Doing What's Right - By Dan Rosenberg

(Originally published in the July 31, 2010 issue of The Blood-Horse magazine. Feel free to share your own thoughts and opinions at the bottom of the column.)  

In all the years I have been learning about and trying to practice good horsemanship, the admonition to “always do what’s right for the horse” has been a constant from my co-workers, bosses, mentors, and those I admire and try to emulate. “Take care of the horse, and he’ll take care of you.” All decisions in the horse business made outside that guiding principle—the equivalent of a moral compass—inevitably lead to failure.

Ensuring a good life for our horses when their racing or breeding careers have ended is an issue that has come to prominence over the past several years, and the welfare of unwanted horses has become a hot-button issue. Herb and Ellen Moelis recognized this long ago when it was not something many people were talking about or thinking about. Not only did Herb and Ellen recognize the problem and talk about the problem, they resolved to do something about it. Along with a handful of others sharing the same concerns, they founded Thoroughbred Charities of America, a fundraising effort that has distributed more than $17 million to more than 200 accredited charities that work to fulfill TCA’s mission of providing a better life for Thoroughbreds both during and after their racing careers by supporting retirement, rescue, and research and by helping the people who work with them. Herb and Ellen have given enormously over the years—their time, energy, and resources. Their efforts have made a huge difference in the lives of horses and people. But just as importantly, through their efforts they also have raised the awareness of the plight of unwanted horses and raised in all our consciences our obligation to be responsible for them.

Herb stepped down as president of TCA recently, and I have picked up the mantle and will try to advance Herb’s work. An important part of this column is to recognize and honor Herb for his contributions and accomplishments and for what he has done to remind us of our moral responsibilities toward our horses.

The second important part of this column is to stress what still needs to be done. TCA holds an annual dinner and auction as our main fundraising event. I am proud to say it has grown year after year with the hard work and the support of the TCA board and also the generosity and support of most of the major farms throughout the United States, Keeneland, and Fasig-Tipton. (It is important to note that we have distributed $.96 of every $1 raised.) 

We have other equally important sources of funding. The Jockey Club collects contributions from breeders through the foal registration application, then adds to these contributions through profits from its subsidiaries to provide $200,000 to TCA and the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation. Fasig-Tipton created Blue Horse Charities, which is funded by a voluntary .25% contribution from each buyer and seller at their sales, and Fasig-Tipton matches all contributions up to .25%. Fasig-Tipton pays all administrative costs of Blue Horse Charities. Grants are awarded in consultation with TCA. And the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association provides an option for new and renewing members to make a donation when paying dues.

We have made great progress, but so much more needs to be done. Rescue, retirement, and adoption programs all over the country are at capacity and struggling.

It is morally wrong to wash our hands of horses we have bred, own, or formerly owned. All of us need to opt in with The Jockey Club and Blue Horse Charities when we register a foal, sell a horse, or buy a horse. All of us need to make a donation toward horse retirement programs when renewing our membership with TOBA.

We need retirement programs with more sale companies and racetracks. We also need to keep track of horses we have bred or formerly owned once they are sold and to assume our responsibilities toward them. We need to stop racing our horses while they are still sound so that they can have second careers instead of injecting joints and dropping them into claiming races to get one more race out of them and then let them be someone else’s problem. I’m challenging us all to think about what we are doing, or not doing, to live up to our moral obligations. Why? Because it’s the right thing to do.

Dan Rosenberg is the owner of Rosenberg Thoroughbred Consulting, based in Midway, Ky.

18 Comments

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OldDog

Well said, Dan, and best wishes as you take the reins of TCA.  Everyone, from breeders, owners and trainers, to players and fans, needs to step up and make a personal commitment to the care of our athletes.  It's the very least we can do.  

27 Jul 2010 1:30 PM
Rachel

You are all to be applauded for your hard work for the horses.

If the owners, breeders, trainers took full responsibility for each horse, you would not have to work so hard and still see some slip through the cracks.

Very wealthy players have no excuse.

The stable I worked for as a young person, a modest, not-very-rich stable, took personal responsibility for every single horse that retired under their silks, every single one.

Each horse went on to a second career, to live a full life.

27 Jul 2010 1:35 PM
Fran Loszynski

One of the great thoroughbred farms has lost an individual who cared deeply for racehorses and their breeding. Gainesway Farm has lost Graham Beck. Gainesway will continue in his name which is satisfying to know. The people there care deeply for their horses and upon visiting any fan is treated with kindness- I am sure this is due to Graham Beck and his son Antony, the way they chose to run their thoroughbred farms. My condolences to their family.

27 Jul 2010 2:59 PM
Soldier Course

Perhaps TCA and/or The Jockey could implement a guardian program for Thoroughbred race horses in order to assure that the horses are proper looked after during and after their racing careers.

