Sound Advice - By Dr. Christine Orman

  (Originally published in the January 8, 2011 issue of The Blood-Horse magazine. Feel free to share your own thoughts and opinions at the bottom of the column.)   

Dr. Christine Orman is the Resource Development Director for ReRun, a non-profit Thoroughbred adoption program. (www.rerun.org)

 As 2010 came to a close, so did the racing career of a highly celebrated Thoroughbred racehorse named Zenyatta. She is retired now, and after more than three years and 20 races, she walked away from the track completely sound. This fact alone should garner as much fanfare as her stunning performances.

Simply too many horses come off the racetrack for the last time because of some injury they sustained during racing. Those of us who work in the racehorse adoption field see this all too frequently. A horse comes to us with an irreversible injury that even after rehabilitation leaves its riding capacity forever limited to “trail riding” (if that) and reduces its chances of finding an adoptive home to practically nil.

This year at least 80% of the horses needing ReRun’s adoption services had such injuries. A case in point is “Misty,” a 7-year-old Thoroughbred with 37 starts and career earnings of more than $185,000 behind her. We were told she had a suspensory injury, but what she had was an ankle of bone-on-bone. No cartilage or fluid remained in the joint. This typically happens when a horse has been repeatedly injected with cortisone, which allows her to run with no pain. In ReRun’s experience, this kind of treatment is the most common cause of irreversible injuries, and it is what turns potential show horses into pasture pals, like Misty.

ReRun serves tracks up and down the East Coast and Mid-Atlantic regions, so it seems fair to assume the issues we’re seeing with horse soundness are representative of the sport across the country.

This is not to say that horses with certain injuries cannot go on to successful second careers. They can, if the injuries are managed correctly and given the needed rest. We recently adopted out “Saintly Sir” who had sustained a slab fracture of the knee. He is doing well in his dressage and jumper career. Even “Devil Crab” who fractured his sesamoid, but received six months of stall rest and then slow but consistent exercise, has found a permanent home and is competing in local shows.

I recognize the financial consequences of not racing a horse this one last time. I know for many owners a winning race can pay a lot of bills, especially in a poor economy. That’s pressure. I get that. But please remember a horse’s life is in your hands. You can determine his post-career fate from Day One of his racing career. It really can come down to you making a life-or-death decision if you repeatedly choose to put a Band-Aid over a serious injury; choosing injections into a joint rather than treating the problem properly from the get-go.

To continue racing a horse that has shown signs of injury not only is irresponsible but is essentially giving him or her a death sentence after retirement. The horse will not be able to find a home. So, where will your beautiful 4-year-old baby of a horse end up? You know where, and it isn’t pretty.
In honor of Zenyatta’s sound retirement and the turn of the year, I’d like to ask racehorse owners across the country to consider making the following New Year’s resolution: You will try your very best to retire your horses from racing before their injuries reach the point of no return and prevent them from ever getting a second chance at a new life. Let’s begin the new decade with a generation of owners who are educated in, and dedicated to, the well-being and health of their horses both during and after their racing careers.

Racetracks are beginning to implement educational seminars for new owners. So, if you’re new to the “Sport of Kings” or you just want to re-dedicate yourself to the proper care of a Thoroughbred, contact your local track or its associated aftercare program (if it has one) to see if it is offering new owner seminars. If it’s not, encourage management to do so.

If your track does have an aftercare program, get to know the people there. Find out what resources they’ll have available for you when the time comes to make end-of-career decisions about your horses.

These programs want to help you find a good home for your horses. That’s why they are there. Just keep in mind that they can’t do their part if you don’t do yours. Give your horses a fighting chance to find an adoptive home. Retire them sound.

54 Comments

Leave a Comment:

Mike Relva

DR ORMAN

As a huge Zenyatta fan that's one of the things I admired regarding her connections place her welfare first. They are the gold standard for what all should aspire to be. I've zero respect for those that don't care about a horse when they are racing and retired. Far too many in this business that shouldn't be which draws my disdain!

04 Jan 2011 12:33 PM
sceptre

Dr. Orman,

Very important message you send, and thank you for the effort. Regarding your point about joint injections, would very much appreciate some more details. For instance, we have a filly that, over the course of time, has received several "injections" to her stifles, hocks, and in the most recent course, also her sacrum. We've been informed that what is injected is, essentially, non-steroidal, and should have no lasting deleterious effect unless given too frequently. Dr. Orman, would very much appreciate your take on what I've just conveyed.

