Adapting to Changes in Aftercare - By Eric Mitchell

The Thoroughbred Charities of America did not just start on the ground floor of aftercare awareness 26 years ago; the charity helped build the ground floor.

Created to serve as a United Way-type fundraising vehicle for horse rescue and humanitarian programs, the charitable arm of the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association assisted in growing the extensive network of organizations committed to providing retirement options and second careers for retired racehorses that exist today. One of the TCA's other major goals has been growing support from within the Thoroughbred industry and it assisted with the creation of the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance, which also raises money for aftercare organizations but more importantly has an accreditation program to ensure the groups being supported are handling their horses and their funds responsibly.

"We needed that industrywide support, and we are thrilled that happened with the TAA," said TCA president Dan Rosenberg. "The accrediting of organizations is essential."

With aftercare awareness more prominent than ever before and an increasing number of funding sources being developed, the TCA is tweaking its mission.

"When the TCA started, very few people were acknowledging that there even was a problem with unwanted horses," said Rosenberg. "Now we are not only talking about retirement but re-homing and retraining. To build on that momentum, the TCA is getting more involved in the market solution; we need to get back to where these retired Thoroughbreds have value."

Toward this end, TCA will be working more closely with the Retired Racehorse Project founded by Steuart Pittman. The RRP was created specifically to raise awareness of Thoroughbreds' athleticism and versatility and then build a demand for them.

"Back when I was in the show horse world, if you didn't have a Thoroughbred, you didn't get pinned," Rosenberg said. "Then the warm-bloods out-marketed us, and people began having this misconception that Thoroughbreds were high-strung and untrainable."

The RRP has tackled the misperception issue head-on with a competition called the Thoroughbred Makeover. The first Makeover in 2013 at Pimlico Race Course featured 26 trainers showing the abilities of retired racehorses in 10 riding disciplines. These trainers had no more than four months to work with horses that knew nothing but racing. The Makeover grew and last year was held at the Kentucky Horse Park, where 350 horses and trainers from 44 states, Canada, and England competed. The TCA was the title sponsor of the event.

"Last year's event was remarkable," Rosenberg said. "I can't tell you how many times over three days I could not believe what I was seeing—and I've been around Thoroughbreds my whole life. Many of these horses had only been in training for three or four months, and they were amazing."

Thoroughbreds face a much better future when their after-market value rises. For example, a trainer with a horse just not fast enough to be successful in racing has an economic incentive to resell him for another career rather than drop the horse continuously into cheaper and cheaper races, trying to get some kind of return. An earlier retirement from racing means a better chance the horse will avoid a severe injury that could prevent him from competing in other disciplines.

Progress has been made, with the Makeover also providing a bustling marketplace for buyers and sellers.

TCA will continue raising money for other charitable causes—and is particularly committed to those programs offering services to backstretch workers—but will become more involved in helping the RRP with its mission.

"Marketing the Thoroughbred is so important," Rosenberg said. "These horses have been handled their whole lives; they are smart, trainable, and courageous." He recalled the perspective of one Makeover trainer from out West whose business is retraining and selling horses of all breeds.

"He said, 'if you are always looking for the better horse, you'll eventually wind up with a Thoroughbred,' " Rosenberg said. "That is the message we have to deliver."

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