When it comes to our horses, Thoroughbred fans are the first ones to defend our beloved breed’s honor. Owners pour thousands into making sure that their horses have the best care that money can buy and trainers often handle animals worth millions of dollars in racing and breeding futures.
However, what happens if the horse doesn’t pan out like his more successful counterparts? What happens when the owner is only in the game for the racing and not the breeding or retraining parts?
The purest of the “bred to the purple” horses will go on to magnificent breeding careers. Others will become regional legends and experience moderate success as commercial stallions or mares. Most champions will never reproduce themselves on the track and some will not live up to the lofty price tag that their standing farm paid for the breeding rights. They will retire peacefully to their birth farms, to established havens, or they will live out their days at the farm that fought for them at public auction houses like Keeneland and Fasig-Tipton.
The rest of the horses who didn’t quite reach such levels of fame will find new homes with show jumper barns, cross-country enthusiasts, and the average fan that loved them despite how their career turned out. But others, invariably, will fall through the cracks; they will end up in a pen one truck ride from Mexico or Canada to a slaughter yard.
Everyone agrees that something must be done to stop this from happening to the athletes that make the game successful, but when it comes to what exactly should be done, that’s where the lines are drawn and arguments begin. For the purpose of understanding where the splintering is happening, we’ll analyze the two most prevalent arguments in this situation: those that believe that no horse should be left behind, no matter the cost, and those that believe that -by paying the “bail” that some kill buyers demand- soft-hearted rescues only fund more slaughter in the end.
On the side of the “anti-bail” groups, their argument centers around the concern that buying into these horses and providing the kill buyers with more money (often as high as three times what they paid for the horse from the original owner), the rescue groups are only enabling the viscous cycle to continue.
Many quote the practice of “at-risk shopping” where a select few horses are shipped around from lot to lot and posted online as “at risk” horses. People pay the inflated bail and those that don’t sell are presumably sent to slaughter, just as their advertisement online suggested.
However, a few of the advocates against paying this bail money have begun to notice a pattern: the same unsold horses that had previously been up in one lot as being at slaughter risk were now popping up at another local lot with the same tag along with a few new faces that the buyer picked up on his way there. Thus, the kill-buyer could continue to play with the heart strings of the rescuers that came to the horses’ aid, even when he knew that those advertisements were only a ploy for the money.
This continues on as the buyer merely moves from one place to another with his unsold horses, and scares up the bail from people as he goes; funding his ability to purchase more OTTBs to continue his scheme. The nightmare event that all rescues fear and refuse to entertain is played out all over social media as well-meaning people rush to get the horses out of a filthy lot, and the buyer gets several thousand dollars per “mass rescue”. The hostage situation has ended up playing in the favor of the captor and not the victims.
“Bail funding slaughter” concerns aside, many also choose to reserve their funds from slaughter lots because of the concern of the quality of the horses that are residing in the pens. The worry is that most are in very poor shape and exposed to countless diseases by the time enough money is raised to get them out, and frankly, they sometimes just aren’t worth it. Why save one very sick horse for $3,000 (bail, quarantine, shipping, treatment, etc) and have him not survive, when you could buy 3 or 4 straight from the owner at the track with all their papers and vaccinations up-to-date with the same money? The question is one of priority: do we save those that are now the sickest of our choices or do we save those with the best chance of a future that doesn’t depend on them being in a constant veterinary cycle or months of careful (and expensive) rehabilitation?
This argument, while dispassionate, also favors the rational side of the discussion. Funds aren’t an unlimited resource for many people, and many rescues live under the constant fear of asking too much from their volunteers and sponsors. How much is too much before people just can’t donate anymore? What happens when all resources are tapped dry and an emergency arises? This prevents many rescue and rehabilitation groups from stepping into the ring and wanting to save horses from slaughter lots.
Besides, when you have tracks like Delta Downs and companies like Boyd Gaming (DD’s owners) that turn a blind eye to the problems -despite all the social media outcry and push from the public to act- how is moral supposed to stay high? How do you inspire hope that something will change if the money keeps coming in regardless of what does (or doesn’t) happen?
The frustration is palpable, because both sides want something to change, but with everyone butting heads as to how that can be accomplished, the result is the equivalent of shouting at a wall to stop leaking while the plumber watches you scream from ten feet away.
The rational side struggles with wanting to help but not wanting to fund the problem or be taken advantage of in the process. It isn’t that they are happy to see these horses go to slaughter; far from it. This side of the rescue group spectrum is taking a harder and more pointed stand against funding the people that will only turn around and buy more OTTBs after scalping the group for horses that wouldn’t be worth the asking price in any other situation.
Sometimes, emotions cannot be your friend or ally, and many are now having to make the hard, logical choices to shun the kill buyer’s demands entirely.