04 Jan 2011 2:01 PM
Jean in Chicago

Dr. Orman (and Mike)

You're exactly right.  I think one of the reasons Zenyatta finished racing healthy was that she was allowed to grow up before she was pushed. Not that young horses should stand around twidling their hooves.  A lot of running around helps build muscle and bone, but too many owners are so enamoured of the big money (and glory) of 2yr and 3yr old races that they think only of being in the owner's box in the grandstand watching their horse in a big name race and nothing of whether the horse is really ready.

04 Jan 2011 2:54 PM
Zen's Auntie

"retire Them Sound"

Amen Dr O - OTT TB's can do about anything well if sound.  Add proper ground training to your retired TB and you have a product that earns a useful life full of pupose

04 Jan 2011 3:35 PM
Susan

Thank You so much for your article. I have been trying to adopt a horse that is currently racing-she has not won in some time and is running every 2-3 weeks in  4000.00 claiming races. Her owners really don't care about her as an individual-she's just a commodity. My purpose in adopting her is to allow her a well deserved rest and to never have to race again. Unfortunately, her owners will not give her up as long as she can race and hope that she'll be claimed eventually. Her fate isnt good as her next tier if she's claimed will be inferior tracks and owners that don't care. It is a too bad that her owners can't see the benefit of allowing her to retire with dignity. Thanks again for putting into words what I am experiencing.    

04 Jan 2011 3:58 PM
Karen in Indiana

Ever since Lava Man recovered as well as he did due to the stem cell treatments he received, I've been curious as to how much this treatment costs and why it isn't done more commonly. From what I've read, Lava Man's ankles sounded like they were in about the same shape - bone on bone, no cartilage. Any answers?

04 Jan 2011 4:57 PM
susan barry

thank you. I have wondered how fully sound (without soreness/layoff needs) Blame really was after the BCC--certainly Switch had to take time off and her trainer and owner admitted her soreness after racing against Zenyatta. Above all, we had remarkable owners and trainer of Zenyatta who are all too few today. Is an Eclipse Award really worth jeopardizing the health of the horse? I think of Rachel and being "pushed"(read repeatedly whipped) especially in her last, 2009 (for me, as a horse owner) excruciating Woodward win.

04 Jan 2011 5:24 PM
shesfast

This is a good article. I think that race tracks, racing authorities, and other racing groups should outlaw horses with injuries from racing. I believe that they are not supposed to be racing? But why is it still happening? I also do not understand what kind of veterinarian would say a horse has a suspensory injury when yeah it probably does cause its ankles are gone! Hello? I am not an x-ray tech but even i could prob tell wow this animal has a serious problem. Cortisone should not be used to put a horse on the track. That poor girl never should have been racing at all and makes me sad. This is one of the reasons that the sport is struggling. Most people don't want to see animals injured. I have some friends that decided to watch the BC this year, first race they watched and horse they picked, broke down! Bad luck yes! Needless to say they changed the channel...

I think that all race horses, racing, should have to undergo x-rays and such like twice a year, as well as MRI. Either they do that, or not allow racing at 2 and horses will be broke at 2 instead of 1yr. Make the 3yr old races 4 yr old races. I know that will never happen because racing is a business, but if you can't afford to feed the horse till its 3 without racing maybe those types need to get in another business. I think that horses should be treated differently than just business and more respected. Have them be a business, but seriously what happened to that mare and others is really wrong and sick. Or for susans friend the claimer mare to be forced to race because her owners or whatever are too poor to let her go for a better life.

To Susan: I know that there are prob thousands of other claimers that need homes, much like the mare you described, but if you really want her, i suggest claiming her. I don't know how that works, but if it cost 4 thou....i understand not everyone has that laying around...maybe set up a charity type of thing to raise the money to claim her. Like a website where people can donate, or do a series of fundraisers.

04 Jan 2011 5:39 PM
Liz O'Connell

Susan -- if you talk w a local 501-c-3 horse rescue, they may be able to get the horse donated to them, then you can foster/adopt it from the rescue. This way the owner can get a tax deduction for donating to a charity. I believe horses valued under $5000 do not need a cert appraisal. The rescue should know all this stuff.

04 Jan 2011 6:04 PM
RGGC

Thank you for that great article.

Even if just one owner has had his or her mind changed by the words you wrote, it would wonderful. Lets hope there are many who will heed your advice.

Lets hope for a better New Year for all homeless animals, big and small.

