Thankfully, Problem of Unwanted Horses Finally Being Addressed

Although I have never been openly outspoken against synthetic surfaces since they began making their way onto American racetracks a few years ago, when the subject of horse safety comes up I have always asked the same question:

Why do the powers that be place so much emphasis on racing safety but continually ignore the issues of unwanted horses and slaughter? After all, the number of racing fatalities each year numbers only about two per every one-thousand starters, while it has been reported that as many as 100,000 horses go to slaughter every year. It has always seemed to me that the problem of horse safety is being incorrectly addressed.

Thankfully, it seems that the issue is finally beginning to be addressed as a priority. In the last few months, the industry has begun to tackle the problem - in my opinion the single biggest problem in the industry - like it actually matters. Although there is still a whole lot of work to be done, it is encouraging to know they are moving in the right direction.

Perhaps the biggest step in the right direction came from the newly-formed Safety and Integrity Alliance. During its Oct. 15 news conference, the NTRA unveiled a series of safety reforms that will be executed in the near future, one of them the "implementation of placement programs for Thoroughbreds that can no longer compete." Former Wisconsin governor Tommy Thompson will oversee the alliance.

I was disappointed to learn a short time later that the NTRA officially took a neutral position on the issue of slaughter, but I guess we can only fight one battle at a time. At the very least, the issue is finally coming into the forefront and not being swept under the rug.

Also encouraging are steps being taken by racetracks like Suffolk Downs and Mountaineer, and companies like Magna, which have recently adopted anti-slaughter rules. Finger Lakes is another place doing the right thing, as they became the first North American track to open a rescue facility on racetrack grounds. It's also good to hear high-profile trainers like Nick Zito have a voice on the subject.

Great work on the problem has also been addressed for some time now by organizations like the Unwanted Horse Coalition (UHC), which contends that the issue may be reaching epidemic proportions. Just this week, the UHC announced they will partner with the American Horse Council (AHC) to begin an extensive study to research the problem. Here is a link to the press release.

And of course, there are fan-based organizations such as the "Fans of Barbaro" who have raised money and awareness to tackle the issue of slaughter.

In closing, there is still much to be done to protect unwanted horses. The problem is not going away and will only get worse if it is not seriously addressed. More research is needed, rules have to be put in place to make owners and breeders more responsible for their own horses, and Congress must get around to passing a law that prohibits the transport of horses outside of the country for the purpose of slaughter. The bill keeps falling through the cracks.

But at the very least it's nice to know that these problems are finally being addressed on a national stage. And on this holiday weekend, let's all give thanks to that.


Leave a Comment:

Fonda G

good article that hits the nail squarely on the head.  Thank you.

26 Nov 2008 1:52 PM


26 Nov 2008 3:22 PM

thank you for this Jason--as an FOB i know many of us are doing all we can to help getting slaughter stopped--i donate to rescued horses care every month and donate to rescues--i only wish i ccould give lots more. We need the tracks and the owners to step up as well as all involved in horse racing. And Congress DEFINITELY needs to pass that bill and NOW!!

26 Nov 2008 3:29 PM

Thanks so much for this article. As one of those Fobs you mentioned, we keep plugging along in a very difficult economy right now.  New rescues are opening, some are closing, we have the snowball rolling (slowly) within the industry, but at least it is rolling in the right direction.  It is going to take time.

26 Nov 2008 3:34 PM


26 Nov 2008 3:42 PM

I am a big fan of thoroughbreds.  However, I have seen the bad homes that many adopted racehorses get.  They still need much care and devotion.  It's not just important to stop slaughter, but also to get these horses in good homes (much more difficult).  Horses need a companion, they need to be brought in out of bad weather (hot, cold, wind,rain)  they need their feet tended to on a monthly basis, unlimited access to quality hay, medical attention ...etc.  Without these items of care the horse will suffer.

26 Nov 2008 3:53 PM
Texas Fan

My first horse was a rescued showhorse who had been abandoned and I am currently looking at rescuing at least one from LOPE.  Being in Texas, around smaller tracks, more needs to be done in the states around Mexico, where it is ridiculously easy to ship a horse in a day to Mexico to have it slaughtered.  Baby steps are great and at least they're happening now, but the problem of Mexico is still a problem.  It breaks my heart whenever I see trailers full of horses heading towards Mexico, not knowing if they are going to a slaughterhouse there.

26 Nov 2008 3:58 PM

Jason great article Yes rules have to be put in place to "make owners and breeders" more responsible for their own horses, Congress must pass a law that prohibits the transport of horses outside of the country for the purpose of slaughter.

I am a proud Fan of Barbaro, and thank you for writing this for all too see!

26 Nov 2008 4:03 PM

Just today, 11/26, the AP reported that slaughter numbers have increased in Canada and Mexico. In the story, one of the kill buyers unbelievably claimed that most of the horses that go to slaughter are old, crippled and useless. Yeah, right. To me, this is our national shame.

