By: Erin Shea, @BH_EShea
Two major questions arise when horses first retire from racing: where will they go, and who will fund the next chapter of their lives?
For individuals not cut out for the breeding shed, welcomed home to a private farm, or placed into a program to be purchased for a second career, the future can be dicey, especially since these horses are no longer earning a paycheck.
While re-training an off-track Thoroughbred can help ensure the horse will have value and a home later in life, finding the necessary funds to pay the bills while the horse is being re-trained is equally as important.
In Britain, the organization Retraining of Racehorses (RoR) provides financial support to a small handful of organizations that retrain Thoroughbreds for second careers. RoR has established an emergency safety net for horses in need of immediate help, and along with the Racehorse Owners Association, created Emergency Relief for Thoroughbreds to pay for transportation and care for horses who are "neglected, ill-treated, or sick."
While RoR's model may not be directly applicable to the United States, the Retired Racehorse Project's Steuart Pittman said he could see an OTTB subsidy working in two different ways here. In its 2016 annual report, a horse-based subsidy was one of the items listed in the future goals for the RRP.
One idea, which could likely be more easily implemented into the current racing/aftercare industry in the U.S., would be to use a tax-exempt non-profit as a vehicle to provide funding to individuals who are getting a horse off the track and retraining that horse. Then an individual donor or organization could donate to a specific rider or horse, and get a tax deduction for that donation.
"Step 1 would be using the (c)(3) status of an organization. ... to be the vehicle that the money goes through," Pittman explained. "So we would create an account and people would apply (to receive funds) based on standards—we might make it only 'vulnerable' horses, or only horses that need rehab, or we might make it horses in the (Thoroughbred) Makeover or horses who haven't had any training.
"(Applicants would) get pre-approved, and donors could contribute to the support of that horse. Then the bills would get paid from that account. The money would not go to Dodon Farm, but to the expenses of the horse."
Pittman said the idea is similar to the American Horse Trials Foundation, Inc., which is used to help high-level eventing riders pay for training and competitions, and is already happening unofficially at RRP's Thoroughbred Makeover events.
"Big-time riders get sponsors or sometimes owners to pay their bills," Pittman said. "In the Makeover, we have a lot of not-so-big time riders, a lot of people who want to be involved and be on their team, so they'll pitch in and help with expenses—and sometimes that includes the racing owners and their connections."
Another subsidy idea from RRP is more complicated. While all the details aren't worked out, Pittman said ideally a horse would be registered to collect money throughout his or her racing career and then have those funds available to use directly for that horse's care when the on-track career is over, like a 401k.
"As that horse goes from owner to owner to owner in its life, people might then kick in (to the fund) when it wins a race or when they feel a little bit concerned about it getting claimed and moving down a level. A lot of people will watch a horse, but they don't necessarily want to own that horse, so they contribute to that horse's account," he said, adding that a key would be to make these donations tax deductable.
"The question is: what if that horse never needs it, where does the money go? And that money (would go) to other horses. Or a donor, like a racing partnership, could have an account for all of their horses."
Pittman said the subsidy could also put money in the pockets of aftercare organizations.
"An organization that does work with a lot of horses, they'll get the money—the money goes with the horse," he said. "(The subsidy is) for nonprofits, for-profits, (and) anybody who is paying the bills on those horses to transition them. (Nonprofits) might do better under this model."
While Pittman admits that RRP does not have the funding, status, or man-power yet to start the necessary steps to initiate these ideas, the RRP comes up with the ideas by working regularly with individuals who are retraining horses off the track and seeing what their needs are.
"I throw these ideas out hoping that someone will take one and run with it," he said. "Every one of these does take staff to manage it and it does take time. ... and my personal view is that I don't care whether it's RRP or anyone else."