If you could use a two-word racing term to best describe the
ever-growing issue of horse slaughter it would be "blinkers off."
After so many years of apathy and ignorance when it comes to the
horrific end so many of our Thoroughbreds are subjected to in the name of
greed, we indeed are starting to remove the blinkers and are actually taking an
active role in preventing this barbaric practice through the rescuing of
countless horses from the kill pens, thanks to tireless work and donations of
But the battle is just beginning. It is
going to take a concentrated industry effort to prevent the equine
warriors--without whom the sport would not exist--from meeting such a cruel fate.
One person who has taken the reins and addressed this issue
head-on, along with the general welfare of the Thoroughbred, is Fox Hill Farm
owner Rick Porter, who has had numerous champions and top horses, such as
Songbird, Havre de Grace, Hard Spun, Round Pond, and Eight Belles, and Jostle.
Porter has formed the National Thoroughbred Welfare Organization
(NTWO), which will "pull from all available resources to be a comprehensive welfare
organization that protects racing's greatest asset--the horse--for the overall
benefit of the sport."
racing, we have many organizations and individuals who put forth much time,
effort, and money into equine welfare, specifically retirement and retraining,"
Porter said. "In recent years we've seen the efforts grow through new
organizations like the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance (TAA), and tracks and
sales companies getting involved with support of local rescue
organizations. We've also seen the growth of many organizations and
individuals using social media for their efforts.
commend all these efforts and owe a debt of gratitude for all that they have
done and continue to do. What is missing, however, is a national industry
organization which can be pointed to as an all-encompassing equine welfare
feels that society continues to grow more sensitive to animal welfare issues,
and Thoroughbred racing has been a step behind.
decades, the sight of a suffering horse on track with a catastrophic breakdown
has done its damage to the sport," he said. "In today's world, with 24-hour
news and social media, Thoroughbred racing is under a microscope like never
before. The sport takes a daily pummeling on social media due to our
Thoroughbreds basically being extorted for hundreds or thousands of dollars to
"bail them out" of feedlots. A price and date are given, with the promise
that the horse will be shipped to slaughter if these conditions aren't
simply cannot have any stance other than slaughter being an unacceptable end
for its horses. We cannot be seen as an industry driven only by greed,
which disposes of its horses that are no longer useful to an inhumane
ending. Most of us are more responsible than to knowingly send our horses
to slaughter, but the few who do cast a very damning shadow upon us all."
the efforts of the NTWO, Porter envisions the solution to the "feedlot
extortion" problem is to secure discarded horses before they end up in the
hands of feedlot owners and slaughter buyers. In the short term, it may require
watching over the small auctions where these horses are funneled and outbidding
slaughter buyers. The long-term solution is to stop the pipeline flow at
the source, which is at the track.
should knowingly allow or turn a blind eye to trainers on their grounds who are
turning over horses to potential slaughter," Porter said. "The tracks who
allow this are doing a great disservice to the sport."
plans to work with tracks, The Jockey Club, and state governing bodies to
revoke licensing and registration abilities for those who knowingly engage in
practices that result in their horses ending up in feedlots or at slaughter
plants. The organization will offer local resources to trainers and owners
as alternatives. It will be there to help owners and trainers who find
themselves in a bad situation, but insists it will not be used simply as a
dumping ground for the unethical or inhumane horsemen.
weeks ago, I wrote about this issue and the Herculean efforts of people like
Dina Alborano, who continuously give of themselves to rescue as many horses as
humanly possible from the kill pens, mainly through donations and the
cooperation of local farms to house and help the horses recover from their
ordeal. Now it is hoped all these efforts can be consolidated on a national
scale through the work of the NTWO. It will investigate claims of abuse
and bring help to horses in need.
area in which the NTWO will work is on-track deaths.
events aren't just traumatic for the horse and their connections, but for
onlooking fans," said Porter, who had to endure the agony of watching his filly
Eight Belles suffer a fatal breakdown while pulling up after finishing second
to Big Brown in the Kentucky Derby. "Just one incident can drive a fan away
from the sport forever--or worse, become a vocal critic of the sport. We
will never be able to prevent all on-track deaths, as some are truly unforeseen
accidents, but we can certainly reduce their incidence, and our vigilance may
keep fans from turning away from us."
The industry has made strides in this area.
The Jockey Club Equine Injury Database reported a catastrophic breakdown rate
of 2.00 per 1,000 starts in its first year, 2009. In 2016 that number had been
reduced to 1.54 per 1,000 starts. The rate for the 2017 racing season is
expected to be released this month.
Porter said the organization will monitor
which horsemen have high breakdown rates.
are aware of their horses' issues and make choices in how to deal with those
issues, what activity they will require of the horse, and when they will stop
on the horse. The conscientious horsemen will make wise choices that
don't endanger the lives and limbs of the horses as well as the riders and all
those who could be in the path of a fallen horse. When the data shows that
certain horsemen have higher-than-normal on-track deaths or permanent maiming,
then these horsemen aren't being as conscientious as they should be. They
are playing Russian roulette with the lives of horses and riders. For these
horsemen, racing is not for them, and we will again work with the tracks, local
racing authorities, and the Jockey Club to invoke penalties including
revocation of licenses for these horsemen."