04 Jan 2011 6:07 PM
Oldie

I quite agree with those who appreciate the wisdom of allowing a horse to grow up before exposing him or her to the physical and mental pressure of racing.  Many moons ago when I was a youngster hungry for any information I could find about horses, I remember reading a book about training youngsters which explicitly cautioned readers against placing the weight of an adult human on a horse's back prior to age 3, and then only for short periods of time until the horse was 4.  Extreme perhaps, but the author's belief was that the horse's bones and ligaments were not fully developed until that age and could be damaged.  The bigger the horse, the greater the challenge to maintain soundness during growth.  I also remember reading, as I suspect many of my generation do, about training at a walk up and down hills to build strength, allowing a horse to run in a paddock periodically to keep its brain healthy, and teaching it manners because not only did it make the horse easier to manage in any situation, it taught self control.

But I digress.  Thanks Dr. Orman, this is a well written article and worthy advice to heed.

04 Jan 2011 6:30 PM
CanAmFam

Amen! Wonderful article - will share widely.

04 Jan 2011 6:32 PM
Sophie15

Dr. Orman,

I think one of the main reasons that Zenyatta retired sound was because her owners really care about her, and have always made the best decisions with her in mind. I wish all owners, not just of thoroughbred racehorses, but all horses would make the best decisions for their horses. I know that the racing industry has gotten a lot of criticism in recent years, but from what i've seen of other industries in the horse world, it's everywhere. I once took lessons at a reining horse barn, and saw an eight year old horse who had arthritis so bad he could hardly walk. Rules need to be put into place in the racing industry that do not allow horses to run unless they are completely sound, without being on any medications. Thank you very much for posting this article. This is an issue that the racing industry needs to do something about.

04 Jan 2011 7:05 PM
Barbara W

Well said!

04 Jan 2011 7:30 PM
Kathleen

Zenyatta's trainer held off in racing her until she was over 3 years old for the very reason that she wasn't fully developed, very gangly like a big kid I recall John Sheriff's saying. She was without injury throughout her career(after she started racing) and retired completely sound. Her dam and sire (Street Cry) were also very sound, sturdy stock; dam was recent broodmare of the year.

04 Jan 2011 8:55 PM
chris

Racing secretaries have to fill races, trainers have to keep their stalls occupied,foal crops are getting smaller, and we still race year round in most parts of the country...so the  Thoroughbred racehorse is asked to do more and more...greed, ignorance,misinformation, and desperation are the often the driving forces behind the careers of many Noble horses...I hope Dr Orman's message reaches owners and trainers everywhere....

04 Jan 2011 11:14 PM
Donut Jimmy

One of the things that could help the "run them one race too many" problem is to change the rules of claiming races. This has been proposed in some states but it is not common and certainly not universal.

By the current most common rules, the ownership of a claimed horse changes as soon as it breaks from the gate. If the horse steps out and drops dead, the new owner has claimed a corpse. It has been proposed in some jurisdictions, that in order for a claim to be valid, the horse must finish the race, not be eased, and must not be obviously unsound leaving the track under its own power. Essentially it must not make the vets list in that start.

A POLICY LIKE THIS SHOULD BE UNIVERSAL.

This removes some of the incentive to enter sore horses in races expressly to try to pass the problems off to other poor saps. It would not entirely solve the problems of running horses too long, but it would certainly help.

05 Jan 2011 12:39 AM
Donut Jimmy

Regarding Zenyatta and the wonderful fact that she retired sound. What a grand mare. I wish more breeders, owners, and trainers even strived for this.

Good management was a big part of this equation, and possibly because she was such a big horse, the patience shown by John Sherriffs and the Mosses was very important. She did not race until she was nearly four, and I can only assume from the spectacular results, that this was entirely appropriate for her.

But this does not mean that racing two-year-olds is bad.

I was someone who spent the first 35-40 years of my life decrying the racing of two-year-olds, and I was quite sure I would never be a part of racing any horse under the age of at least three. Imagine my surprise (and chagrin really) when the first large, scientific study looking at this issue concluded, fairly convincingly, that horses who made their first start at two, had longer careers than those who waited to race for the first time until they were three or older. I did not want to believe it, and in fact I did not believe it. I came up with several factors that could have skewed the results.

Then another large study was done in Europe. They looked at the age at which a horse raced for the first time, and the chances of that horse ever suffering a catastrophic injury. (even if the catastrophic injury happened when the horse was older.) The data showed that horses who made their first start at the age of two had the least chance of ever suffering a catastrophic injury. The chances of a horse suffering a catastrophic breakdown INCREASED the older the horse was when it made its first start. This was really startling to me, and it suggested the conclusions or the authors of the first study may have been accurate.

