Aftercare - by Dan Liebman

Two industry announcements separated by only a day were related in a way—the Safety and Integrity Alliance initiative put forth by the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, and the annual Report of Mares Bred issued by The Jockey Club.

Alex Waldrop, CEO of the NTRA, noted five areas Oct. 15 that were targeted for health and safety reform, among them what his organization called the “implementation of placement programs for Thoroughbreds that can no longer compete.”

In its release Oct. 16, The Jockey Club, the breed’s official registry, noted the number of mares covered by stallions in North America in 2008 experienced a 7.7% decline.

They may not seem connected, but they are.

The health and safety reforms seemingly all relate to the racetrack, such as implementing uniform medication rules and regulations. But finding homes for horses that can no longer race extends well beyond the racetrack.

Which in turn relates to the Report of Mares Bred, because logic says fewer mares bred means fewer foals, which, in the end, means fewer unwanted horses.

Granted, Thoroughbreds that can no longer compete do not necessarily translate to Thoroughbreds that are unwanted. Certainly many, if not most, breeders, owners, and trainers care for their horses throughout their lives. We were reminded of this the previous week when Princess Rooney and Cozzene, both 28, were humanely euthanized after happy and productive lives both on and off the racetrack, by owners who refused to let them suffer needlessly.

But even those who conscientiously care for their horses often lose track of animals purchased privately, lost through the claiming box, or sold at public auction.

Interestingly, in September, Waldrop submitted a letter to the House Judiciary Committee taking “no position” on House Resolution 6598, which would ban the transportation of horses for slaughter. Though the last slaughterhouses in the United States were closed in 2007, thousands of horses of all breeds are still packed on trailers and transported to our border neighbors, Canada and Mexico.

The American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act was originally introduced in 2003 as HR 857. That measure never got out of committee, but in 2006 a similar resolution did, passing the House before languishing in a Senate committee.

The latest resolution is backed by many in the Thoroughbred industry, the charge led by Pin Oak Stud owner Josephine Abercrombie.

Breeders and owners, admittedly, are partially responsible for the growth in the number of unwanted horses. As the market for horses became considerably more commercial in nature, stallion books grew and breeders were more willing to take a chance with many marginal mares. As such, the number of horses needing homes following their racing careers—certainly not forgetting those who never make a start on a racetrack—has also risen.

Now, as we approach the largest catalog ever for a Keeneland November sale, there is a growing concern about those hips that will fail to get a live bid and/or find a new home. There is some hope that shoppers looking for event and sport horses, or perhaps mares to breed to Quarter Horse stallions, will see an opportunity.

Among the primary functions of the NTRA are the marketing and promotion of the sport, and lobbying efforts on its behalf in our nation’s capital. So, it is encouraging that among the five major areas of concern addressed by the NTRA in its new reforms is the acknowledgment that we need “placement programs for Thoroughbreds that can no longer compete.”

The NTRA’s new initiative is designed to address the health and safety of the horse. Surely, opposing the transportation of horses for slaughter is good for the health and safety of horses.

Applaud the NTRA for its leadership in regard to the reforms, which will bring needed change to the entire industry. At the same time, insist it step up to the plate against anything related to the slaughter of horses.


Leave a Comment:

Cindy Rullman

Dear Dan,

I deeply appreciate your article, but wholeheartedly disagree with one word used in your statement, "Breeders and owners, admittedly, are partially responsible for the growth in the number of unwanted horses."

Partially?  Partially???  How can breeders and owners be anything but wholly responsible for the numbers of unwanted horses?  The horses would not exist if breeders had not brought them into the world, and they wouldn't end up in precarious situations if apathetic (or worse) owners had not sold or given them into those situations.  

With a miniscule number of exceptions, apart from accidental injuries and illnesses, there isn’t a horse in the world which has been – or currently exists – in a compromised, neglectful, abusive or fatal situation whose owner hasn’t allowed him to end up there.  

I’ll borrow a phrase from the Kentucky Equine Humane Center, “Every horse has an owner.  Every owner has a responsibility.”  

It isn't complicated and it doesn't require a task force or a degree in business, biology or ethics or to figure it out.  As long as breeders and owners refuse to take personal responsibility for their horses, the problem will continue to exist.  