Keep plugging away at this problem.

26 Nov 2008 4:11 PM

My thoughts only but if an owner of a race horse thinks he is too old and can't race anymore and if you can't find that horse a GOOD home than have the decency to have the animal put to sleep, its the least they can do since they can't earn their bread and butter anymore, at least they will go to sleep and not have to suffer the ills other horses have when taken to slaughter.

26 Nov 2008 6:00 PM
4 ds

I have a retired race horse that was resqued from fingerlakes ny Now he lives in nevada and he is the best . he now is 10 and a famliy Horse .

26 Nov 2008 6:06 PM
Cheryl Jones

Jason, thanks again for your role in making progress in the education of those who are unaware of slaughter.   If only the racing industry as a whole, as well as other horse industries, would be as proactive as you are and the very few, including the Fans of Barbaro.   You're right about "one battle at a time", and it is a huge war.   We'll get there, even if it is one horse at a time.

26 Nov 2008 6:23 PM
Barb AZ

Excellent article. Thank you.

Breed associations need to educate their members to stop over breeding. I think they tend to forget that horses can live well into their thirties! Too many foals next year will still be a problem in thirty years!

In our disposable society, we can't let our horses pay the price.

26 Nov 2008 7:37 PM

Thank you for addressing this problem. Horse slaughter numbers keep increasing while certain politicians make sure the bills to stop slaughter get stuck in this or that committee. The public needs to know what is happening and articles such as yours will surely help.

26 Nov 2008 7:44 PM

Thank you for this excellent article.  Hopefully it will raise awareness of this important issue and more will be done to help all these wonderful animals.

26 Nov 2008 9:14 PM

Jason, its good to point out that the industry is taking notice of the issue.  Its still a battle that probably will never be won but maybe it can be contained.  Now racehorses after racetrack life go to breeding farms, show jumping and dressage disciplines, or as many have said are sent to other countries for slaughters.  Now not every racehorse ends up in the slaughterhouse in Mexico, most racehorses end up racing in match races or in many of Mexicos race fairs.  The root of the problem is with the owners and trainers, and the racetracks who dont have a clue how many horses are out there that should not even be competing.  I personally have taken 2 3 year old fillies off the track recently from owners and trainers that in their words referred to the horses as stupid and headcases.  I have no clue what horses they were talking about, the ones I got from them are two of the smartest and sweetest fillies i've ever been around.  The solution to their problem was to treat them gently not as beasts.  They said they couldn't be ridden, My 4 year old son rides them, so it goes to tell you just how bad some owners and so called horse trainers are, and they call themselves horsemen.    Now I know this to many people is a business and the last thing people have in the racing game is patience, especially when the horse has not paid for its upkeep, its already 3 years old and the trainer needs to make room for the next crop of 2 year olds to hit the track.  But there has to be rules that apply for the owner and trainer.  It makes me sad to hear that a horse like Ferdinand who made his owners millions of dollars ended up as dogfood.  It makes me sad to see geldings who make over $100K at the track and their owner just gets rid of them like trash, like if they never paid their dues, because they cant run anymore at a high level.  I remember seeing Pts Grey Eagle running for a cheap claiming tag once, this was a horse who was a Grade 1 winner. Or seeing horses like Klassy Kim and Champion Infinidad being sold for for the minimum price at mixed sales, after they filled up their owners pockets in the high 6 figures.  If a horse makes me that amount of money, i build it his own house, so he or she can live happily the rest of their lives, i mean they ran hard for the money, they deserve part of the money as a retirement plan.  Which is not a bad idea, when a horse makes any money at the track, part of the winnings should be directed for the horses future retirement expenses.  That doesn't solve all the problem of unwanted horses but it at least it could help some of the unwanted population.  Horses are not machines, and i dont know how people say that the first rule in the business is to not fall in love with your horse, personally i find it hard not to love any of my horses.  Ive been around horses all my life, they have been part of my family for generations.  We are truly horsemen.  And if we want to find the ones responsible it has to start with the owners and the trainers, because they are the ones who get rid of them.  We also have to make a rule of how many horses are bred.  It is ridiculous to see so many horses breed over 100 mares, and now books are close or over 200 a year, we are breeding quantity over quality, just for the dollars, and that only puts more wood int the fire.  So its good to point all these things out so the industry takes notice, but its up to us the breeders, us the owners and trainers to start looking for whats best for the horse, because thats who brought us here in the first place.  If you cant take care of your horse or cant find it a respectable life after it retires than you shouldnt own a horse in the first place.

26 Nov 2008 9:48 PM
Jason Shandler

EmilioP: Very well stated. If more people had your sense of responsibility and love of horses we would not be in this problem. I agree with all of what you said. Owners and breeders need to be held responsible and that will solve a lot of this.

