Oh. “Opie” was an allowance and high-end claimer horse at Santa Anita, Hollywood Park and Del Mar in his youth. He was still running at the age of eleven, for $3,500 at Beulah Park. CANTER OH actually worked with The Exceller Fund in this case as Opie needed long term foster care, which The Exceller Fund does not provide. Opie subsequently needed colic surgery, which the FOBs helped fund. The surgery was provided by Hagyard Equine Clinic at a reduced rate.
The Exceller Fund (excellerfund.org) established to honor Exceller, who defeated two Triple Crown winners yet ended up slaughtered, is a virtual network that rescues horses directly from the track and places the horses in adoptive situations. The Exceller Fund relies on public funding and trainers that will work with the fund. FOBs have supported The Exceller Fund in a variety of cases. In honor of Pine Island, they sent $400 to help purchase a 3yo filly, Midnite Rukus, who was at risk of going to Sugar Creek Auction. Ten FOBs are sponsoring Trois Villes, a six year old who came from Mountaineer Park. Their sponsorship pays his monthly care. FOBs also raised $1,500 in order to fund surgery needed for Take a Chance, a 5 year old gelding who suffered a condylar fracture during a workout at Santa Anita. FOBs continue to sponsor “Chance” throughout his yearlong recovery. He will not race again.
Carson City Kid, earned more than $300,000 in a ten year career. His career took him from Belmont Park and Keeneland to the fair meet in Fargo, North Dakota, running for a $1,500 claiming price. He was rescued by The Exceller Fund, with the help of FOBs and Friends of Ferdinand. Friends of Ferdinand will rehabilitate Kid and adopt him out to a permanent home. His final racing owner wanted $1,000 for Kid. He had an offer of that amount that would have sent him chuckwagon racing in Canada. He relented and let the Exceller Fund buy him for $800.
The Exceller Fund to date has helped just under 350 horses.
Friends of Ferdinand (friendsofferdinand.org) is based in Indiana and transitions at-risk racehorses (thoroughbred, standardbred and quarter horses) from the racetracks in Indiana, Hoosier Park and Indiana Downs. Sponsors of Friends of Ferdinand include The Exceller fund, Blue Horse Charities, and Thoroughbred Charities of America.
Friends of Ferdinand was established in 2005, initially to have a presence at the end of season paddock sale at Hoosier Park. Hoosier Park opens up its backside at the end of its fall meet to conduct a paddock sale that allows trainers and owners to auction off their unwanted horses. As this sale is open to the public, kill buyers will attend in order to pick up unsold horses after the sale. Friends of Ferdinand has saved 16 horses from uncertain futures by acquiring them from these paddock sales and slaughter auctions. Twelve of these horses have been adopted and one euthanized.
Friends of Ferdinand has now expanded its efforts to incorporate a "CANTER" phase one model in which volunteers go to the backside of Indiana racetracks and work with trainers to advertise their retiring racehorses. Thus far it has helped place 80 horses this way. Friends of Ferdinand is currently piloting and seeking support for a third program, which will include investing in retraining the transitioning racehorses it saves. Horses with undersaddle training will prompt interest from a greater audience of adopters, and by adopting them out at a higher adoption price, the additional proceeds will perpetuate the training program for years to come. This program is scheduled to be launched in 2008.
Second Call (secondcallfund.com): serves Turf Paradise, Yavapai Downs and the country fair meets in Arizona. 98% of its funding comes directly from owners who donate $1 per starter. Most owners do subscribe to this program, and do so on a voluntary basis. The fund started in 2005 and has helped place about forty horses so far. It places horses in foster care (typically at a horse rescue) and then adopts out its horses for free. The money it raises is to fund those horses that are in adoptive care. The fund does diligently follow up with all horses that have been through its program and will take horses back if necessary. The fund sees itself as an option of the last resort.
LOPE TX. (LoneStar Outreach to Place Ex-Racers, lopetx.org), LOPE operates in a similar fashion as CANTER phase one, but is open to all breeds of racehorses, Quarter Horse, Thoroughbred, Paint, Appaloosa and Arabian. LOPE services Sam Houston Racetrack, Retama Park, Lone Star Park and Manor Downs. LOPE does have its own ranch where horses can rest and rehabilitation prior to adoption. LOPE began in 2004 and has rescued close to 600 horses since that time. The vast majority are thoroughbreds.