21 Oct 2008 10:40 AM

By withdrawing support of House Resolution 6598, the NTRA will lose the support of many people who were looking for them to address the problem created by many in the racing industry--the problem of unwanted horses.  They're wasting money on marketing as long as people believe that they are not doing everything they can to care for the horses that are at the heart of the sport.  However, the fans must take some blame themselves if they are not calling their representatives and letting them know how they feel about the issue.  Those fans who are still sending hate mail to Larry Jones over Eight Belles, should use that energy to fight for the lives of the horses that are coming off the track alive and well with no place to go.  

21 Oct 2008 11:08 AM
Betty Wilkinson

Thank you for standing up for the support of HR 6598 to prevent the transportation of horses intended for slaughter across borders.  I pray the others will see the greed and awful consequences of over-breeding.  I look at my beautiful ex-race horse geldings everyday and think of the ones who are not so lucky.  Every caring American should cry and scream out for the slaughter to stop.  

21 Oct 2008 11:15 AM

Cindy is right that breeders are 100% responsible for how many horses are out there.

I appreciate you very much, Dan, so I'm not trying to be negative to you, but to mention that leftover mares, etc can be bred to Quarter Horses is the proverbial "Frying pan into the fire"..if there is an even more throw away registry than Thoroughbreds it's Quarter Horses, at more than 150,000 registered each year, with Paints rounding out the top three.

The problem is "breeding everything to get THE one" whether Triple crown winner or Futurity baby for QH racing, reining, etc...with all the "leftovers" conveniently disposed of.

21 Oct 2008 11:45 AM

Well put Cindy!  We also need to hold the stud farms responsible as well.  They make a profit off of every horse bred by one of their stallions, but I never hear anything about a percentage of stud fees going to Thoroughbred retirement.  Why not? And when is the Jockey Club going to do something about truly "limiting" the size of a stallions book of mares?  That is their excuse for not allowing AI to be practiced. It's extremely hypocritical to use one argument against an important issue and then ignore the same argument when it curtails the unlimited earning potential of a stud farm at the expense of the many unwanted horses bred. Maybe I'll consider applauding the NTRA when I see these questions not only addressed, but answered!

21 Oct 2008 1:51 PM
needler in Virginia


While I usually agree 100% with your remarks, I must tag along with Cindy on this one. That said, I'll take a guess that you most probably suffered a major glitch at the very moment of writing that one word "partially". "TOTALLY" is the word you should have used, Dan...... if it's only partially "breeders and owners" then who ELSE could be responsible for all these babies showing up around Lexington every spring?? The Tooth Fairy?? The Easter Bunny?? Santa?

I'll also repeat (fruitlessly, I know) my remarks in a spring time blog wherein I said that not EVERY mare should be bred, NOR should every stallion. Just because an animal is entire and healthy does not mean that reproducing will pass along some unique quality that will serve to enhance the Quarter Horse, or Thoroughbred, or Walker, or Morgan or any other breed for that matter. After having shown dogs for over 25 years, and being involved with Morgan horses for almost that long, I have seen far too many puppies born simply because Sadie "should be bred 'cause it'll be good for her" OR "maybe we can pay for Christmas this year...there's a nice dog down the road we could use as a stud". Sometimes I think breeders of horses say the same crazy things...maybe not out loud, but certainly to themselves while solving the world's problems on the way to work. Before any breeder puts another foal on the ground, he or she should examine WHY that foal is being created and how it will live it's life...... remembering all the time that the foal very well may live as long as John Henry or Princess Rooney or Cozzene. That's one hell of a long time for someone not prepared to manage that foal's life with care and skill and love.

Personally I am thrilled the NTRA is ALMOST stepping up to the plate, and that the mares bred numbers are dropping.

All my bitching aside, you did say what needed to be said, you have always made your point eloquently, and have dealt with some pretty thorny issues fairly (even when in the eye of the storm). So thank you for saying your piece......I really do agree with the great majority of what you said.

21 Oct 2008 11:31 PM

Marketing of Thoroughbreds as competitive or desireable in other venues is sadly lacking. One reason why Thoroughbreds are no longer considered useful by the sporthorse community is they have become too fragile (brilliant emphasis?) and sport horses begin to compete at a high level around 12 yrs old...competing at the highest levels (Olympics) well into their late teens and more. Though you have to be proud of our current Olympic team, 2 thoroughbreds (both having raced) and one alternate...they were actually leading overall until one tripped over a jump during cross country phase.

