For 673 accepted trainers, the journey to the Retired Racehorse Project‘s 2019 RPP Thoroughbred Makeover is full-speed ahead! Between now and the Makeover, to take place Oct. 2-5 at the Kentucky Horse Park, four of those trainers will blog their journeys, including their triumphs and their heartbreaks, successes and failures, for Eventing Nation readers. Read more from EN’s 2019 Thoroughbred Makeover Bloggers: Lindsey Burns, Hillary McMichael, Clare Mansmann, Jennifer Reisenbichler.
There has been so much negativity surrounding the racing industry that it has become a bandwagon people love to jump on. Currently, there are news articles and media of all kinds portraying only the worst of the worst, without giving thought to the consequences. While, yes, the industry as a whole needs change, anyone involved in horses in sports (and we all should be, because they cannot return to the wild, just fyi) needs to be careful allowing extremists the power to dictate that change. The changes need to come from people who love horses, who love the sport, and who understand the inner workings, and all sides of each story.
Racing has always been a little different from other equestrian sports, a little separate. You may know several people who ride hunters, jumpers, eventers, endurance, fox hunting, dressage, trail riding, and they may even ride OTTBs. But you may not know anyone within the actual racing world; you may not know a groom, hot walker, exercise rider, trainer, jockey, or owner, especially personally.
All too often, we, at Pacific Farms, are praised for what we do, and for “rescuing” these horses, which we are quick to dissuade. These horses are not rescued. Even the horses that came through an organization with “rescue” in the name were not rescued.
Now, because the internet is what it is, I will head off the most common attacks, real quick. Of course, there are bad apples in the racing industry. There are bad apples EVERYWHERE. Someone will say they got their horse from a kill pen and list the atrocities. That’s horrible, and cowardly of anyone. But the thing to remember is that those horses more rarely end up in those situations straight from the track. When those horses are found with a tattoo, they are traced directly back to their last track connections, and the penalties are steep. No one wants that coming back to them, and that’s just leaving aside the emotional aspect of finding a horse that they cared deeply for in grave trouble.
Sadly, most of the OTTBs wind up in those sad situations because of whoever took them from the track, and didn’t know how to handle them, and didn’t know how to reach out for help before things became dire. They didn’t know how to provide for them calorically, they didn’t know how to transition the horse from tying in the stall to chilling in the cross ties. They didn’t know how to teach them to stand at the mounting block, how to trot on a loopy rein, how to respond to the leg, how to cross water and jump logs, how to hack by themselves.
They didn’t know, they didn’t know, they didn’t know. So, the horse didn’t know. I already wrote about this when I wrote “The Other Side of Aftercare,” and it’s a soapbox I can stand on because we live it often.
But, let me tell you about ANOTHER side, a much larger side. These horses have a history of people who cared for them, loved them, and rode each race, even if it was from the sidelines. I want to tell you where some of our Makeover horses have come from, past and present.
When Noosh’s Tale was ready to retire from racing, John Stuart of Bluegrass Thoroughbred Services reached out to us. Noosh’s owners had had him his entire racing career, and wanted to make sure he found a great home. John owned part of Noosh’s dam, and even came to the Makeover to watch “The Big Horse.”
Several horses have come from Tommy Town Thoroughbred in California. The manager there calls when horses come up, sends us some terrible photos with a promise that he likes the horse, so we will too. We always have, and we send him pictures and videos all the time.
Hill Four Eleven’s owner sent him out to us and paid for all his transitioning and brain surgery. Their family follows him regularly and we always send updates.
Tiz Solo Vino’s owners made sure he ended up with Trista Reynolds of Stoney Hill Stables, who then got him to us. They had owned him and loved him his entire racing career.
Make It Right was injured at a race in December of 2017. His owner and trainer hadn’t had him long when the injury occurred. They didn’t “owe” the horse anything, but immediately performed a surgery on his knee and a subsequent long and thorough rehab, resulting in a horse with zero limitations and kinda cool X-rays, simply to give him a shot at a new career and sending him to MidAtlantic Horse Rescue through Beyond the Wire. They are amazing. All of them.
Best of the Bleu’s was turned out for the winter, as per usual for him. At six years old, his owners decided he was ready for another career, unblemished and fat and rested from hanging in Kentucky at Rosie Napravnik’s Off-Track Sporthorses. Rosie knows what we like, and she knows the horse well (since she and her husband started him in the first place!). His owners love seeing updates.
Highly Cynical recently shipped from Arizona, along with his buddy Mr. Coker, simply because his owners were motivated to see him have a long and happy life in a new career. Before he even got on the trailer, this awesome California bred war horse’s assistant trainer and groom reached out, sending pictures of his wins, tips on winning his affection, and follows him on social media, loving seeing him with all our grass!
This is not unique. There are so many more stories like these. I could go on and on. The racing industry has problems. Don’t we all? (Hi, SafeSport.) But don’t let the word “industry” overshadow the people. There are people involved with racehorses, individuals who love their horses deeply. As much as you love yours. The business side of racing is that horses come and go. They do get claimed, they do get retired, they do move to different trainers, different barns. It happens to us, too.
I cry every time a horse leaves our barn.
So do they.