As in all
new projects, the plan is to start slowly and gradually expand, starting with
one region at a time and gathering successful ideas from those regions. To
start, the NTWO will be concentrating on the kill pens in Louisiana, which were
alluded to in my last column in regard to the rescues of numerous horses with
the help of Alborano and the many conscientious fans who donated money for
Keith, executive vice president of Fox Hill Farm, got the ball rolling by going
to one of the auctions to get a lay of the land and hopefully find the people
to act as NTWO's agents in the state, covering tracks and training centers.
"One of the people I met with was Rosie Napravnik, who I'd
heard shared an interest in helping the horses in Louisiana," Keith
said. "I told her I planned to go to Dominique's livestock auction in
Baton Rouge on Monday, and she wanted to go with me. (Trainer) Larry Jones
and his assistant George Barnes also planned to go."
I will let Keith tell the rest of this sad and harrowing
adventure that would sicken anyone who loves horses and who makes a living from
Thoroughbred racing. It was a sight that surely would inspire anyone to take
action and help in any way they can.
"We arrived at Dominique's around 11:15, with the auction
set to start at 12:00. The old wooden barn had dozens of pens with cows,
goats, pigs, and of course horses in them. Workers and visitors mostly
made their way around by walking on rickety catwalks that ran just above the
pen walls. We finally figured out how to get to the ground, and made our way
among the pens. Larry went into the pens holding horses to check the lips
of those who looked like they could be Thoroughbreds. It was sad. With
just a few exceptions, the horses we were seeing were stunted, or starving, or
injured. It was hard to look at this gorgeous Palomino who looked so kind
yet had been dumped there with a left hind ankle that was swollen the size of
two grapefruits. Or the yearling who was looking around showing the whites
of his eyes in fear of his surroundings.
"We weren't finding any Thoroughbreds yet, but trailers
were still being pulled in. Suddenly a couple horses showed up in the
chute, and even from afar, we could easily see that Thoroughbreds had
arrived. Those two were quickly joined by three more. Eventually they
were prodded down the aisle and driven into a pen. They scrambled in their
racing plates over a concrete step-up into the pen, with one bay banging its
head badly on this pipe that ran across the top of the stall
doorway. Larry and Rosie went to find a way to get to their pen, while I
looked over from the catwalk. Larry found the only way in, as he climbed
over the pen fencing from outside the barn. Employees were watching and I
thought we may get kicked out. One hollered at Larry and came rushing up
to the pen. Surprisingly, he only asked that Larry pull off the twine
ropes that were hanging off a few of their halters.
"The horses were frightened, unused to being put together
in a pen, and not familiar with their surroundings. They were kicking and
pushing their way around each other, and Larry was making his way through the
horses, mindful to not get himself kicked. He finally caught hold of the
halter of the first horse, a light gray horse. He lifted up the lip and
read the tattoo to Rosie on the other side of the fence. She texted the
number up to me and I looked it up on the Jockey Club site."
The team was able to put numbers to three horses and
identify their names. The fourth horse eluded Jones and the fifth had an
One horse, a 6-year-old gray or roan mare-white to the
eye--had last raced Feb. 8, 2018 at Delta Downs and did not finish the race.
Another, a 4-year-old gelding, had last raced Jan. 20 at Fair Grounds Race
Course & Slots. And the other was an unraced 4-year-old filly.
Keith continued, "The goats were the first to sell once
the auction started. Then came the horses. A man who knew we were
there had met up with us earlier, and he told us he'd come with the
instructions to buy the five Thoroughbreds. After watching horse after horse
after horse go through the ring, with almost all of them bought by Jacob
Thompson, I let myself past this man and leaned down and told him, ‘Get them,
I'll help out if you need it.' If they were prepared to outbid Thompson, I
figured they planned to go to probably at least $1,200, but in the event there
was a max budget on each, I was offering to make up the difference so that he
could make another bid or two if need be.
"I went back to the pen and watched the inept attempts by
the workers to drive these Thoroughbreds out of their pen. Instead of
leading any of them by the halter or lead rope, they were being slapped on the
hind ends with a mop. The result was the horses running side to side and
around the pen, but not out the door. I went back to join Larry and Rosie
to watch the Thoroughbreds go through. It took them awhile longer to get
the horses there, but finally the first Thoroughbred came in. The bidding
was fast, starting at $500 and going quickly back and forth at $25 increments
between Jacob Thompson and the man who was to buy the Thoroughbreds. He
outbid Jacob on three. For some reason, he let the one Thoroughbred who
hadn't come right off the track go to Jacob Thompson for $500, while he paid
about $1,500 each for the three he bought. We wondered where the white
mare was. I headed back to the pen, and Rosie followed.
"I hurried down the catwalk, noting that a crowd had
gathered around the pen. I was horrified when I got there and saw what was
happening. They had devised a winch to get the mare out of the pen. A
rope was attached to her halter, pulled out the pen door and run through a
handle across the aisle. The rope was then pulled back into the pen next
Napravnik had caught the cruelty on video.