How many times have I read in these blogs about how much it takes to get a horse through his 4 year old year..imagine...4!

22 Oct 2008 9:35 AM

da3hoss said:  The problem is "breeding everything to get THE one"

That one line sums up why there are too many mediocre, and therefore unwanted horses. This is the time of year when it becomes most evident. Marginal racehorses are being retired for stud duty next year. They should be getting gelded and running again next year. Mares that couldn't run are going to be bred because "well she's a half to so-and-so", but she has no merit herself. A horse should have to achieve some level of ability before it is deemed worthy of reproducing. I know, the other side of that argument is some unraced or lightly raced horses have become extraordinary in the breeding shed. So how do you set the criteria of what animal is worthy and who is not? Looking through the OBS catalog and results from earlier this month it was no surprise to me the horses that were "no bid". I wouldn't want them either. Maybe that's how you decide what is worthy of being bred. If your horse is a no bid the papers are pulled. That would at least prevent further reproduction of that animal in the thoroughbred world. This is a multifaceted problem with no single answer. I was a small time breeder. I've gotten out for now until I can afford better quality mares. I don't believe in breeding cheap horses in the hope of a home run.

22 Oct 2008 10:46 AM

Frankly i have been pretty angry that the NTRA hasnt stood up for the anti-slaughter legislation.  There are so many people-normal regular people taking responsibility for many of these TB's that have no connection to the racing industry.  Our new rescue in Southern Il is struggling to get going just to save someone elses cast offs.  Most of these horses are wonderful and sound.  If we hadn't bought them, they would be on someone dinner plate in Europe.  The Farms in KY have been amazing in their donations to help us raise money for these animals.  I was pleasantly surprised at their reactions to help us.  They thanked us for letting them help.  So it needs to be a industry wide effort and keep those Ag people out who continue to push Slaughter of these tbs.

22 Oct 2008 11:55 AM

There isn't much to add to this discussion except we need to do more than discuss--how many more articles, task forces, committees, etc do we need in order to implement alternatives to slaughter (stopping slaughter will not stop horses from suffering terrible deaths) and to make accountable those individuals who no longer take responsibility once a horse is unable to race or breed?  Someone in the industry needs to step up and take action; without the horse there is no horse racing.  

22 Oct 2008 12:56 PM
Stephi S.

The idea that the breeders are not responsible for the huge numbers of unwanted horses is ridiculous. The expansion of the stallion books to 200+ a year, the breeding of 300 or more mares by farms each year, and the disposition of the horses that can no longer run through auctions says it all.

I have been involved in re-training off-track Thoroughbreds for almost 30 years, and each of them turned out to be excellent riding horses after letting down and re-training. I would like to see the KY Horse Park start a re-training program, perhaps with wide exposure of the retraining through the web using videos. That way, people who buy horses from CANTER will have a good guide in how to handle their OTTBs from people who know how to handle race horses in transition to new careers. If the breeders got together and had retraining centers on the breeding farms for the horses that they bred and were done with racing, then there would be fewer neglected and abused ex-race horses.

The problem of over-breeding started when farms started into commercial breeding, ie. breeding for the sales rather than breeding to race. The breeders don't limit their foal crops to the number they can handle raising and racing, they breed for profit at the sales. After the horse goes through the sale, the breeders wash their hands of him, except for collecting any breeder incentives the horse might earn for them. These horses earn the right to a good life with the money they earn for their owners and breeders. If the breeders can't guarantee a decent life for their horses, then they should cut back on the breeding.

I have eight horses, four mares and two gelding and two colts who are being gelded this year. All of them, except for the two colts, are ex-racers. All of them transitioned beautifully to a non-racing life and have brought pleasure and equine education to numerous riders. Right now, I am looking out my window at them, grazing in their pastures. I can't imagine what would have happened to them if I hadn't bought them. I know that at least two of them would have gone for slaughter since they were lame and on the way to auction when I bought them. They are all well-bred, good conformation and good attitudes. They would have been thrown away by their former owners if I hadn't bought them. Breeders need to be aware that once the horse has failed to be a stakes winner, they go down the claiming road, usually. And the end of that road isn't always pretty.

CANTER has done great work in helping place Thoroughbreds in new homes after they finish racing. I think the NTRA should hook up with them and encourage people to buy ex-racers as riding horses. The NTRA does support retirement farms, but many of the ex-racers aren't ready for retirement to pasture, they have an in-bred work ethic and do enjoy a new career.

