In the relatively short history of the thoroughbred (a little over 300 years), only 40-50 generations have been produced. The alchemy of creating the classic horse is an imperfect science with many excuses for failure, and an equal number of theories about how to succeed. The fact is, the racehorse has changed little, if we measure success on the basis of stop-watch timings. They have improved only marginally over the last 70 years, and some of that improvement is coming from more accurate timing devices.
The wonder of the thoroughbred racehorse, and the quality that draws us to them, is their genetic need to run as far and as fast as they can. Added to the traditional training they receive, the effort they put out in any race surpasses the heights achieved by human athletes during Championship encounters in basketball, football or even marathon racing. Like all great athletes, they are prone to injury – in fact, especially prone: when they are competing, over 1,000 pounds of muscle and bone land jarringly on spindly front legs 120 times every quarter of a mile. They tell us about their injuries by the manner in which they eat, walk, canter and respond to human handling.
So the vigilant owner must be a consistent monitor of the horse’s condition. Once the physical signs of deterioration begin to show up, decisive action must be taken. The question the owner must now face when, sadly, the horse’s career is threatened by serious injury is, “What do we do?” It is particularly difficult when the horse is unfit for breeding. Experienced owners often have people willing to give the horse a home, where it may be used as a riding or “pleasure” horse after six or so months of recuperation and retraining.
For those who own farms as well as thoroughbreds, the question of maintaining an injured horse is the decision to provide food and pasture. A large majority of owners do not have that luxury available. A minimum fee for care at a boarding farm is between $5-10 a day. Given a life expectancy of 15 to 20 more years (after its brief racing career), a retired horse becomes a major non-returnable investment.
It’s hard to pull your heart away from a horse you own. They do become something more than an investment, no matter how tough-minded you are. But there is an investment you can make that insures a workable future for horses who can no longer race and cannot or should not be consigned for breeding.
California has one of the most cutting edge programs in the country for placement of retired racehorses. California Retirement Management Account (CARMA), is a charitable 501(c)(3) organization created to raise money for retired California racehorses. CARMA’s mission is to assist Thoroughbred retirement facilities that care for and retrain horses whose careers have ended after competing in California Thoroughbred races.
The California Retirement Management Account Placement Program has been developed to act as a liaison between horsemen and CARMA Aftercare Partners (non-profit benefactors of CARMA grant funds). The primary focus of the program is to facilitate the transition of horses from the racetrack to the aftercare organization that can best place that horse into its second career. Horse care and safety is of primary importance to CARMA and the program encourages the racing industry to participate in the care and protection of its equine athletes. For more information, visit CARMA’s website.
An important note: There is an unexpected “black market” in retired racehorses. It can happen that the horse you think you have retired and given or sold to a private individual is re-sold, either for slaughter, for (in case of broodmares) a cruel practice known as “hormone milking” for Premarin – or, strangely enough, for continued racing at obscure tracks elsewhere. If you do not personally know the individual to whom you are transferring your horse, check him or her out. In the case of the “continued racing” black market, there is a prescribed and workable solution: If you know your horse is no longer fit for racing or for race-breeding and want to make certain it IS retired, return the horse’s Certificate of Foal Registration to The Jockey Club with an accompanying notation that the horse was transferred, or sold, “without pedigree” (thoroughbreds cannot be raced or bred to produce racing foals without their pedigree papers). This notation must state the date the horse was transferred, and must be signed by the owner or the owner’s authorized agent.
Please consult Appendices for contacts to these foundations.