By: Erin Shea, @BH_EShea
Bridging the gap between racing and riding has always been a key component to successfully moving retired Thoroughbreds off the track and into new homes. Since not all racing owners and trainers have the ability and time to track down potential new owners for their former charges, and not every area is serviced by an aftercare organization, where can they turn?
The Retired Racehorse Project is trying to answer that question with a proposed idea called the Racetrack Rehoming Agent Initiative. The concept is fairly simple: rehoming agents, likely employed through the local horsemen's groups, will act as liaisons between the horsemen and the potential buyer or aftercare organization.
"If you have a racehorse and it's time to move that horse on, you need to know your options," said Steuart Pittman, founder of the Retired Racehorse Project. "There are so many different channels and different ways to go about it—and they depend not only on the horse's owner but also on the condition of the horse. The rehoming agent is just a person to assist the owners and trainers and people on the backside."
The challenging aspect will be finding qualified individuals who have the right connections, personality, skills, and desire to help horses move into second careers. According to the RRP's concept paper, the rehoming agent would be responsible for evaluating retiring horses on request of owners and trainers, noting potential second careers; listing horses for sale or seek placement with aftercare organizations or local farms; coordinating track visits by buyers and evaluating buyer suitability; creating and filing standardized purchase agreements, along with sharing veterinary records and coordinating pre-purchase exams among other relevant tasks.
According to the RRP, another benefit would be more data on Thoroughbred retirement. In theory, through the rehoming agent's purchase agreement, the agent would know when a horse retires from their local track and where that horse went. Sharing that data could be a positive story for racing to show that horses are being cared for after their racing careers are finished.
While Pittman acknowledged aftercare organizations, private resellers, and others who help facilitate moving horses off the track may feel that their positions are threatened by this initiative, he said he envisions the agents working in tandem with aftercare organizations, resellers, and horsemen. There are enough horses coming off the track and more than enough work to go around.
"If you think about every player in the aftercare side... it really simplifies life for them," he said. "The aftercare organizations need somebody at the racetrack who knows when (the organizations) have openings, who knows what kinds of horses they will or won't take, and who knows their system.
"The private resellers might think, 'The rehoming agent is going to take business away from me.' The reality is that I've not met anybody who (resells horses) who feels that way—they are OK with not doing as many."
While the idea is still in a preliminary stage, Pittman has been shopping it around to get opinions and feedback. After presenting it at the National Horsemen's Benevolent & Protective Association convention in Las Vegas in March, a few horsemen really took notice.
"To me, it sounded like a home run, it's just a matter of getting it off the ground," said Jon Moss, executive director of the Iowa Horsemen's Benevolent & Protective Association. "When he presented it, I wanted to jump on it and get some feelers out there initially. So far the feedback has been pretty positive, it's just a matter of coordinating and coming up with a workable model for us in the Midwest."
Since Thoroughbred racing in Iowa at Prairie Meadows is seasonal (this year running April 27-Aug. 12), Moss said that the Iowa HBPA would likely look to partner with neighboring tracks, possibly in Arkansas and Oklahoma, to have a rehoming agent work the entire region.
"Trainers, guys on the backside, and owners, don't have time (to navigate the paths to aftercare)," Moss said, acknowledging that a few of his horsemen do use their connections to place retired runners into new homes. "They are in their world... and the people in the jumping world, show world, they're in (that world)—what do they care about racing? It makes sense to have someone to bridge that gap and make that come together.
"I think it's a great project and something that we'll continue to work on. Like everything else, it's coming up with funding. You've got to find somebody who is qualified, you've got to find somebody who understands both worlds, and you have to compensate them accordingly. There are a lot of things that they are going to have to do, it's not just knowing everything, they'll have to have the right personality too."