That this study was done in Europe was important, because there is a large number of horses intended for National Hunt racing, who make their first starts on the flat, but not until they are four or five. This is planned for these horses, rather than being the result of injury or unsoundness.

There was yet another study done in Australia that reportedly concluded the same thing.

I had to conclude that objective data suggest that if you are going to race a horse at all, and you want it to have the best chance at a long sound career without breaking down, you really should try to get it to the races at two.

So before you condemn racing two-year-olds, be sure you are not increasing their risks of injury rather than reducing them.

(There are some good physiologic reasons why racing two-year-olds is beneficial. Younger horses are better at adaptive changes than older horses. Bones, tendons, etc actually get stronger in response to correct conditioning. A horse is simply better at this when they are two, than later on as they age.)

Also it is important to realize that these are generalities, not every horse is the same. Maybe Zenyatta would have been just as sound if she had started earlier, maybe not. There are other things besides calander age that go into determining when a horse is mentally and physically prepared for racing. This is where true horsemanship comes in.

Recently I raced a two year old for the first time in my life. Notably she had her first race in the late Fall, not in spring, and she did not actually enter training until after she was 24 months old. So far, so good...

05 Jan 2011 1:24 AM
Rachel

I believed in the racing industry's assurancees they would address this abuse of the athelete that puts food on their table...30 years ago when I was a naive teen-ager.

05 Jan 2011 5:35 AM
Dawn in MN

Thank you Bloodhorse and thank you Dr. Orman for printing and writing this article about what is most important to the futures of horses racing today.  As a fan of Thoroughbred racing I always hope for a second career for the horses.  The issue of soundness is most important.  I frequently read the websites of the non-profits that rehabilitate and re-home off-track Thoroughbreds.  I look over the available horses and read the disclaimers related to race-track injuries.  For example things like “pasture companion only,” “no jumping,” etc.  A lot of the other problems they come with when they leave the track can be addressed in retirement, but soundness is forever.  I read an article about second careers some time ago where it was pointed out that the horses need to learn good ground manners and basic riding skills too.  I hope that owners get this message, and will try to keep in mind that these animals are living beings.  The horses deserve to be handled with careful consideration of their future.  It isn't fair to jeopardize the horse’s future for one more race.  

05 Jan 2011 5:58 AM
txhorsefan

Thank you for such an enlightening article.  My hope for the new year is that many owners and trainers will take these issues into consideration so that more horses will have a chance for a better life.  While we are disappointed to not have Zenyatta's races to look forward to and anticipate, we do need to celebrate every day that she was well cared for and retired sound and healthy.

05 Jan 2011 8:34 AM
Zen4Zen

Thanks, Dr. Orman, for the great article and the sound advice that I wish all racehorse owners would heed.

05 Jan 2011 8:40 AM
Lynne Veitch

This is such an excellent article.  Thanks for writing it Christine.  The rescues work so hard & need all the help, both financial & educational that they can get.  ReRun is one of the best organizations, I think.

05 Jan 2011 9:30 AM
M-D

Thank you, Dr Orman, for your frank & honest assessment of the treatment of many thoroughbreds injured in racing.

As someone who has directly participated in the rescue of thoroughbreds--both at the racetrack & at auctions-for-slaughter (principally at the horrific New Holland, PA auctions)& rehabilitation of many off-the-track thoroughbreds, I have witnessed firsthand--over & over again, the horrific physical condition of many thoroughbreds coming off the track.

I could not agree more with your assessment--& with your plea for more compassionate treatment.

However, you neglect to mention & discuss what I would suggest is the even greater incidence/prevalence of mental and/or psychological pathology afflicting many thoroughbred racers (coming off the tracks).

Many, many thoroughbred races/ex-racers are afflicted with a host of psychological disorders, many owing to the social isolation thoroughbreds in racing suffer at training facilities & certainly at the tracks.  

These thoroughbreds are often unsocialized to the (close physical presence) of other horses & evince a wide range of pathologic stereotypic behaviors, many of which can be attributed to their social isolation & being kept in a stall for approximately 20 hours per day--& rarely if ever being turned out in a paddock with at least one other horse.

The range of pathologic stereotypic behaviors that many off-the-track thoroughbreds evince include weaving, cribbing (true wind-sucking), constant circling, & heightened aggression towards humans & non-humans (alike) when faced with the prospect of another (human or non-human) approaching (let alone attempting to or actually entering) their stalls.