But to say that breeders are "partially" responsible is a cop-out. They are entirely responsible for the numbers of foals born. And they should realize that it's not just the big stakes winners and producers that deserve a good life after racing. A stakes winner and/or producer may earn more money for the breeder, but the joy a re-trained race horse brings to their new owners is priceless. And the horses deserve that, they really do.

22 Oct 2008 1:35 PM

The number of foals born each year needs to be reduced,  significantly. The quarter horse industry is the worst,  they are cranking out so many quarter horses and Appendix breds each year one would think that the breed was going extinct;  it's ridiculous,  same thing with Paints and Arabians-complete overbreeding.  The bad thing about Paints and racehorses (tb's & qh's) is if the paint foal doesn't come out the right color pattern they keep on trying until they get that exact color pattern they need to bring home the trophies, regardless of how many breedings or foals they have to go through to get the one they need, its disgusting.  Same thing with racehorses, Thoroughbreds and Quarter Horses, if the horse doesn't run the distance in the time they want the horse to, its back to the drawing board and lets go breed some more until we get the one, even if it means going through hundreds and hundreds of foals,  and what happens to the foals that don't cut it,  they are disposed of, or dumped at a livestock auction where the killer buyers are waiting to transport them to Mexico or Canada for processing.  If people are so breed happy,  why don't they stick to breeding those Alpaca Llama looking things I see on tv all the time. At least if they can't run or come out the color you want, you can always cut and sell their fur.  I hear it makes for a very nice sweater, if not,  throw a saddle on it and start riding; if people can ride llamas why not alpaca's or whatever those things are.

22 Oct 2008 1:39 PM

As a breeder, owner, trainer, rider and downright horse lover, I do believe in owner responsibility. One thought crossed my mind recently: Yes, we know every facet of the thoroughbred/ quarter horse (paint, appy, etc.) racing industry is expensive, but has a Horse Welfare organization considered asking for a 10 cent contribution on each betting ticket? Scream if you want, but tell me why not, or better yet, tell me something positive along these lines. The gamblers are part of this too and they will keep coming back if they can enjoy an afternoon inclusive of the beauty, pageantry and athleticism that we racehorse lovers absolutely crave. Let's continue to do this for the right reasons but ask for assistance to bring racing back to popularity.

23 Oct 2008 12:58 PM
Ed Zepplin

There is always a home for sound horses that can be ridden in my experience over the last 30 years. The problem has been what happens to unsound or old age horses that cannot have alternative careers. These horses are the ones who end up slaughtered or starved in some dirt lot full of weeds. None of my horses will ever end up there because I will humanely euthanize them. The Humane societies across America employ the same philosphy for animals that can't or shouldnt be adopted out. I have a forty acre geriatric field for retired broodmares and when they no longer can live a normal life due to infirmities, I put them down rather than having them suffer. Not everyone can afford to do this.

23 Oct 2008 5:15 PM
Marlene, R.A.C.E. Fund, Inc.

Our organization has been asking the racing industry to step up to the plate for the past 5 years by allotting a small percentage of the purse money for racehorse retirement, rescue and rehabilitation. Or at the  very least an annual guaranteed flat amount equal to a percentage of the purse money. It takes money to help horses and with the proper funding there are positive alternatives for racehorses when they can no longer race. Besides the horses earn and deserve this money. Until the NTRA advocates for and the racing industry, etc, really step up to the plate with the financial support mentioned above it is hard to take them serious. Voluntary programs asking $1.00 or $2.00 a start will not work and will not generate the revenue that is needed. The industry needs to stop expecting other people to pay for the horses welfare when they should be doing it themselves.

23 Oct 2008 7:53 PM

We should all be concerned about the overbreeding of horses because thanks to GW(bush) alot of people who would take these ottb's can't afford to feed them because hay is so expensive and I know there are horses starving everywhere and people selling them and giving them away just to relieve themselves of the feed bills to try and pay their own morgages.  I worked for a racehorse adoption center and it is hard for them to survive without the donations, which went down while I work there due to 9/11, and I can only imagine they are having a harder time now that No One has any disposable income.

I myself have a 14 year old mare who I have had since she was 3, OTT, and she's only had three foals, one who died as a yearling, and the other two are in my backyard right now!

We need top take more for the horses out of what the track makes, not away from the horsemen!