A roster of volunteer guardians could be maintained. Each horse would be assigned a guardian, who would check with the trainer from time to time to see how the horse is doing. When the horse retires, the guardian could be part of seeing that the horse is given a secure future. Trainers and owners would have an obligation to communicate in good faith and candor with the guardian.

This idea came to me after serving for 23 years as a volunteer attorney guardian for children in abuse and neglect cases in family court.

I'll be the first to volunteer for this program.

27 Jul 2010 5:11 PM
kris

I hope broodmare owners read your column. The current trend of putting down mares whose yearlings haven't brought good enough prices is disgusting. Or worse yet, putting down healthy mares, who may be 18 or 19 yrs, but who have produced million dollar yearlings for owners who refuse to take care of them in their old age. I have been in touch with many rescue places trying to find homes for older mares that were stakes winners or stakes producers and none of the agencies would take these mares in. Time ran out and their owners put them down. I guess being put down is better than starving to death, but I think they deserved to live out their lives.

27 Jul 2010 5:47 PM
LCM

The majority of breeders do not feel responsible for a horse, once it's out of their hands, but for those that do, it can even be worse.

I bred a horse that was sold as a yearling to a very prominent 2yo pinhooker.  I repeatedly contacted her office to say that IF the horse ever needed a home to contact me.  I was assured that they would.  Last fall after the horse failed to work again I contacted them with NO response.  I therefore had to track down this horse via Alex Brown's website.  I did locate the current trainer at Penn National and enquired.  I was told the horse had an injury after his last work and he was instructed to "get rid of him". His exercise rider took him and was going to try and run him.  Of course I was furious and distraught.  I pleaded with the new "owner" to give him to me.  I even offered to pay for him, but he was convinced he was given the next Secretariat.  I made him assure me that if the horse got hurt again he'd call me.  That was last January....well I got the call last Friday.  He's DONE.  His throat is now paralyzed and he has a massive bowed tendon to go with it.  So finally, after the horse has been broken down and disfigured, he can be mine again.

WHY does it have to come to this?  The ignorance and greed of those in this industry is MASSIVE AND WIDESPREAD.   FEW truly care anything for the animal, only the money.

The worst part is, it's clear the pinhooker that owned him knew about his throat issue when she so "kindly" gave him away.  As she put it....."I want to give a little guy a shot".....  How generous.

27 Jul 2010 6:43 PM
Tutt

The guardian suggestion is a wonderful idea.

I, too, would love to participate in a group formulating a plan to protect former racehorses.

I have my former racehorse at my farm, and plan to keep him, and his donkey companion, for the rest of their lives.

So sad about the broodmares. I had no idea.

One suggestion: (and I believe some trainers already do this) TB's Jockey Club records could have a section where breeders and owners request updates throughout a TB's life. I've found keeping track of horses after they leave the track can be difficult, even when previous owners try to be sure they have good homes. Perhaps, owners of OTTBs could become accustomed to keeping breeders appraised of their progress. This could even be done on a section of the Jockey Club website.

27 Jul 2010 6:58 PM
Karen in Indiana

Adamsturf, another blog on this website, has a story right now about Arrrr - a horse who dropped down the claiming ranks, but whose trainer did the right thing and listened to the horse, retiring him while he was still sound enough for another career. It may seem like your work is never-ending pushing a rock uphill, but there are people out there doing right by the horse and you never know how much your efforts and the efforts of others with the same goal may be influencing them. If nothing else, it is helping to change the mindset of an industry and giving people who want to do right by their horses the options they need to do so.

27 Jul 2010 11:00 PM
sceptre

TCA certainly found the right leader in Dan Rosenberg. I've known him for years. He is highly intelligent, articulate, experienced, and has horse savvy. Most of all, Dan has a good heart.

I did know that TCA's mission was to provide a better life for Thoroughbreds AFTER their racing careers, but would like to learn more about their efforts to better protect these horses DURING their careers. It is here, particularly, where I see a real need for greater awareness, outside pressure, and intervention. As others have already noted, more in this regard is also needed for the growing numbers of unwanted breeding stock, aged or otherwise...Too many in this industry would prefer these issues be hidden from view- fearing that such negative publicity would further damage the sport, and/or that efforts to better protect the racehorse may impact on field size, cause earlier retirements, etc., and thus infringe upon their enjoyment of the sport. To those who feel this way I say: accept willingly this compromise- it is right and proper, and long overdue.  

28 Jul 2010 12:39 AM
Bellwether

GREAT WORK FROM HELEN & HERB...GOOD LUCK TO U...& PLEASE TREET THE ANIMALS FAIR...ALL OF THEM...LONG LIVE THE KING!!!...ty...

