Finding Homes for Them All - by Eric Mitchell

(Originally published in the October 2, 2010 issue of The Blood-Horse magazine. Feel free to share your own thoughts and opinions at the bottom of the column.

By Eric Mitchell - @EJMitchellKy on Twitter

By Eric Mitchell

The buy-back rate at the recently concluded Keene-land September yearling sale became the sale’s most significant statistic because it dropped to 26.7% from 27.5%. The improvement in trade over last year meant at least 30 more horses found new homes than would have otherwise had the buy-back rate stayed the same as in 2009.

Keeneland deserves a lot of credit for shaking up the sale’s format. The first two select evening sessions were successful as was extending Book Two across four days, which produced a solid average price of $120,000.

Sellers and their agents get most of the credit for stimulating trade, however, because they were realistic with their reserve prices. It’s a tough nut to swallow going into a sale knowing the value of your horse, based on stud fee, is really 35-40% less than what you actually paid. But sellers bit that bullet and horses changed hands. In 2009 the average RNA price was $52,628, and five of those buy-backs brought a final bid of $500,000 or more. Two horses were bought back for $900,000. This year the average RNA price was $48,447. There was a son of A.P. Indy that was bought back for $1.25 million on the second night, but the rest of the sale saw only one other RNA with a final bid above $500,000.

By keeping the reserves reasonable, consignors were forcing buyers to raise their hands in the sales pavilion instead of hoping for a deal back in the barns.

“If someone RNA’d a horse far beyond the market, there was no return visit to the barn,” said Kerry Cauthen, managing partner of Four Star Sales. “But because most of the RNA rates were so low, it kept people in the pavilion bidding.”

In the best of all possible worlds, every yearling offered at a Keeneland sale would find a buyer, race productively, then go to stud or to pampered retirement and a possible second career. But the real world doesn’t work that way, and some September yearlings are destined to become unwanted horses.

The plight of unwanted Thoroughbreds has struck a chord in many segments of the industry, and racing states now have a variety of retirement and retraining programs, from large-scale to mom-and-pop. All of these programs struggle to find room for the sheer number of ex-racehorses, not to mention securing the funding to feed and care for them. It costs an estimated $2,300 a year to take care of a rescued horse, according to the Unwanted Horse Coalition, an equine industry alliance working to reduce the number of unwanted horses and improve their welfare.

Slaughter is in the future of an estimated 7,000 former racehorses every year, despite the closure in 2007 of U.S. processing plants. These racehorses are among the estimated 90,000 or so that are now shipped annually to Canada and Mexico to meet their ends.

This week The Blood-Horse looks at the unwanted horse issue, how it’s being addressed, how other racing countries deal with ex-racehorses, and how some horses are saved while others disappear from the racing landscape. The pros and cons of slaughter are not debated, though Barbara Luna, program administrator for the Pennsylvania Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association “Turning For Home” program, presents a strong argument for alternatives to slaughter. Dr. Tom Lenz, former chairman of the Unwanted Horse Coalition, notes that while the industry cannot eliminate unwanted horses, it can minimize the problem.

The coalition is at the forefront of the effort. Its initiatives include:

• Promoting responsible ownership through education
• Helping equine groups become more involved
• Encouraging the gelding of stallions to reduce overbreeding and to provide more manageable riding horses
• Working closely with equine groups that provide euthanasia programs and clinics

The coalition and other groups deserve accolades for bringing the problem of unwanted horses to the forefront and for seeking solutions.

Special Projects Editor Jacqueline Duke contributed to this column.


Leave a Comment:

Rachel about PROMOTING the breed as a dressage, hunter, eventing, Pony Club know, kind of like the Quarter Horse Industry promotes the breed very successfullly in showing, reining, racing, HUGE youth ownership, and English disciplines.

Good grief...why does the breed have to be known as the poor "rescue or die" breed.

29 Sep 2010 9:52 AM

It makes me very grateful that we have an organisation like The RoR (Retraining of Racehorses) in the United Kingdom.

29 Sep 2010 11:24 AM

As a person who worked with racehorses in England and who owns an OTTB, I would like to say: TB's need to be bred with better front legs. They need to belong to owners who have the means to board them when they breakdown.There needs to be less breeding of inferior horses and better training.