26 Nov 2008 10:19 PM

Right on Ralph...USE THEM IN THE PRISONS ACROSS AMERCIA TO HELP REHAB OUR INMATES...MALE & FEMALE PRISONS...AS HORSES GIVE HUMANS A SENSE OF WORTH!!!...we will find them safe HAVENS in AMERCIA cause we love them soooo much!!!...Long Live The HORSE!!!

26 Nov 2008 11:31 PM

ps...we knew all this before we got in the it MAGIC or whatever...Long Live The King!!!

27 Nov 2008 2:26 AM

I recently purchased a 14 acre farm in western maryland and would love to give a good loving home, with a new career as a sport horse to an off track thoroughbred. I just dont know where to look. I thought about going to the Mid Atlantic sale in Timonium in a couple weeks and buy a nice yearling there. However, considering the epidemic of unwanted horses out there, I am strongly considering an older horse, provided i can find one that suits my needs and ability. I want something i can use for trails, maybe some under saddle shows. Any information anyone has about available horses in the Md, Va, Pa or De Please let me know. Im not in the habit of giving out my email address in blogs since i use this email address for my business, but im going to trust in the fact that any contact would be in order to give information that will help one of these horses, so here it is (im not just a fan of horse racing)

27 Nov 2008 8:38 AM

Great article with plenty of useful and valid points. It's a subject that should not be relegated to the back-burner.

Happy Thanksgiving everybody!

27 Nov 2008 9:02 AM
Dena Lentz

Thank you for reminding everyone that as humans we are to be responsible for our actions.

27 Nov 2008 10:42 AM



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27 Nov 2008 3:20 PM

mdfanofracing - there is a 501C group called CANTER that has groups all over the US dedicated to finding homes for off the track thoroughbreds.  They have a Mid Atlantic group that services your area.  If you type CANTER and thoroughbred into Google you will pull them up.  You will see the different groups (mid Atlantic) listed.  They have a lot of horses.  Good luck and thank you for giving a horse a second chance and a home.

28 Nov 2008 12:51 AM


28 Nov 2008 1:22 AM

This issue is a reality of the horse industry.Slaughter- the NTRA took a neutral stand because there IS a place for slaughter (for food).  The TB industry contributes greatly to this problem.  The public cannot use a horse with nuts & bolts and fractures in their legs. Safety is the issue..

Strict Regulation of the slaughter industry is the answer.Humane hauling-sale & slaughter is the answer. Vet certifications at tracks need to be part of the cost of slaughter. There is a place for slaughter. I am, a horseman and I know that this is an unsavory issue. In Ohio people are turning their horses out on public land to fend for themselves.I have had babies born with lethal white deaths and that is reality. I love the horse more than anything however, reality is just that.

28 Nov 2008 9:30 AM

  As an animal lover I firmly beleive that when one takes on ownership of an animal it is that persons responsibility to see to that animals care and needs until the day it dies or if unable to care for animal it must be found a loving caring home.

28 Nov 2008 11:17 AM

This was a great article and people need to be aware that there are perfectly good horses at rescues. I work at Mid America Horse Rescue, which is close to St. Louis. We have off the track Thoroughbreds and ones that never made it to the track. Most horses come with something wrong with them, but after care, time off, and rehabilitation they are retrained.  These horses are even suitable for children, as our 16 hand gelding Seth was adopted by a 9 year old.   For more information, visit

28 Nov 2008 2:58 PM

Some estimates expect more than 100,000 horses will be abandoned this year.  Who will care for them? and can they be saved before they starve to death?

Given the current economic conditions, it is possible there are more than 1,000,000 "surplus" horses in the U.S. How do we deal with them?

What is the capacity of the Rescue and adoption operations? How many new horses can they take each year?

This problem is vast and could ultimately cost the horse industry billions of dollars and thousands of jobs. And the problem is growing exponentially.  

All responsible horse owners can do now is tackle it one horse at a time, one rescue at a time.  

At it's peak, the slaughter industry took nearly 400,000 horses a year out of the market and provided a base. Slaughter has been eliminated from the U.S.  That battle has been won.

The days of considering horses as livestock are gone.  Now we have to make the transition from a "livestock" business to a "recreation" business.  

It is time to go the federal government and get help. With regulation comes responsibility.  Contact your Senators and Congressmen to urge them to fund horse rescue facilities and address the unwanted horse crisis.  

The next battle will be to preserve  horse industry tax breaks. Rumored moves are underway from some quarters to have horses declassified as livestock. That could spell disaster for our industry.  

The new crisis looms large.  What do we do next?

29 Nov 2008 1:44 PM

Its about time!

29 Nov 2008 2:43 PM

Thank you Jason, for your words.  They ring true and need to be repeated over and over.