New Vocations (horseadoption.com): began in 1992 and rehabilitates racehorses from racetracks throughout the Eastern United States. It currently takes in about 350 horses per year, and adopts these horses out at a low adoption price ($200) to qualified adoptees. New Vocations follows up with each of its adopted horses for two years. New Vocations only takes donated horses and estimates each horse costs $1,000 in terms of rehabilitation, transitioning, placement and follow up. New Vocations does not attend horse auctions to rescue horses which removes the need for quarantine. New Vocations has facilities in Ohio, Michigan and Tennessee.
TBFriends (tbfriends.com) TB Friends began in 1989 and is a private rescue that works with the racetracks of Northern California. These tracks include Bay Meadows, Golden Gate Fields, Pleasantville, Stockton and Santa Rosa. TB Friends has access to the backside of the racetracks, much like a horse dealer does. It becomes an alternative for trainers who perhaps would appreciate the convenience of the horse dealer yet have the compassion necessary to want their horses rescued. TB Friends pays the same amount for the horse the horse dealer would pay. TB Friends has rescues about 300 horses per year and has rescued about 2,500 in total. Some of those rescued it is able to rehabilitate, some become permanent residents. TB Friends is a private rescue, and as such is not beholden to a board. Its owner Joe Sheldon prefers to work entirely independently. It currently has 225 horses in its care, some of which reside at foster homes. Joe notes that they have rescued 36 horses sired by Bertrando and 38 horses sired by General Meeting.
Old Friends (oldfriendsequine.org): primarily focuses on retiring horses at the end of their breeding careers and as such it is a final destination for these horses, a sanctuary rescue. The slaughter of Kentucky Derby winner Ferdinand was the inspiration for this Kentucky based rescue and its owner, Michael Blowen. Old Friends has helped bring horses back to the United States for their retirement, the most recent example of which was Wallenda, after his career at Stud in Japan was over. FOBs helped raise funds for the Flying Wallenda campaign. Twenty four horses reside at Old Friends.
The Kentucky Humane Equine Center (kyehc.org, KyEHC) was established in 2007 with the mission of rescuing any horse at risk in the state of Kentucky, regardless of the breed of the horse. KyEHC has been open six months as of this writing and is not yet full. It has a capacity of fifty five. It has already adopted out twenty three horses. This includes Willie. The FOBs were alerted to Willy’s plight, a pony at risk of slaughter in Kentucky. Within a week he was at KyHEC. Willy received some medical attention, one eye needed to be removed. He has now been adopted to a forever home.
KyEHC has direct connections with the racetracks in Kentucky and works with Barbara Dorden, the horse identifier in Kentucky to rescue horses no longer wanted by their owners and trainers. As of early September 2007, they have taken three horses from River Downs.
Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation (TRF, trfinc.org): TRF was founded in 1982 and rescued its first thoroughbred in 1984. It thus predates all of the above organizations. TRF rehabilitates racehorses for new careers and also has created a vocational training program for inmates in the state of New York. This vocational program has now been replicated in the states of Kentucky, Florida, Maryland and most recently Indiana. To date, TRF has rescued and cares for close to 1300 horses in 17 states. They are often perceived as a rescue of last resort for owners and trainers and as a consequence have taken on many horses that are not rehabilitation candidates.
Trainers can contribute to TRF via the pony-up program, and donate $50 for each winner they trained. Participating trainers include Gary Contessa, Michael Dickinson, William Entenmann, Jimmy Jerkins, John Kimmel, Lisa Lewis, Kiaran McLaughlin, Kenneth McPeek, Graham Motion and Todd Pletcher.
Blue Horse Charities (BHC, bluehorsecharities.org): Blue Horse Charities, established in 2001, is the brainchild of John Hettinger who is a member of the Jockey Club, a trustee of New York Racing Association and a director of Fasig Tipton Auction Company. BHC receives funds from pledges of percent of sales from horses sold via the Fasig Tipton Auction Company. Fasig Tipton then matches the donation. BHC then provides rescues funding for each horse adopted out, usually $150 - $300 depending on available funds. Thus this program rewards rescues for work that is complete and provides a direct incentive to find adoptive homes for rescued racehorses. As of the middle of 2007, BHC has donated $850,000 supporting more than 4700 horses and 69 horse rescues.
The Thoroughbred Charities of America (TCA, ThoroughbredCharities.org) raises money to provide grants to non-profits within their mission, including horse rescues . For the 2007 fiscal year they provided $650,000 for horse rescues, which was 39% of all their funding for the year. FOBs raised $20,000 for TCA during Barbaro’s birthday celebrations at Delaware Park on April 29, 2007. TCA began with Herb and Ellen Moelis in 1990, to support retired racehorses, in Middletown, DE. The charity now operates from both Middletown, DE and Midway, KY. As of 2007, it has raised over $14 million for 200 organizations.