29 Sep 2010 11:49 AM
Blue Blue Sea

Personally, I'd never have any other kind of horse than a TB and an OTTB at that, but I'd really like to see a reduction in the breeding - strides have been made in the last several years, but if the economy rebounds I fear it will go right back to where it was.

29 Sep 2010 12:47 PM
Criminal Type

The thought of these animals going to slaughter makes me sick. I have a 16 acre farm in western maryland and would gladly give one a home. Feel free to contact me if you have a off track TB looking for a home @

29 Sep 2010 1:03 PM

I agree with Rachel.  The industry needs to do MUCH more to promote the breed.  The breed has a TERRIBLE reputation for being hot and difficult to handle. As owner of two exracers, I haven't found this to be true.  And I got my first OTTB as a new horse owner.  Eventually, I hope to take in off track TBs and retrain them for saddle horses. Here in PA we now have slots and table games, but I haven't seen anywhere that any of that money is going to retraining OTTBs or finding new homes for them.  Why don't the tracks have retired TB days, where horses who were retired and have been shown can show their stuff.  Then horses who are going to be retired can be brought out for the public to see.  Maybe more people would be interested in adopting.  

29 Sep 2010 1:26 PM

Don't be so quick to defend the American Quarter Horse Association. The AQHA actively promotes slaughter. They know their breed produces the most registered horses in the US and the most unwanted as well by numbers and have always lobbied FOR slaughter.

Thoroughbreds are unfairly portrayed as the most slaughtered horses but it is not true.

Thoroughbreds are the original sport horses of the world and I agree that the Jockey Club should do more to promote them as riding horses rather than strictly racehorses.

All breeders of all breeds and especially those who are breeding grade horses for no good reason should be gelding more and breeding less. Far too many un-sound of either body or mind horses are being bred.....

29 Sep 2010 1:58 PM

Criminal Type - If you are serious, go to  Check out the FREE thoroughbreds list.  There are quite a few from Maryland available.  

29 Sep 2010 7:31 PM
Lindsey S

I agree that OTTBs have a reputation as being high-strung and difficult to manage.  I always used to assume that, until I became more involved in the sport, and learned more about all of the re-training programs out there.  I adopted a retired racehorse last November, and he was my first horse.  He is very kind and gentle.  Most of the time he is very laid back, and I would never call him high strung.  He has a bone chip in a knee from racing, so he could never be a jumper or anything, but would be great at any kind of flat work.  I know there are many more like him out there, that could not go on to athletic careers due to minor racing injuries, but still make great trail or flat work horses.  I was a bit leary of adopting an ex-racer, but wanted to do my part for the sport I've come to love so dearly.  I don't think I would ever own anything else now.  I hope to get my own place with land someday, and adopt more of these wonderful athletes!

30 Sep 2010 7:51 AM

if more racetracks followed the business plan of the RACE Fund , to solve the problems of TB's when they are done racing , there would be a dramatic improvment in the lives of these horses.

30 Sep 2010 8:21 AM

Tb's can virtually no longer be slaughtered in Canada due to new laws requiring no use of bute in horses destined for slaughter

30 Sep 2010 8:22 AM

As someone who grew up showing Hunters in NJ, our barn used to get some REALLY nice horses from the track.   Personally, those of us in the Horse Show world are just as to blame as the TB folks.   For the past 10-15 yrs or so, show horse folks have been so blinded by the fad for "European" Sport Horses that we just cast aside the ORIGINAL Sport horse....the American Thoroughbred.  As for the OTTB's being too hot for average rider...well....I've never know that to be the case and I started riding the OTTB's when I was 11 yrs old!   I'd really love to see one of the bigger well known show barns ACTIVELY go after JUST OTTB's for their clients.   Let's stop putting money into Foreign farms pockets, when we all know the best horses are HERE!    We just need to let the rest of the world know about it!

30 Sep 2010 8:38 AM

While nobody wants to think of euthanasia when buying a puppy or other pet, the majority of pet owners will have to make that decision years down the road.  Horse slaughter is not a nice subject, but better the horse (of any breed) be slaughtered close to home without the trauma of transport over long distances and in the care of strangers than being shipped to another country enduring stress and fear just because the US public has decided that they don't want to face up to the "end of life" decision that must often be made.