In addition to the psychological complications or disorders caused by living in isolation at the track, there are conditions and/or caused/created by the way thoroughbreds at the track are fed AND handled.  

Feeding a horse 10-14 pounds (or more) per day of concentrated feed (principally constituted of carbohydrate-rich grains, combined with being stall-bound for 18-20 hours—or more per day, almost inevitably & uniformly results in horses being highly energetic, anxious, & psycho-physiologically stressed.

This stress is almost universally manifest in another common physical pathology not mentioned: Equine Gastric Ulcer Syndrome (EGUS).  

It is has been estimated (a finding widely documented in the clinical/epidemiologic literature) that upwards of 90% of thoroughbreds at the track experience EGUS, which is a debilitating & extraordinarily painful--& serious, medical condition.

Diagnosing (via gastric endoscopy) & treating EGUS is a VERY, very expensive undertaking.

I have personally been involved in rehabilitating nearly 11 off-the-track thoroughbreds (OTTBs) with diagnosed EGUS & it was not too long ago that the daily omeprazole medication cost $50 per dose (which is typically given once per day)--& the treatment often extends through two months!

Regarding the problems caused/created by the handling of thoroughbreds (at the track): Many—if not all, of former thoroughbreds in racing were handled with chain-shanks placed either over-the-lip or over-the-nose, with twitches, & led on short shanks with no slack in the lead rope or shank.

Thoroughbreds handled in this way coming off the track have no idea & no experience in how to comport themselves in & around a barn without such aversion-based handling & control devices--& for those who have to work with & handle OTTBs who are conditioned to being handled with such aversion-based control devices, it is no mean (or easy) feat to re-train them to comport themselves around a barn without being subjected to the pain caused by such aversion-based or pain-inducing control devices--& it takes a substantial, sustained, & systematic effort to re-train & habituate (not always successfully mind you) OTTBs to life without resorting to pain-inducing control devices.

I bring up these matters because it is often beyond the horsemanship of most non-professional horse people to take on the challenge & responsibility of healing the psychological injuries suffered by thoroughbreds in racing & to re-condition (behaviorally) them to life outside of & after racing.

For these reasons, I & horse people much more experienced & accomplished than I am, do not recommend that amateur & non-professional horse people—let alone those who come out of the Pony Club tradition, take on the task of re-conditioning & re-training an OTTB without the benefit of someone who has direct & proven (successful) experience in re-conditioning & re-training off-the-track thoroughbreds.

What you advocate for, Dr Orman, would in my estimation constitute the very least that those in the thoroughbred breeding & racing industries should be required to do & provide for the horses.  What I am recognizing & advocating for, which is for the psychological well-being & mental health of thoroughbreds in racing, would constitute a paradigmatic shift in consciousness, awareness, treatment, commitment, &, yes, investment by those in the thoroughbred breeding, sales, & racing industries.

I confess to having little hope that such a paradigmatic shift will occur in my lifetime.

05 Jan 2011 9:30 AM
LouAnn Cingel of Union, Missouri

This was an exceptionally wonderful and informative article.  Let's just hope the people that need to read this, do.  It is all about the horse and I hope that this year, the people that own racehorses, do what is right by their horse!!  Please, don't set your horse up for a death sentence!  Horses deserve to live their lives off the racetrack in dignity!

Prayers, Love & Blessings to the horses!!

05 Jan 2011 9:41 AM
Polly

Thank you for this outstanding article and I agree ex-racehorses that are sound have a better chance to be adopted.  One must be careful though who adopts these animals.  

I rescued my fifth ex-racehorse two years ago.  His first retirement home was at a Hunter barn where he was ridden until he was lame. At 16--he was headed for a 200-acre pasture to fend for himself. So I rescued him from certain slow death by starvation.  On occassion I ride him but only if he is having a good day. He will spend the rest of his life fed twice a day, given meds for his medical conditions, and pampered beyond belief.  He softly nickers at me everytime he sees me as if to say "thank you."  

My previous rescue went from the track to a Hunter barn too.  Because of his heart and good work ethic, he was pushed to jump huge fences, until he refused due to  pain and lameness--then donated to a riding school where no one could ride him. When I finally got him he was completely broke down--but through gentle care came back to become a good trail horse and companion for my daughter.  Sadly he died in a pasture accident at age 22.    

05 Jan 2011 12:44 PM
frankie conditions

Dr.Orman thank you for your insight and suggestions. I have owned individually and in partnerships racehorses. We have also retired and rehabilitated some of our own that went on for our daughters to be jumpers, eventers, hunters, etc. It takes time and $.