Thanks also to NEVER KICK YOUR DOG.  I will follow-up on each contact to give thanks and offer my support.


29 Nov 2008 3:33 PM

Thank you Jason for addressing this iaaue.  I am a huge fan of racing but the slaughter issue will be the one thing that will make me turn my back on the sport forever.  There is no excuse for these horses being sent to slaughter.  With the amount of money being earned at the expense of these horses they deserve so much better.  I don't like the thought of euthanasia either but that would be much more preferable.  Thoroughbred racehorses are not livestock,  they are not bred for food.  Everyone keep up the good work, donate to rescue groups, contact your representatives, contact the tracks and let them know how you feel.  Unfortunately, the NTRA is not listening.  

30 Nov 2008 2:58 PM
russell maiers

Thanks for addressing this, the time is now to take full responsibility for all involved. As for 2 dead horses for every one thousand starts, some say 3, please do not advocate that this is close to being acceptable. It is a horrible satistic. You could say that every ten days at every track a horse dies, that cannot sound acceptable, does it? I didnt mean to change the subject because unwanted horses should be the focus here. I really appreciate your attention to this problem! It is just that I hear this satitistic said all to often about deaths on the track and it is always said in the way like "thats really good". I respectfully disagree.

30 Nov 2008 7:14 PM


01 Dec 2008 1:12 AM

I agree that the problem is finally being addressed on a national level however don't think for a minute that people in the business haven't addressed it long before this. There are many caring racetrackers out there that feed and purchase unwanted racehorses everyday. We must all do what we can when we can. Thats all you can do and if you comment on all this and don't do anything shame on you.

01 Dec 2008 2:19 PM
Christy Christmas

Thoroughbreds are not alone in being hit with overpopulation problems. I've seen it with Arabians & Quarter Horses as well.  Here's a thought I had that MIGHT help with one teensy-tiny-bit of the problem; why not take some of the geldings, being the largest % of the unwanted populace, and donate some of them for handicapped riding & 4-H programs?  I can also see a place for them as generic workhorses around their farms, which would give them an honorable retirement and be of benefit to both their owners & the environment, simply by using less fuel and still getting needed farm work done?  I cannot understand why nobody seems to have bothered to do this before; it just strikes me as at least a part of a sensible solution.

01 Dec 2008 3:08 PM

I've heard bad things happened to Ferdinand.  After remembering this horse in his famous duels with Alysheba I could not go to the track for quite some time.

01 Dec 2008 7:40 PM

First of all , great article.

I'm glad this came up as I was just browsing the Fasig-Tipton catalogue for their next mixed sale and two entries hip # 17 & 19 are 22 year old broodmares, one is believed to be in foal, the other wasn't bred.

Anyone care to bet on the desirability of an aged barren broodmare in today's market???

Oh and bellwether, if you've lost foals to lethal white, it's because you were too cheap to pay the $25 for a simple DNA test. SHAME ON YOU!

02 Dec 2008 3:36 PM

my apologies to bellwether, the comment about lethal having lethal white foals was posted by Sandra, not you.

Sandra, every repsonsible breeder knows to test before lethal white before you breed. It's a shame that how many foals sufferd an agonizing death becasue you coudlnt spend $25 to test your mare?

02 Dec 2008 4:16 PM

Theyre just animals folks.  Let's solve the murder problem in our inner cities before we concern ourselves with ANIMALS. C'mon folks wake up!

02 Dec 2008 6:45 PM

Nice article Jason. By the way, thanks for not getting me shut out at Golden Gate the day after Thanksgiving even though I still didn't hit that exacta.  The guy in front of you needed to be a little quicker don't you think.

02 Dec 2008 7:41 PM
reality check

We have far worse problems to address than what happens to an animal AFTER they are sold. It's a business for heaven's sake and that means there is going to be some people dictating what happens in their end of things. That is the nature of the business world. There is some good but most don't give a rat's rear about what anyone of you thinks. This has been accepted by society for a long time and it's not going to change in the face of where we are at right now.

Every day real people are losing jobs and life savings. Many are being thrown out into the streets. This country has been thrown into the worst position we will ever see by a criminal administration and you want to worry about animals? We as a society have to survive this mees for them to survive in the first place. We can't save the animals without saving our society first. There may come a day soon when horse meat becomes a staple that saves lives. We raise cattle, pigs, turkeys, chickens, etc. and sell them off for slaughter. There is no difference here except that some horses actually lead a better life before they die. Animals are animals and if it's wrong to slaughter one it's wrong to slaughter all unless of course  you believe in discrimination. Me i'm a meat eater so don't expect me to cry to end the killing of animals. I'm also not a hypocryte so if you can kill one kind of animal to serve your purpose I won't tell you it's wrong to kill another to serve someone elses.

03 Dec 2008 1:37 PM

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