RACE Fund (racefund.org) is a program developed at Philadelphia Park. If an owner / trainer donates a horse to a participating horse rescue program, the horse rescue will receive up to $5 / day to support the horse until it is adopted out. With the infusion of slot money at many racetracks, this type of program may gain broader acceptance at other racetracks. As of August 2007, sixteen horses have benefited from the program at Philadelphia Park.
The Ferdinand Fee, established to honor Ferdinand, 1986 Kentucky Derby winner and 1987 horse of the year yet ended up slaughtered, is a voluntary fee owners can pay each time they enter a horse to race. This fund was established through a partnership of The New York Thoroughbred Horseman’s Association and the New York Racing Association. As of July 2007, the fee has raised more than $30,000 for horse rescue.
Frank Stronach is a racetrack owner and operator and a major thoroughbred owner and breeder. He guarantees retirement from racing for any horse that he owns. These horses may live out their life on a farm in Florida, or be sent to their division in Canada and rehabilitated to another career. In a little less than two years forty two horses have been placed in new homes.
This is the most progressive example of a major owner taking a stand on the issue of “too many horses”. Many people will note that the root of the problem of “too many horses” is the prolific number of horses that are bred each year. 37,000 thoroughbreds will foal in 2008. For a breeder to guarantee an afterlife forever home to the horse is working directly at this problem.
Kim Zito, wife of trainer Nick Zito, has created a sticker program, to be applied to the Jockey Club papers of a horse. The concept is basically that a current owner (who applies the sticker which includes their contact information) wants first refusal to purchase the horse once the horse has ended its productive career. ReRun (a horse rescue organization) has also helped develop this program of accountability. While this ensures some level of accountability, it is not full proof. Papers are not always available with a horse that goes through an auction like New Holland. Little Cliff was discovered in a kill pen. The Zitos trained him and had noted on his papers that they had a home for him if necessary.
What is heartwarming to recognize is that there are people within the racing industry that do care about the problem of the forever life of a racehorse. Some will speak out publicly on the issues, including Arthur and Staci Hancock (owner of two Kentucky Derby winners), Roy and Gretchen Jackson, Gary Stevens, Nick and Kim Zito; some will simply get on with rescuing horses the industry no longer wants, including Bev Strauss, Christy Sheidy and Jo Sheldon; and some will work hard at placing their own horses once their racing careers are over, including trainers Murray Rojas, Billy Entenmann, Tim Woolley and owner Frank Stronach.
Case Studies of successful horses rehabilitated.
Rehabilitating a racehorse takes genuine horsemanship and time. Sometimes a horse just needs to learn to be a horse and horsemanship can help move the horse in that direction. To explore how horses are rehabilitated to new careers, or simply to just allow their new owners to enjoy their company, we will look at a couple of stories as described by their new owners.
Glo Most Hot (Gloey) and Elizabeth Millwood
The history of Glo Most Hot can best be told by Bonnie from the Exceller Fund but I'm told she was on her way to slaughter. Apparently she wasn't much of a racehorse because she would get part of the way around the track and just STOP!
She was placed at the Secretariat Center at the Kentucky Horse Park for adoption. When I went to see her, I was warned not to enter her stall. She would charge at you with teeth bared. So she was put on cross ties and tacked up. She was a lovely ride.
Challenged by her attitude, I took her back to Chukkar Farm Polo Club where I teach riding lessons as I was hoping to turn her into both a lesson horse and a polo pony. Everything I did with her was okay. Ride in the arena, ride the trails, swing the polo mallet, jump a log,-- she was completely willing. If I showed her something three times, she got it. From neck reining, to sit down and stop, leg yielding, turns on the fore or hind; three times and that was all that it took. She never spooked, bucked, or bolted. I immediately put her into my lesson program where she'll safely carry around a child both in the ring or on the trails.
It did take some time to make her understand that people were not a threat. She now craves petting and attention; she'll practically lay down to have her belly rubbed where before you could barely brush her if she wasn't cross tied. She will eat anything you're eating, in fact, she's pretty sure that she's entitled to eat it first! Her personality has really bloomed. She is very opinionated and can be "bratty" but not in a dangerous or vicious way. I adore her spunk and her intelligence. It makes me chuckle to think of her on the racetrack just deciding to stop and "not want to play anymore......and take her ball home!"