I think some, far from all, owners would heed your message, however let's remeber the "trainers". Not many of them are interested in "losing" their day rate and their "1 more shot' at a pay day. Most owners don't know a tendon from "colic" and trainers often keep them in the dark. Their slef interest are not always aligned with the horses or the owners.the owner gets a bill with their day rate , shoeing, and vet work.

What standards are the vets held to or do they give the trainer options and they render the a decision that the owner merely pays for ? It's pretty common knowledge in racing circles that certain "trainers" are "chemists". I know I'm not painting a pretty picutre but I think I offer another viewpoint . We have all seen the horses that are "dropped down" where the trainer hopes for a win and a claim so the owner still has some 4 to "re-invest". short term thinking for sure, but most , yes most, of these trainers live week to week.

Friends of mine just bought a thoroughbred privately sight unseen and the horse was loaded with worms, her teeth were 6 months past needing to be floated and she was 150 pounds underweight. she ran 2 days before she was sold ! now how many owners do you think even know that horses teeth have to be floated ?

fondly,

05 Jan 2011 1:01 PM
jf

Great points!  Very well written.

05 Jan 2011 1:30 PM
Elaine

Apparently science isn't important to some. EVERY STUDY (EVERY STUDY!) ever done shows that horses that race at two are sounder and race longer than those that don't.

Let's find a scientific study (not antedotes) that proves otherwise before spouting that unproven argument again.

05 Jan 2011 1:43 PM
Dona

Your article certainly highlights just how special the ZENYATTA TEAM were.

Thank you for you take on this problem. Unfortunatly, unless it's mandatory, I can't see the Racing Industry really getting behind this problem. The responsibile parties are going to do what they can even if some need a carrot such as a tax deductible donation but the ill-willed are there and unless stopped by monotoring and  regulation, the plight of Misty will continue to the demise of racing.

05 Jan 2011 3:45 PM
Ditty

wonderful article...Thank you.

As to Stem cell... yes it works, refer to www.Vet-Stem.com. As a therapist it is just amazing the results on a lot of different issues.  No I am not associated with Vet-Stem in any capacity. I have personal experience that it works..  as for price, very affordable, one harvest 24 hour turn around and stem cells stored indefinately for furture use..

Again thanks Dr.O for the aricle.  

05 Jan 2011 3:45 PM
WT

The owners are generally not the ones choosing to inject joints. It's the trainers. The owners don't know about it until they get the vet bill.

05 Jan 2011 5:36 PM
Carol

Dr Orman,

It seems to me that if a horse is repeatedly being injected with cortizone then it is a veterinarian doing this.  Perhaps the vets need to think about what they are doing and maybe refuse to repeatedly inject horses joints.  I don't think you can entirely blame the owners, most of them leave the decisions to their trainers.  Both trainers and vets have the ability to say no

05 Jan 2011 6:02 PM
FlyFilly

As someone who used to work with a rescue, I was always astonished by the answer I heard provided a few times by owners who didn't retire horses sound--"But can't you just use him as a pasture buddy or something?" The answer, in most cases, is no, although we will always try.

Owners of larger farms who have a handful of pasture friends or nurse mares tend not to understand that (especially in these economic times), retiring a horse "pasture sound" alone isn't enough to guarantee its secure future. In our business lives we all seek to become more multi-talented, adaptable, useful in order to survive and sadly, those needs extend to our pets in some cases--they have to be rideable, at least a little. Very, very rarely did we adopt out horses for lives of leisure as buddies or playmates since the market crash. People just can't afford it anymore, and your horse can't afford you to take chances with its future. Please read this, and pass it on.

05 Jan 2011 7:00 PM
Terry

I wish every single Thoroughbred owner and trainer would pay attention to this article. When horses are big (Quality Road was over 16 hands as a yearling!) there is a temptation to treat them as adult horses. That is part of the problem too. If horse racing would just eliminate 2-year-old stakes races altogether, that might help remove the temptation to race these babies too soon because of the big bucks.

05 Jan 2011 8:02 PM
Scenceable

shes fast- racehorses are x rayed a lot. Way more often than twice a year. These horses are vet checked all the time. The checking isn't the problem. Not enough people act on the soreness.

I think 2 year old racing should be totally phased out. I saw awesome feather in person and wanted to cry. That horse looks like a yearling and has run 6 times already. Ugh

06 Jan 2011 12:00 AM
Rita

This was very good, sure hope many of these trainers read it.  We need Steve Haskins to support this article to get more exposure.  