Keith continued, "I had called down from that catwalk
twice to please not do that, that I'd come lead her out, but they wouldn't take
me up on the offer.
(The mare) went through the ring bloodied, and the man
again outbid Jacob Thompson for her. We exchanged numbers with the man and
headed to our vehicles. We were saddened by all the poor horses we saw
that day who would be heading to slaughter, still horrified by the treatment of
Red Hot Sensation, but glad that four of the Thoroughbreds were safe and
wouldn't be extorted on social media or possibly also end up on a truck if no
one came through with their ‘bail.'"
Keith wants this experience shared with the public in the
hope it will serve as a catalyst for action. She says this is what the industry to stop and what the NTWO is all about.
"The industry must provide security to our horses and give
the help needed at the lower end (particularly) of the sport," she
said. "We cannot leave it to others, as it's certainly not working that
way. Nor is it their responsibility--it is the industry's responsibility."
Downs closes this weekend, and the full brother with the same connections to
the white mare runs on Friday, making it a perfect time to announce the
formation of the NTWO.
The logical question is how is everything going to be
"We're starting one area at a time," Keith
said. "Louisiana has the most need, so we're starting there. We are
looking to line up as many agents as needed to represent us at the tracks,
training centers, and livestock auctions where they may be run
through. The need for us to man the auctions should decrease over time as
we get everyone on board with turning over their horses to us instead of
slaughter buyers and their middlemen."
In providing an example of how the organization will work,
Keith said, "I've found the perfect person to be the track agent at Fair
Grounds. I talk to the execs at Fair Grounds, tell them about our program
and the assistance we're bringing, and ask them to be a ‘Member Track' of our
organization. This means they: 1) have a no slaughter policy,
2) will allow our agent on the backside to interact with the trainers to offer
our assistance in re-homing their horses and to put up posters in every barn
giving our hotline number and other information (we plan on putting out health
and safety and other informational articles/newsletters as well), 3) will
work with us to find solutions to problems as they arise (such as a trainer who
refuses to use our services and we're finding his horses in jeopardy, etc). We
will also ask that they give us X number of stalls to house horses for those
trainers who are so desperate that getting the horse out of his stall seems to
be the deal maker or breaker.
"It is expected that we will be talking with them and the
local racing commissions to implement stricter policies that can result in not
just the loss of stalls but the loss of the ability to race (either by a track
refusing to accept an entry if that is legal for them to do so, and/or getting
the racing commission to implement rules that result in suspension or
revocation of licenses).
track agent spends many/most mornings on the backside of the track,
familiarizing him or herself with the trainers and their horses, talking about
whether they have any horses in need, reminding of our existence and ability to
help them, reminding them that if they stop in time, before they completely
break the horse down, that we can sell the horse for them more quickly and for
more money than if they wait to hand us over a broken down horse, etc. The
agent should be a friend to all on the backside and there and ready to help."
Keith said the track agent is almost certainly going to be
a paid position, and they are modeling the position after a woman who
is known to re-home horses (but for profit, not as a non-profit) named Amy
Paulus, who has been taking horses from Turfway and other places and re-homing
about 600 horses a year, selling to sport horse trainers and riders, for an
average of $1,500 per horse. She takes a commission, and the trainer/owner
get the bulk of the sale.
"We plan to offer the same to our trainers/owners," Keith
added. "Turn the horse over to our agent. The agent comes out to the
barn and takes photos and video and posts the horse for sale on our
website. Our organization will take a 20% commission with the remainder
going to the owner/trainer. From that commission, we will be paying our
agent and using the remainder to fund the program. Amy Paulus can refuse
to take certain horses, while we cannot, so we will have more
expenses. But we will be trying to sell the majority of the horses
directly off the track to sport horse buyers and trainers, without having the
expense of vanning to farms and stay at farms. Unfortunately, we may find
ourselves being handed horses who require euthanasia as the most humane option
for that horse and a trainer or owner unwilling to pay for it. In those
cases, we have to do what's right for the horse.
"We will network with existing accredited or trusted
vanning companies and farms and rescue/retraining organizations for layovers,
quarantine, recuperation, and moving of horses. We expect to have to pay
for their services, but also expect discounted prices. Also, we will have
one or more agents to represent us at the local livestock auction(s) near the
Fair Grounds. Because this won't be nearly as time-consuming as our track
and training center agents' job, these are far more likely to be volunteer
positions. Our track agent may wish to be the agent at one or more
out that horses coming right off the track aren't the only ones showing up at
slaughter auctions. There are breeding farms who are likewise sending
horses there. The NTWO plans to talk to The Jockey Club about revocation
of Stud Book privileges for those who knowingly dispose of their horses this
way. These farms will be getting the word of the organization's existence
and their hotline number to call for help, if needed.
concluded by saying, "We are excited about the creation of the NTWO. It is
past time that we had an organization that speaks for the horse in every area
in which they need and deserve our protection. Let us never forget that we
owe everything to the Thoroughbred."
The National Thoroughbred Welfare
Organization may be reached at 859-227-5441.