December wildfires in California have attracted the sympathy, volunteer efforts and fundraising of the racing world. The outpouring of care for the San Luis Rey Downs training center Thoroughbreds and racing community affected by the Lilac Fire is heartening.
But there is another, ongoing rescue effort underway, as Dina Alborano, the Standardbred Retirement Foundation, and others seeking appropriate homes for soon-to-be 15-year old trotters and pacers. Alborano (@EquineAltitude on social media and www.icareihelp.com) took time out from her not-for-profit work diverting unwanted Standardbreds (and any other breeds she can) from US livestock auction “kill pens”, to brainstorm 12 ways of making 2018 a better year for retiring Standardbreds.
1. Check out potential any new homes for a retiring racehorse in advance—ask for references; visit. Alborano says a child or teenager who loses interest in the rehomed ex-racehorse can mean frustrated parents giving the animal away to anyone who will accept it. She adds that finding a proper place for the horse isn’t about guilt-tripping anyone—it’s about doing the work.
2. Think about whether you can provide a simple, inexpensive retirement home for your retiring racehorse, or another equine retiree. Costs are far less than those required for an actively-racing horse. Alborano notes that for a healthy horse on pasture, there are few additional expenses beyond basic grain, hoof trims, and occasional tooth floating.
3. Ensure that your retirement-bound Standardbred has some basic training (e.g. broken to saddle) which could make it more appealing as a potential pleasure or show horse for someone.
4. Support reputable Standardbred retirement and aftercare organizations like the SRF, the largest Standardbred-only adoption program in the US. The SRF’s annual Prix d’Amérique trip fundraiser tickets are on sale until Friday, December 15. For raffle tickets call their office at (732) 446-4422, or e-mail SRFhorsesandkids@gmail.com. Yes, you can buy tickets the morning of the raffle (i.e. the day this issue of Atlantic Post Calls comes out electronically). Follow Alborano on Twitter and Facebook (@EquineAltitude) to learn about many specific rescue efforts and fundraising campaigns.
5. Don’t assume that every horse “Amished” will be wanted by Amish families, whom Alborano notes typically only want ex-racehorses with specific traits (e.g. dark coat colour, soundness, etc.). Many do not end up where people expect.
6. If an ex-racehorse cannot be used as a saddle horse, consider other occupations for the horse, ranging from a pasture buddy for young horses, to a pleasure driving prospect. Alborano mentions the hugely-popular retired Australian Thoroughbred Subzero, the 30-year-old winner of the 1992 Melbourne Cup. Subzero became a clerk of the course’s working horse at an Australian racetrack, and has more recently made appearances at schools, nursing homes, and public events to promote racing.
7. Ideally, don’t leave retirement planning until December of the horse’s final year of racing, or after the horse is unable to race any longer—communicate proactively with people who may be looking for a pleasure horse or even just a pasture ornament.
8. Gelding a horse who will not be used for breeding can make it easier to rehome him. New Vocations Racehorse Adoption Program, for example, is unable to accept stallions.
9. Enroll racehorses with Standardbred Canada or the US Trotting Association’s “Full Circle” programs, in which former owners will be contacted if the horse ever needs a home later in life. Be aware that Full Circle is not a horse rescue and does not provide homes for retired horses; its purpose is to reconnect retired Standardbreds with people who cared for them earlier in life, who would be willing to take them back to live out their lives peacefully. (Alborano personally calls owners, trainers, breeders and others who may be willing to help or adopt a Standardbred they once worked with or owned. She checks out horses’ freeze brands to find out who in their past may be able to offer them a simple, lifetime home.)
10. Encourage a culture of responsibility in racing, which helps create a better image and future for the sport. Support initiatives such as “1% for the horse”, in which 1% of a horse’s sale price as a yearling would be retained at the time of the yearling sale, to be held in trust and put toward the costs of the horse’s eventual retirement. Alborano says she would like to see such a program become standard across the industry.
11. Share information (via social media but also by word of mouth) about horses needing homes, or if you have a horse who will need a new home after racing. It’s always better to find a new owner directly than to turn to rescue organizations to manage crisis situations.
12. Understand that while not everyone in the industry may see value in rescuing a particular horse from “kill pen” auction or other disturbing circumstances, there is always value—to the animal spared from further suffering and an undignified death, and to the public image of harness racing, which is damaged whenever a racehorse, especially one with significant lifetime earnings or accomplishments, is discarded.
Dina Alborano’s name may be familiar to readers who have followed the story of Killean Cut Kid on social media or in Harness Racing Update. Controversy surrounded Killean Cut Kid because of allegations that the horse had been humanely euthanized in Ohio, when in fact, rescuers and donors saved the badly-injured pacer from export to Mexico for slaughter. Alborano led the fundraising effort and hands-on care of the gelding, who she says is doing well and now in the care of well-known veterinarian Dr. Patty Hogan.
Interviewing Robert Colette, Jenn Baxter, and Chuck and Devin O’Connor at Truro Raceway this month, it was refreshing to hear about their efforts to find appropriate new owners for their 14-year-old geldings Bagel Man, Intrepidus, and Sharon The Moment. (Check out the December TROT Magazine to hear their stories.) These three pacers will be honoured with a special retirement event this Sunday, December 17, at Truro Raceway. A partridge in a pear tree may be festive, but a retired Standardbred in a forever home seems more in line with the true spirit of Christmas.