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Missing in Racing: Retirement Farms

Songbird retires to a great life

There is a pandemic in racing: not enough places for racehorses to retire. Now, I’m not talking about the mares and stallions that people spend heavy thousands (and even millions) on, like Songbird in the picture above; I’m talking about the old, the permanently lame, and those destined to be pasture ornaments.

You can surf through any website of organizations like CANTER, and you will see many of the same problems: the young, healthy horses with an eventing future are snapped up like hotcakes, but the horses that will need time or won’t be eligible for a second career, sit on the website for months at a time with no takers.

This isn’t the fault of CANTER, not in the least. They provide the industry a great service by bringing these horses to the public’s attention. However, places that are able to take them are few and far between: Old Friends can only take so many horses, and Our Mims has a limit too. It’s just a fact that many horses just don’t have anywhere to go if they’re not in perfect condition and are sometimes found in slaughter pens as a result.

Hence, the need for more farms with a dedicated place for the retirees that don’t have a bright, sporty future ahead of them. A place where they will be pasture pals for others like them, or teachers for the yearlings that need a good lesson in manners. I am not calling for farms to start taking in horses and be expected to care for them for free. I am one of the people that firmly believe that, once you purchase the horse or breed them, their future is your responsibility.

As the “most intelligent species”, it’s not too much to ask that the human part of the equation have some kind of plan in mind for their horses’ life, down to the end. It’s time that racing owners and breeders start putting aside money for the board of their “unfit to be ridden” horses.

Yes, I am saying that owners should start planning on boarding their horses if they know that the horse will not be a second career prospect. If you know that the horse ran itself into lameness for your stable, and he won’t be sound for anything other than being a people greeter for the rest of his life, it is time for you to start accepting that you need to retire him to a barn that can care for him with the understanding that board is required. As unsavory as it is going to sound, it is time for people to understand that you cannot just purchase horses with no financial plan behind the idea. That thinking is why we have a slaughter problem in the first place: too many people breed horses without the funds to care for them once their usefulness has ended.

Sorry, horse racing. We are one of the wealthiest sports in the world, and we need to provide for the athletes that bring us that distinction. Drop the constant mentality that it’s “too expensive” because (let’s set the record straight right now) if you’re not already on the Forbes List, skimping out on your racers or sending them to slaughter will not get you there. But it will make the public hate us even more than some already do. Why feed fuel into the fire when we could be taking a fire extinguisher to the problem by admitting that our horses are our responsibility (not the public that retrains the OTTBs) and act on the words?

Please, stop with the “it’s not part of the business model” talk. Some of the farms in Kentucky stand stallions that make them millions of dollars every year per horse and sell homebreds at auctions for hundreds of thousands of dollars several times every year. If you can generate that much revenue bringing them into this world, you can make sure that their life (until it ends) gets to experience the good things that the money they brought you, could bring them.

Syndicates can function the same way. If 100 owners can be part of a horse, 100 can get together some money every month to contribute to his after-care if he can’t be sold to a home because he isn’t sound. You CAN afford to board your pasture pals, it just takes some smart financial balancing.

Take care of your horses.

Just saying that we care about them is not enough because no one can see your words, but they will see your actions.