If slaughter houses in the US are such a distasteful thought, then perhaps producing all those extra horses for the sales ring should be re-thought.  That goes for Thoroughbreds, Standardbreds, Quarter Horses, Greyhounds and any other breed or type of anamal that humans produce for entertainment.

I'll bet a lot of people going out to buy their groceries on a weekly basis don't give a second thought to the fact that their pork chop or beef steak was also an animal once that went though a slaughter house.

Please think again about horse slaughter at home, close to home.  

30 Sep 2010 8:48 AM

The greedy breeders and irresponsible horse owners in this country are never going to pass laws to stop horse slaughter.  It will be Canada, along with the EU who have both recognized the need to protect people from the poisons like bute in America's horses.  Way to go USA...

30 Sep 2010 9:39 AM

Most breed associations are interested in one thing only:  dues paid to them.  It's all about the cash for their pockets and not about doing what's right for the horse and the breed. Ask anyone who actively works to save and re-home equines.  I do not care how many pretty pamphlets UHC puts out or how many free vaccines they distribute, if it walks like a duck and sounds like a duck...

If approx. 150,000 equines are going to slaughter every year, why is the solution so complicated to the "experts".  The idea of breeding fewer horses seems like an effective solution. And for states who use tax money collected at horse races for breeding incentives (I believe it was around $30M last year) take 1% of those funds and support organizations that have to clean up the mess the breeders made. bet.  

Can it be done: Absolutely.

Do these "concerned" organizations have the stones to make the necessary changes:  Not if it takes one red cent out of their pockets.

30 Sep 2010 10:47 AM

I have an OTTB I bought last year and I wouldn't consider anything else!  She is the most awesome horse you can imagine, good mind, sensitive and wanting to please.  When I was looking for a horse last year most of the TB's I looked at were not hot blooded nut cases.  Yes, they do need some retraining but for the most part these horses turn out to be the best partners you can imagine.  I do all I can to promote them!

30 Sep 2010 10:59 AM
Joey W.

Hey, y'all.. I have one HECK of an AMAZING idea..

How 'bout quit experimental breeding all together..

Like, 'Let's try this so his front legs are stronger'... Damn THAT didn't work, toss that foal down the slaughter pipeline..

Seriously, Breeders.. IF slaughter was NOT an option any longer you'd be in a world of hurt.

Hopefully that day is NOT far off and you might have to be extremely careful of what you 'try' when breeding in the near future.

They run too 'hot'?  That's breeding.. amazing. How 'bout if they are too 'hot' for you... Don't get one! Therefore, they aren't bred anylonger..

Bunch'a cruel, experimentors with life..

Good thing your parents kept you around even though your knees may be too big.. etc. Get my drift?

30 Sep 2010 11:04 AM
Kim Heath

The Horse Protection Assn. of Florida has re-homed over 150 TBs in the last 9 months, many of which have gone to sport disciplines, such as to eventing adopters Karen O'Connor and Darren Chiacchia. Many go back to their breeders or past owners. Very few are actually "unwanted".

Kim Heath


30 Sep 2010 12:08 PM
For The Love of Horses

If they would just stop breeding so many there would not be unwanted ones.

30 Sep 2010 5:59 PM
Aleine in VA

Let's not forget about the late Ferdinand. The 1986 winner of the Kentucky Derby.

If the Japanese (and French, et al.,),didn't SERVE HORSE in restaurants this would be one hell of a nicer world. God Bless Ferdinand and hopefully the Japanese involved with his path to the slaughter-house will burn forever you-know-where.

01 Oct 2010 1:23 AM
Criminal Type

tbpartnerperson43, I am very serious. THANK YOU, I am going to start checking right away. I have a young Arabian I am training for endurance who needs a companion. He has been alone for a year and is obviously lonely. Nothing would please me more then to give a an unwanted horse a home and give my Warrior a friend.