Given her ground manners when I first met her, I can see why she might have been passed over. But what a horrific experience she must have endured to make her be so distrustful. I am THRILLED that I have her. She is by far one of the sweetest and smartest horses I've ever worked with and best of all,--- she can do and is willing to do anything! So I can say that I bet on this racehorse.
Super Happy Combo (Sampson) Paul Lin
I first heard of Sampson during conversations with Bonnie Mizrahi, President of The Exceller Fund, during a visit to our farm in June of 2005. Several months earlier Kelly and I had forged a strong relationship with The Exceller Fund by helping several of their horses, and The Exceller Fund also had entrusted us to care for, train and show off their celebrity horse Rich In Dallas, who many people know as Seabiscuit in the motion picture by that name.
Bonnie told us of a rogue thoroughbred currently on the track in Illinois. This horse had earned himself quite a bad reputation, having seriously injured a couple of riders – including the owner’s son. Efforts to subdue him by hiring a cowboy to ride him also failed. Sampson was deemed dangerous and intractable and was destined for slaughter. Bonnie’s question for us was simple – would we be willing to try to help Sampson? If we said “Yes”,
The Exceller Fund would purchase him and transport him to our farm. If we said no, it was likely that, given his reputation, Sampson would be allowed to go to slaughter. It wasn’t an unexpected question, as over the years we had earned a reputation for being able to handle and “fix” troubled horses. Without really pondering the situation we said “Yes”, thus setting the stage for a wonderful, fulfilling and educational experience with one of the most unique horses to set foot on our farm.
Sampson was set to arrive at our farm on July 5, 2005, slightly a week after I was to return home from attending a clinic at a Colorado ranch with my mare Lexi. Due to the 4th of July Holiday, his trip was made in two parts with a layover in Kentucky at the shippers facility. The shippers are professionals who make their living hauling thoroughbred racehorses all over the country; nonetheless Sampson impressed them sufficiently to result in a phone call to us to warn us of the beast to be delivered. A call was also made to The Exceller Fund warning them too: “Whoever will be handling this horse had better know what they’re doing”.
To the horror of the men that delivered Sampson to our farm, only my wife Kelly was there to offload him and get him settled in. They asked her to call her husband (I was on a business trip to Michigan), her father, my father, ANY man to offload him. When it became clear that Kelly was going to be it, they required her to find a chain shank to use over his nose. After some searching a chain shank was found. Kelly simply clipped it to his halter and quietly led Sampson to the barn. She put him in a 12 x 24 foaling stall and decided his name was to be “Sampson”.
I arrived home the next night and drove straight home to the barn to meet our new arrival. I was immediately struck by several things. Sampson was simply gorgeous, standing 16.2 hh with a dark, almost black coat with no white anywhere. His head was extremely refined and handsome, with big, bright and curious eyes. He had the most incredibly long and wavy mane, resembling a Friesian horse. I spent a little time with him that night, searching for the beast within. When I couldn’t find it I went to the house to go to bed.
The next day I took Sampson out to our main arena to watch him move and get to know him. The plan at that time was no different for him than the 75 or so thoroughbreds that preceded him: let him settle in, introduce him to the other horses and let him learn to be a horse again – roll in the mud, play games, freely roam over a 15 acre field, get his butt bitten by the boss horse; all those things that horses at the track are denied. These plans were cut short when I noticed that the apparent bowed tendon in his right front leg was obviously still sore. After our vet confirmed that the tendon was not yet healed, Sampson began a period of stall rest that lasted from July to the end of September.
We have had many a off track thoroughbreds on prolonged stall rest due to similar injuries, but Sampson was quick to demonstrate to us just how “interesting” Sampson on stall rest would be. Sampson quickly proved to be extremely intelligent – an intelligence that manifested itself in curiosity and playfulness. The whole world and all its inhabitants were there for his amusement and exploration. Confined to a stall, this meant that anything within reach was fair game. He would raise up on his hind legs and pull the short chains on the overhead light fixtures (48” fluorescent fixtures) to turn the lights on and off. When he tired of this, he simply pulled the fixtures down and demolished them. Water and feed buckets that were advertised to be indestructible were proven to be otherwise. Humans with muck forks and buckets were great fun. Humans with long hair were even more fun!
Stall fans were entertaining – by pushing his nose into the fan screen he could make it hit the blades, resulting in a horrible but entertaining racket.