06 Jan 2011 9:40 AM
Pat

Christine - this is an amazing article and I thank you so much for writing it. I hope that those who should read it...do so!

06 Jan 2011 10:48 AM
goodwin

Thank you for this article. As an owner of an OTTB with a broken hock for the last eight years, I understand first hand how these poor horses are limited in their abilities after the track has taken their best years. I tried to "find a home' for him, but realized that I would have to be that home, because of an understanding of his limitations.

The most prevailing problem is the whole claiming structure of racing. It provides a downward ladder for these equine athletes, and you can watch as last year's allowance runners start being put up in claiming races at lesser and lesser amounts. Then, they can always be shipped to a willing trainer at one of the grade b tracks to run for even less money, until the claiming value is more than the value of the horse, and then we know what happens. Perhaps there should be a rule that any horse cannot run at  a certain lesser amount than it's best win, or some other stop-gap measure, which would prevent this downward slide of the horses' value, as their ability to compete diminishes with compiling physical issues.

06 Jan 2011 11:30 AM
Teddy's Mom

Thank you for this beautiful piece. You are so right. The Mosses deserve "Owners of the Year" - and decade! - for putting Zenyatta's welfare first throughout her career and enabling her to race sound, healthy and happy through her six-year-old year. In another owner's hands, she might have been pushed when too young and still growing, and been injured or worse.

06 Jan 2011 1:15 PM
Susan in Kentucky

Last summer 2010 we took in a fantastic 8 YO race mare who could no longer run (she had been placed on her track's vet list).   We were looking for a potential broodmare and she is exactly what we wanted.  X-rays here show 2 small bone chips in one fetlock, but since "retiring" she is now running around like a 2 YO !!  She has a forever home and is living a VERY pampered life.  After +6 years on the track with numerous wins + earning a ton of money for her connections, she deserved better than a dog food can.  And she got it with us !!  But how many other ex-racers end up in Canada or Mexico ??  Sad situation and the owners need to step up to the plate and take more responsibility.

06 Jan 2011 2:27 PM
charles stevens

Why do they allow two year olds to race, or train for

racing as threes?  The bones have not finished growing and fully connecting at the knee bone until they are two. Since a horse's age is dated from the 1st of January this means that any horse born late in the year is way underdeveloped  when started as a "2" which he or she could really be 18, 20 or less months old.

06 Jan 2011 2:37 PM
Pam Graham

Beautiful resolution!  Thank you so much for advocating for this.

06 Jan 2011 3:09 PM
anita from missouri

It is so sad when greed wins out over respect of life. These horses give their all, they should be treated with dignity and given the care they deserve.

06 Jan 2011 6:48 PM
Catherine

Where are the ethics of the vets who continue to "mask" the horses pain enabling the trainer to continue racing a horse that without injections is not sound. The whole racing business is just sickening. There are so few fairy tales sadly. It is not just the racing industry that has this issue,lets face it.

What about the breeders who just breed and breed without thought of trying to breed sounder healthier, better quality horses. I live near Ocala and constantly see hundreds of yearlings in fields. Do these breeders really need to breed so many horses. The mind just boggles at the amount of backyard breeding out there that just compounds the unwanted horse situation.

Breeders should strive to breed sound healthy strong horses not just randomly, like they are trying to win the lottery......

06 Jan 2011 7:23 PM
Susan

Yesterday I wrote about my experience in trying to rescue a mare from a probable heartbreaking ending.  

Thanks everyone for the advise. I appreciate it.

After following this mare for all her career, and all her trainers and owners, I did get in touch with a great organization in California who spoke to the trainer on my behalf. They feel eventually she'll get claimed to an inferior track and they'll be able to recapture their investment. I realize that they are not likely to give her up as long as they can get her into the gate-even if she runs last, they are willing to chance her fate against the possibility of her paying a bill.

In watching her pass from owner to owner, I can see that she has given up. She isnt bright-she doesnt care. Its so sad

In an event, my intent is to claim her in a few months-just hope she can hold out another 90 days.

I own show horses-when my horses end their careers they spend their days enjoying life relaxing away from horse shows. I would never own a horse that I couldnt afford-they are commitments-they are family.

06 Jan 2011 8:04 PM
Cindi

I cannot thank you enough for posting this opinion and see a number of good ideas expressed in the comments.

I frequent what qualifies as a grade b track with low level claiming races. Thankfully, the majority of owners care for and about their horses (it is definitely horse country and it shows)but I always worry where the horses go after their final race, and it is on my mind the whole time I'm there. It is bittersweet - I love the horses, love to watch them run, and they are handled and treated very well at the track.