01 Oct 2010 8:18 AM
been there

im going to offend alot of folks but here goes. WE need the slaughter houses back open. it is a place for unwanted horses. it takes $$$ to feed that alot of people just dont have anymore. here in texas people are turning them out in the national forest and on the road. to many unadoptible horses are out there an nobody to care for them because of lack of $$$. times are hard  and people who otherwise would feed and care for them can no longer afford to do so. as far as slaughter goes why not?? horses can and should be treated like all other animals that are being raised for market. we serve beef..lamb..pork..chicken why not horse?? if you dont want to eat it dont buy it. regulate it like every other slaughter plant... again MY opinion

01 Oct 2010 11:11 AM

How about a national racing authority who issues only so many Jockey club breeding permits per year? Gasp! You mean, "regulation"? Yes. And a criteria for determining which conformations would improve the breed, not just breeding based on the stud fee, bloodline, an effort to turn some foals into big bucks when some foreigners get into an emotional bid frenzy at the auction. 16.2 million! geez.

How about funding special classes at the established horse shows just for OTTBs? ECOURAGE the second, after racing owner and sporthorse owner to get one!!

Just some thoughts...

01 Oct 2010 11:52 AM

Many thoroughbred's go on to other jobs after racing.They are excellent at whatever they do.More and more people in and out of the industry should help find as many homes as possible. This being said we should also be realistic about what to do with all the horses of all types that we have.Animals of all kinds are prosessed for food all around the world.Being a good owner of a horse means we should be careful of what end awaits them.We owe them an end of life experience that is not cruel.This does not mean that being prosessed  for food is out of the question. The plants need to be humaine and clean.No one has the right to tell other people what they can do with their horses and who has the right to say that too many horses are being bread.It is better for the horse to exist for whatever time it is having a good life then to never exist at all.

01 Oct 2010 12:55 PM
My one and only

My first horse was an OTTB.  I bought him in 1971 as a 4 yr. old.  He had fractured a sesamoid and had been laid up for a year.  I had him for 24 years and he never took a lame step.  He started out as an amateur hunter and also did low level eventing, hunter pacing, low level dressage and trail riding.  He survived colic surgery at the age of 22 and came out of that sound.  I finally was forced to put him down at age 28 due to the infirmaties of old age.  He was buried in a pet cemetary in NJ. in 1995. He was the love of my life and I miss him to this day.

01 Oct 2010 1:13 PM

Jean - Kill buyers and sellers are just signing the EU drug papers without telling the truth. No matter what drugs the horse has been given, it is still going to slaughter. Everyone involved with the selling, buying and killing of horses is lying on the paperwork. Get real!

01 Oct 2010 4:47 PM

Thank you Bloodhorse for printing this article.

01 Oct 2010 4:48 PM

Helen, I must disagree.  There is no law against humanely euthanizing a horse.  Yes when the time comes that is the right thing to do.  However, there is no justification for killing a horse that could have a long, happy and productive life ahead of it just because it is easier than trying to find it a good home!  Shame on you.

01 Oct 2010 7:59 PM

Been there...abandoning an animal is against the law. Why didn't they call the vet and euthanize their horse?

Slaughter for food in the USA requires a mandatory withdrawal time, like 30-60 days, for drugs and want to eat a race horse that's been on all those meds and antibiotics?

Slaughter houses kill horses with a head set and stun bolt designed for a cow's head...horses panic...the bolt misses...the horse is hung up alive or regains conciousness (sp?)...what horse deserves that?

The Thoroughbred has to get out of the mindset it's a breed that needs needs to be promoted as an athelete suitable for many disciplines.

02 Oct 2010 10:03 AM
Bet Twice

Helen, I agree that we need to avoid squeamishness when evaluating the realistic future prospects of a race horse and embrace euthanasia when there is no better option.  Where I disagree, is with the idea that slaughter is equivalent to euthanasia.  You don't slaughter dogs or cats when they get old or infirm, you euthanize them, a decidedly different process.

been there, you're incorrect in your assertion that horses are raised for "market."  They aren't and never have been in America.  They are raised as pets or performance animals with close ties to human beings.  If you want to introduce the idea of raising horses for meat, feel free.  Slaughtering them as a by product of irresponsible ownership and over breeding is not the same thing as raising them (like cows, pigs, chickens) to be food.  