To provide outlets for his playfulness, his stall soon resembled an equine romper room with toys on the floor and hanging from the overhead. Unlike many horses in similar situations, Sampson actually played with - and usually destroyed - most of his toys.
When our vet determined his leg to be sufficiently healed for Sampson to begin turnout, he was introduced to the other horses. School had started. He seemed to have no idea what these other lowly beasts were and made it clear he would rather hang out with us. He also had no idea regarding equine language, herd dynamics or pecking orders. The other horses were unimpressed by his “presence” and bravado, and Sampson soon learned to understand them and to move – or else. One day I was working in a paddock adjoining the field and Sampson came up to the gate to visit. When another horse came up behind him Sampson simply jumped the gate – between 4 and 5 feet high – from a flat-footed start to get away. Did I mention he is also very athletic?
After Sampson had settled in with the herd, it was time to begin working with him. My plans were to simply re-start him under saddle, assuming he knew nothing but being aware he had some bad experiences in his past. As always, I started with basic groundwork, asking him to move his feet, yield to pressure and accept things like ropes over his back or around his legs or across his rear. His reaction to this was immediate and quite impressive – he would explode straight up and tear away, bucking. He was terrified of most anything being on his back. And he was very capable of “defending” himself.
When it came time for saddling, this was done at liberty. Knowing he was frightened, I wanted him to realize that he was not going to be restrained and would be free to move his feet if he felt the need to “escape”. This worked well and he quickly learned to stand quietly for saddling, however it was when he was then asked to move that he would get bracey and frightened, culminating in a bucking episode that would last for a minute or so. And could he buck – he once got to bucking so hard that he landed on TOP of the oak round pen fence and took out a section. This became his pattern: stand to be saddled, then buck for a bit before coming back to me, needing to be rubbed and reassured, ready to go on to the next task. Eventually this behavior faded too.
Actually riding Sampson was almost a non-event. After accepting the saddle, accepting a human in the saddle was not a major hurdle for him. He learned to stand quietly to be mounted from the ground, or to stand by the mounting blocks to be mounted bareback. He would also quickly learn to step sideways up to the fence so I could slide on his back from atop the fence.
Do all racehorses need rescuing?
In short, no. Many successful racehorses have a second career in the breeding shed, mares and stallions. It is not uncommon, however, that barren broodmares become at risk once their breeding career is over. I have seen broodmares at New Holland, their bags still full after having their final foals weaned. Geldings obviously do not have a breeding career option. Even so there are trainers and owners who will ensure an afterlife for their horses rather than abandon them to unknown fates.
Tim Woolley retired American Jet, a modest claimer who clearly was no longer productive as a racehorse. He had actually claimed the horse back, as he was an earlier trainer of the horse, in order to try him on the turf and then eventually retire him. Once retired, he moved him to a farm that would school horses for a second career. During this time a young girl fell in love with him and purchased him from Tim. He is now showing in the local area. Tim goes to watch.
Canyon Runner, a one-eyed horse, was a favorite of his trainer, Billy Entenmann. He was a hard knocking horse who won a couple of cheap claimers later in his career. I enjoyed galloping him. For whatever reason he gained a fan following. A mother and daughter came to watch him run at Delaware Park. Billy decided to give them the horse once he was retired. They would visit him in his barn as he continued to train. Two months later, they were the proud new owners. Gary Littlewood, Billy’s assistant, keeps tabs on the horse and is provided regular updates.
Chuck Lawrence had a horse, Luv Shack, who was slow. Chuck owned, bred and trained this horse. He decided not to run him. He has now found his new career and recently was champion in his first show. Chuck’s wife, Beth, is planning to event him.
What needs to happen? / recommendations for future.
The racing industry needs to be more responsible for its stars, the horses. Those horses which are at the most risk to go to slaughter should not be shuffled off the racetracks to dealers to kill buyers to kill pens or via auction houses. There should be a direct working relationship with rescues and racetracks. The model established at Finger Lakes racetrack should be explored by other racetracks. All new greyhound racetracks include adoption facilities on site. Established greyhound tracks now have to include such facilities. This type of model should be worth exploring. There has been a recent shift in this direction, with programs like Turning for Home at Philadelphia Park, and the zero tolerance for slaughter policies recently announced, but we need more.
A humane euthanasia program should also be supported by the racetracks for horses that cannot be rehabilitated to another career. The unfortunate reality of the state of horse racing is that many racehorses, once their careers are over, do require humane euthanasia. The unfortunate reality of a euthanasia program is a trainer may still prefer the dealer option to euthanasia as there is still a chance, however slim, that the horse is rescued and allowed to live out its life.