28 Jul 2010 12:53 AM
ezevans

I applaud the efforts of TCA, your personnal involvement and all those organizations and individuals who have stepped up to the plate. I am active in the realm of horse and animal rescue and have seen what we are capable of doing in terms of providing the appropriate care to those animals that have worked so hard for us. But even with those successes, with the racing industry really stepping to the plate and the numerous rescue organizations that have opened, I don't see a reduction in the number of horses who end up broken down, neglected, and ultimately destroyed.  I would say the same is true for dogs and cats as well.  I have always felt and now more than ever that we must tackle the problem from the other end of the life cycle with responsible and controlled breeding programs.  We need to stop every "weekend trainer" who picks up a mare for a dime with a half decent sire six generations back for breeding.  The attitude of "well, she can't run worth a lick so we'll take her home and breed her" must stop.  To the casual owner that thinks because their mare is so great that it would just be cool to have a foal.. we need them to provide ligitamate reasons beyond "I wanna".  We need to enforce the concept of "you bring the horse into the world it is ultimately YOUR responsibility on what happens".  Stepping off soapbox now.

28 Jul 2010 9:06 AM
Patricia Bewley Vice President the RACE Fund

The industry needs to follow a model at all tracks of deducting  a percentage of purse money for the retirement of racehorses . These horses deserve a life after the track and the owners and the tracks hold the responsibility for them. By taking a percentage of purse money every body contributes, as the voluntary prgrams are funded by a few not the many. Too many people always look to someone else to pay for them . We had a sucessful program in place a Penn National until the new HBPA board for 2010 stopped funding it, now they want to use have New Vocations take over and their claims are they place a horse in 30 to 60 days, well that is only horses who come off the tracks without injury and not many do. Every body just wants rid of the horses and  no accoutability for where they really end up. New Vocations sells mares for breeding to the Quarter Horse breeders so just compounding the problem . How do you make an industy have a heart?

28 Jul 2010 9:23 AM
Susan

Dan Rosenberg is a tremendous choice to take over from Helen and Herb.  Hopefully everyone, especially owners, will take more responsibility.  I purchased my first racehorse in 1986 as a three-year-old -- I still own her!  After winning races and producing 11 foals (of which most of which I know the whereabouts) I have her retired in Kentucky and turned out with three others, average age 29! I purchased one of her offspring, a gelding who had won almost $200,000 after finding him at Fairmount Park.  I am not wealthy, but I have responsibility for these horses, family members to me and so does everyone else who decides to breed and/or race horses.  These animals win enough purse money for a percentage to be deducted by the track and send to a central fund to aid their retirement - this should be mandatory.  If owner's do not want to do this then they don't need an owner's license.

28 Jul 2010 11:04 AM
jmewill

You know it seems to me that there is enough room on the face of the Jockey Club papers to have to phrase " Please contact the breeder if the horse need to be retired" or something to the effect that the breeder or owner wants the horse back when it is done racing! As we well know these horses can sometimes change hands several times over the course of their lives, and knowing that there is someone waiting at the end might be a tiny bit of an added incentive NOT to run the horse that one last time...It is a sad fact though that it all boils down to greed, let's make that last couple hundred dollars rather then retire the horse while it has a chance to walk away not crippled!

Both of my horses are in my backyard, as well as my broodmare, and will remain there until they die of natural causes! They weren't very productive and I am not rich, But I can't bear the idea of having them somewhere end up faceing getting hit in the head with that bolt.

28 Jul 2010 11:24 AM
Mike Relva

HELLO DAN:

Great read,I couldn't agree more! Problem is some don't have any moral focus.

28 Jul 2010 5:31 PM
Maureen Curry

Thank goodness people are becoming aware of this problem and doing something about these beautiful horses. This over-breeding has been an outrageous issue for years.  Keep up all the good work and time you are spending for a good cause.

30 Jul 2010 12:04 AM
Maureen Curry

I just want to add to my last post that I stepped up to the plate and took on an OTTB 12 year chestnut gelding named I'm A Smarty. He became mine April 22, 2010. He was scheduled to me euthanized because all the adopters rode him into the ground and didn't listen to anyone on how to take care of him. (He had serious hip problems.) I had his body adjusted, teeth floated and proper nutrition. Smarty can now be ridden at a WALK once or twice a week on the trail. We love each to death.

30 Jul 2010 12:53 AM
Trisha Shockey

Thank your you article about our moral resposibility to these equine athletes!!!...I want all breeders to be selective when breeding as I DO believe that we ought to take care of our racehorses after they have put their lives on the line for us each&everytime they run. They are not throwaways,easy to dipose of just because of any reason we come up with. The animals have feelings and know what happens to them just like you do. Thank you Dan,& good luck keeping this issue in the forefront.

12 Aug 2010 12:24 PM

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