24 Oct 2008 2:29 PM

i was saddened to hear that Princess Rooney and Cozzene, had passed. But i knew Princess Rooney, i have a photo of her with a Deputy Minister filly when I worked at Gentry bros. I have rescued many horses off of the track, which went on to be happy Show horses, pets of enthusiasts of the horse. There should be more effort made when a horse is retired to let ppl know it is available so the Track Vultures who try to profit from these situations dont take them to sales where no one knows what kind of home they are eventually recieved in.  Ex racehorses have inherent leg problems that need experienced care in order for the ardurous rigours of racing to eventually heal properly. I think Brereton Jones has done a great job of doing this, and one of my "rescues" was a wonderful horse of his i groomed while in training. He won Grand Champion Conformation Hunter a few years later.  

26 Oct 2008 3:06 AM

It seems to me that Stephie S, JKC and Ed Zepplin hit on important points.  Every horse deserves a decent life.  All horses deserve humane euthanasia at the end of their lives. Everyone involved in every facet of the racing industry should contribute to the expenses.  

I have dreamed of some type of Social Security for horses.  I agree with JKC, and I'll go you one better.  Wait till you hear the screaming that ensues after my next suggestion.  I feel strongly enough about the Social Security approach to propose that some of the public tax dollars collected from the industry should also go into the fund.  

When we got rid of the slaughter houses in our country we made it worse for the horses, because now they have to ride all the way to Mexico and Canada to die horribly.  It has to stop.  

For me the races are as close as I ever get to a live horse these days.  I owned a horse of my own as a girl, and now that my own children have grown I look at the rescue websites, and wish I could own a horse again.  Alas, owning a horse is beyond my means.  

All I know is that if I could afford to save even one horse from going to slaughter, even if the horse were kept as a pasture companion it would make me happier than you can know.  For now all I can afford to do is donate to the local rescue organization.  

Why don't all the players who care set aside their differences and form a cohesive team?  Why doesn't the NTRA lead a massive effort?  

If people like me were able to form cooperatives near populated areas, and pool our resources in combination with structured funding, like Social Security for horses, I'd bet that a lot of people would step up and make a home for "unwanted" horses.  Thoroughbreds are in a unique position because of the revenue they generate.  I know the problem extends to other breeds, and that is a problem for another day.  When I think about all the money the Thoroughbreds generate I cannot believe that even one of them would ever end up at slaughter.  I care about the other breeds too, but since it comes down to money, the Thoroughbred industry must lead the way and perhaps a model that will benefit other breeds will emerge.

26 Oct 2008 8:54 AM

the post by ed zepplin, who appears a caring and responsible horseowner, is something slaughter ban advocates have to consider. the sad fact is that few of us, though we sincerely may want to, can afford many such expensive lawn ornaments - and i am talking about those animals that are not fit for any discipline and face lives of increasing pain. and i fear, with all the best of intentions in the world, we may be swapping one form of slaughter for another and while some owners will euthanize humanely, many animals will die even more painful deaths than they now do under existing slaughterhouse regulations. in fact, we appear to be descending into an economic period in which the resources of the horse rescue community may be severely tested. how will it cope with many thousands more additional 'homeless' horses? i am not a great fan of slaughterhouses, believe me, but the alternative, abandoned horses dying slow and painful deaths, is even less appealing. humane societies put down thousands of unwanted pets each year. this is an ugly fact of life. it will happen with horses also, one way or another, whether we like it or not. as for the ntra, i can appreciate the dilemma. don't underestimate the challenges facing the thoroughbred racing and breeding industry. some breeders may be making money, but most are not. the large percentage of racehorse owners are losing money. most racetracks are losing money. the closure of many tracks seems certain. so it must surely become a more difficult task to find people willing to pick up the tab to support horses which, as sad and as unapalatable as it sounds, have no further usefulness to humans. while we must be humane in our approach to these animals, we must think deeply before placing heavier burdens on owners and breeders lest we make this situation much, much worse than it already is.

26 Oct 2008 10:13 AM

the rule of thumb where i come from...treat the Animals fair...Mother Nature ALWAYS WINS!!!LLTK!!!

31 Oct 2008 6:09 AM

ps...Alex,TOBA & the others are on the right track & the folks inside the beltway, Mr.Hatfield, Mr.Rush are taking notice...LLTK!!!

31 Oct 2008 6:25 AM

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