TB's are extremely smart and versatile and if owners think about their whole life from the get go, conditions will certainly improve for the horses. Thanks again for the blog.

06 Jan 2011 8:58 PM
Convene

Yup! The horse really must come first. Another argument for going back to that long-ago time BB (Before Bute et al). The horse knew he was sore - and the trainer knew too. If he decided to persist anyway, the signs were usually there for the officials to see and (if they were doing their jobs) scratch the horse. With today's new diagnostic methods, we should be able to do even better - and it's high time we did!

Just a thought ... With no evidence, hinted or otherwise, that Blame did not retire sound, it's sort of unfair to suggest perhaps he didn't. He doesn't deserve that, nor do his connections.

06 Jan 2011 9:02 PM
Claudia

I purchased a 6 year old OTT TB mare March of 2010. The current owner had rescued her and she was underweight. I traced her tattoo and learned a, "celebrity" owned her. She was raced for two years. During the slow work she held up fine, month 6 we stepped it up and she injured a stifle.Pretty complex injury and she stumped 2 vets. 1 vet had prior track experience. we've been rehabbing the stifle and I can't help but wonder if this complex injury was why she was retired off the track and discarded. I would love to recommend to others to purchase or adopt an OTT TB, but I don't know if I'd do it again. The racing owners do not appear to be concerned with the after life of these animals. Sad state of society.

06 Jan 2011 11:27 PM
Micheala Chilton

A very sad article for me to read, I am an ex groom/track rider from the uk who spent 20+ yeas working with some of the best horses in the uk, here we cannot inject horses with steriods and race them it is a banned substance and as horses are routinely dope tested at the racecourse it will be picked up and the trainer will be fined on the first time, second time a ban will be given. We here in the uk have national hunt racing which causes even more stress to joints ligaments and tendons, however if a horse has an injury the correct treatment is given with time off. I am studying a degree in equine business management at present with the ambition of opening my own thoroughbred rehab centre for both racing and retraining, I have my own thoroughbred ex racer who I got from a centre, years ago there were no homes for theses horses to go to after racing, but now it is well funded and promoted, although there are still nowhere near enough places for all the retiring horses. There are many classes specifically for ex racers here in every single dicipline and there is much televised racing here where the promotion of retraining is advertised. I think firstly the USA must ban the injecting of joints in racers to stop this happening, I find it appalling that this kind of thing goes on, it is totally unacceptable to run a horse to the point that it is broken beyond repair. Somebody needs to bring this to the attention of the racing authorities in the USA so that it stops.

07 Jan 2011 4:41 AM
Robin

I worked  on the track for many years and most trainers do horrible things to their horses just to win a race for their owners. The owners have no idea what the vets have done to get the horse to the race.They get their picture taken in the winners circle and have no idea how bad the horse is doing the day after the race.

07 Jan 2011 11:46 AM
Jean in Chicago

Elaine & Donut Jimmy, I don't think its 2yr old RACING that is so helpful, its the early CONDITIONING that is vital.  But my point is that each horse is an individual and needs to be evaluated as such.  Go back and look at the lists of early hot prospects for the Derby and count up how many of them actually made it into the gate.  And these days the pressure is even greater to race youngsters since a really good horse may not even be able to run in the Derby because he/she doesn't have enough purse money accumulated.

Convene, I agree about the days before Bute.  Running sore horses with pain masking meds just increases the danger, not only to them, but also to their riders.  

07 Jan 2011 5:45 PM
Mary Johnson

Thank you, Dr. Orman, for standing up for the "discarded" horses of the racing industry. Everything you have stated is "right on". Many of these so called owners/trainers have very little regard for the welfare of these athletes AFTER these horses are no longer able to earn a few dollars. I have personal experience with these low level horses who have nowhere to go because of their injuries. As a proud member of the non-racing public, I am tired of picking up the broken bodies. I now want the racing industry to be accountable, and, until they are, I continue to applaud the industry's precipitous decline.

07 Jan 2011 5:48 PM
husker02

Excellent article.

If only all race horse owners could follow the examples shown by the connections of the Great Zenyatta.

They held her back till she was age 3, and it seems to have paid off.

She is a healthy retired girl now.

Zenyatta had a perfect family that truly cared about her health and well being. The Mosses' and Sheriffs' and the groom and all that touched Zenyatta's life has shown the industry how its done.

Best to ReRun and all they do to help Thoroughbred's.

13 Jan 2011 10:00 PM

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