More generally, over breeding of horses needs to be explored and breeders should be held more accountable for the horses they breed. Accountability for all breeders can manifest in a fee applied to each horse registered with the Jockey Club that then funds the horse rescue infrastructure via the Thoroughbred Charities of America or Blue Horse Charities or similarly neutral organizations that provides grants to rescue organizations. A $10 fee would generate more than $3 million per year (more than 37,000 live foals for 2008 are due).
Additionally, the Jockey Club is the only major breed registry that does not require a fee and re registration when the owner of a horse changes. While this may be complicated by the claiming system that allows horses to change hands in quick succession, a fee that generates revenue for horse rescue would create considerable revenue. It is of course horses that are claimed frequently that are high risk for slaughter.
Reading this chapter, one might assume it is horsemen at the lower-level racetracks who are responsible for sending horses to slaughter. This is not an accurate characterization of most of these horsemen who do try to seek out alternatives. For sure some absolutely do not. It is important to note that it is the racing system itself that fails these horses, not the horsemen at the lower-level tracks. Many of these horses, at an earlier stage of their career, were running at better class racetracks. They probably got a little sore due to the hard dirt tracks they ran across. This soreness is treated with legal drugs to allow the horses to continue running without curing the initial injury and giving the horses the necessary time to recover. The horses get a little slower, are entered in claiming races and start to fall through the racing system, bouncing from one racetrack to another. Carson City Kid is an excellent example of this. He has run at some of the best racetracks in America (Belmont and Keeneland) with some of the most high profile trainers (Randy Bradshaw and Dallas Stewart). His career ended at a fair meet in Fargo, North Dakota. His final owner had the compassion to have him rescued when he had a better offer to send him chuckwagon racing in Canada.
All horsemen, from the top down are responsible for the outcomes of the horses they own and train, but it is too easy to abdicate responsibility with the claiming system and legal use of drugs.
Increasing the capacity of rescue is critical. To increase rescue capacity expanding the adopter pool is essential. Thus far FOBs have been very helpful in fundraising for the acquisition and support of horses while at rescues.
Finding new adoptees is now critical. Expansion can be indirectly affected by increasing the number of horse rescues, especially in areas where horse rescue does not currently have a presence, and increasing the capacity of current rescues (more fence lines for example) and the throughput rate of horses at the rescues.
A more proactive means of expanding the adopter pool would be better marketing of retired racehorses (OTTBs)to illustrate that they can perform well in second careers and as pleasure horses. The perception of a rescued racehorse is one of a broken down, used up horse with a suspect temperament. While in some cases, sadly, the first issue is real, the other issues are not necessarily accurate and with a little horsemanship and rehabilitation these horses can do very well. A marketing program that highlights successfully rehabilitated horses can make an impact.
Marketing can also be directed back to the industry to make trainers more aware of options for their horses. Rescues need to brand themselves better so trainers consider seeking them out as a first option rather than one of a few options that some trainers will not consider.
It is however clear that we cannot rescue our way out of slaughter. The reality is for every horse rescued that was scheduled for slaughter, another horse takes its place at the slaughter house. Horse slaughter is simply a demand driven business. To stop horses from going to slaughter, we must effect horse slaughter legislation at the federal level. Doing this will ensure horses like Ferdinand (Kentucky Derby winner and Horse of the Year), Exceller (multiple Grade 1 winner in multiple countries and remains the only horse in racing history to defeat two Triple Crown winners), and “anonymous” (who may or may not have been a decent racehorse but was certainly disposed of) will not be slaughtered. It will also ensure that horses like E22134 (not a very good racehorse but he did run for four years), A14518 (who ran in the Grade 1 Wood Memorial) and G28701 (who won two of her five starts at Belmont Park in 2006 and is perfectly sound) are not at risk of slaughter, only saved thanks to compassionate outsiders of the racing industry.
Ending slaughter and FOBs efforts to end slaughter is the topic of our next chapter. Of course once slaughter is ended, focus on rescue will be increased in order to properly absorb what would have been slaughter bound horses and focus of horse rescues will be solely on abuse and neglect cases. Slaughtered horses account for less than 1% of all horses in any given year, although it is worth noting that we slaughter anywhere between 25% and 50% of our thoroughbreds*.
- 37,000 thoroughbred foals are born each year. Approximately 9,000 - 18,000 thoroughbreds are slaughtered each year. 90 million horses in the United States, 90,000 sent to slaughter in 2006.