02 Oct 2010 12:47 PM

I have two OTTBs at my small place in Southern Ohio.  And while at this time, due to my work schedule - they're nothing more than "expensive yard ornaments" I wouldn't trade them for the world. This economy is tough on everyone - especially those robbing Peter to pay Paul (as I am) - however I wouldn't even entertain the thought of my life without them.  They are truly a joy to own and when life gets ya down - there's no better therapy than taking care of your horses.  Just my two cents.

03 Oct 2010 10:46 AM

Many thanks to Blood Horse for publishing the articles.

Overbreeding and the economy have caused the problem of "unwanted" horses. Horse slaughter is cruelty and only rewards uncaring owners .

The USDA recognizes horses as companion animals --not livestock rainsed for food. PLease ask D.C. senators and representatives to pass The Equine Cruelty Prevention Act, H.R. 503/S.727.

04 Oct 2010 9:19 AM

I just wanted to share that I did go look at some thoroughbred's at Laurel Park this weekend and have found one that I am going to bring home. She is a lovely 5 yr old bay mare who just is not fast enough to continue as a race horse. She is sound and will make a wonderful riding horse after some time to just be a horse. She is very sweet and really nice to be around. I am picking her up next weekend YAY !

04 Oct 2010 11:33 AM
anne russek

I urge anyone who supports  OTTB's to join the facebook page Thoroughbred Celebration. This is a page that promotes OTTB's by presenting three OTTB hunter /jumper shows at the Virginia Horse Center in Lexington, Virginia. This is the only  hunter/jumper show series in the United States that exclusively features former race horses or those thoroughbreds that were in training to race but did not start. Next show is November 20 &21, come and join us!

04 Oct 2010 3:32 PM
Texas Girl

As a Quarter horse owner and breeder, I don't agree with slaughter.  I only breed for myself and have 4 retired racers that are just pasture ornaments.  I keep track of every horse I have ever owned and if they ever need a home they can come back to me and I will take care of them or find them another suitable home. It is expensive and I am not a rich person but bottom line is if you breed you should be responsible.   The Quarter Horse Association now has a program that lets the breeder or previous owner note on the papers that they will take them back or help re-home them.  It is a start and other associations should look into this type of program. But bottom line is people have to take responsibility and care about them more than they care about the money.  We cannot change the eating habits of people in other countries and how they view horses, but we can and should make sure that the fate that awaits them is humane, but then again I don't agree with the way most slaughter houses work for any animal (cow, pig, chickens, etc.)

06 Oct 2010 11:49 AM

Thank you for your article. You note that the "Turning for Home" Program presents a "strong argument" for alternatives to slaughter. Here's mine: The strongest arguement for alternatives to slaughter is the inhumane conditions and methods of slaughter. We would not treat our other companion animals that way. Horses are companion animals, not livestock. My reasoning? We pet, talk to, groom, ride, play with, sleep with, and interact with daily our horses and they with us. We often make them part of our family and they are as tuned in to us as our dogs and cats. We don't do that with our cattle herds, pig herds, chicken flocks, etc. If you cannot afford the $200 - $500 to humanely put down your horse at the end of its life, you should not be a horse owner in the first place!

11 Oct 2010 4:23 PM
Fran Loszynski

A quote from "Seabiscuit" the trainer:

"Every horse has a purpose, he can be a lead pony, or just something pretty to look at." Alot of people think racehorses are only good for racing, well I could lean against a rail fence in Kentucky and just look at them all day. When I was in Kentucky, I saw some elderly people on a tour and they just stood as though they were in stone and later remarked, "Now we've seen it all!" A heartfelt thank you to anyone that tries to save a racehorse or any horse. Every yearling has a purpose in life.

22 Oct 2010 8:04 AM
christy tate

every horses life has value. promoting responsible ownership is a great idea, making humane euthanization more affordable, would be another step to alliviating the unwanted horse problem, also, i am highly in favor of gelding stallions to produce more managable riding horses, and to perhaps prevent overbreeding, but i think that there should be a way to do the same thing for a mare. this should be encouraged by the entire horse community. imean hey they spay and nuter dogs and cats, so why not horses.

28 Oct 2010 12:21 AM

Recent Posts

More Blogs