What is the horse racing community doing to find new careers for retired horses?
There’s no doubt horse racing has been negatively affected by publicity in recent years. That said, what is not widely publicized is what the racing community has integrated to help retired horses find new careers, what they’ve accomplished to refine breeding practices, and track and prevent catastrophic injuries. The racing industry is fully aware that change needed to happen — and has taken action. The resources for the ‘afterlife’ for these athletes have been greatly increased in the last 10 years.
One of the responsibilities of racehorse trainers, owners, and breeders is what to do with the horses after they retire. The industry has made strides to educate and to put in place new ways to make sure the horses are cared for after racing. In fact, many recognized racetracks in the US have implemented rules with penalties for trainers/owners who knowingly send retired horses to their final demise. The Jockey Club has also required microchipping for all registered horses since 2017, which assists with keeping track of horses digitally, instead of the not-so-indelible upper lip tattoo.
In light of this need to track where retired horses go, the formation of a national Aftercare organization, the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance (TAA), was implemented in 2013. Did you know this non-profit was initially funded by “seed money from Breeders’ Cup Ltd., The Jockey Club, and Keeneland Association Inc.” (https://www.thoroughbredaftercare.org/about/)? Now, the TAA is supported by owners, trainers, breeders, racetracks, aftercare professionals, and many other racing industry groups.
Not without mention, and perhaps the most popular aftercare outlet, is Old Friends Kentucky (https://www.oldfriendsequine.org/). This farm in Kentucky has the noble duty of housing famous ex-racehorses and providing racing fans educational farm tours. Fans come from all over the world to visit the likes of Silver Charm, Alphabet Soup and more. It’s safe to say the ability to aid retired thoroughbreds has drastically improved!
In 2013, The Retired Racehorse Project created the popular Thoroughbred Makeover (https://www.tbmakeover.org/about-the-makeover). This is now the premier national gathering and competition for organizations, trainers, and farms. Its primary purpose is ‘to showcase the trainability and talent of off-track Thoroughbreds, and to offer education to new retired racehorse owners.
In just 10 days from now, 10 different disciplines will complete the menu, anywhere from Polo, to Jumping, to Cowboy Dressage and even Barrel Racing from October 12 to 17, 2021. The venue continues to be the Kentucky Horse Park, providing the Kentucky horse racing backdrop and esteemed horse show venue (home of the Kentucky Rolex 3 Day Event (https://kentuckythreedayevent.com/).
I was lucky enough to travel from California in 2018 to compete with Slycy, a 2007 ‘warhorse’ that retired in 2017, running 52 races and earning over $230,000. The stipulation of the TB Makeover is the horses must not have more than 10 months of retraining after racing. The competitive field is somewhat level at the Makeover, meaning all the horses are not seasoned show horses — they are retraining for new careers.
I found the whole experience uplifting as an equine professional and former racetrack trainer and exercise rider. The community of thoroughbred lovers is impressive — and first-rate. The farms and trainers present were encouraging, joyful and the normal sense of intense competition was vacant. Everyone was truly there to promote new careers for these impressive beings. After 3 months of retraining post his racetrack career, Slycy placed 16th in the Freestyle Division out of over 80 entries — making the 2500-mile journey most pleasing.
Today, Slycy has found his niche as a teacher, trainer and confidant since graduating the retraining program at Healing Arenas (https://www.healingarenas.org/). Since October 2019, Slycy has been at The Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation’s Second Chances Program at Pleasant Valley State Prison in Coalinga, California (https://www.trfinc.org/pleasant-valley-state-prison-equine-care-program/). He’s instrumental in each one of the men’s lives as they learn to connect, care for, and take responsibility of these horses (all former racehorses). “Sly” is truly the favorite of the ‘gang’ and has fit right in his new role.
All I know is at the end of the day, “every horse can help a human, every human can help a horse”.
By Juleeann Baker