I am a member of many of these “OTTB” groups on social media, and do so hoping to be a voice from the inside, one that can maybe answer questions on pedigree, or connect these people with their horses breeder or owner – usually in the hopes of a foal picture or some information on a quirk. I tell each of them to please be respectful during these inquiries – that the quickest way to injure this connection that we are trying to harbor between the racing industry and the sport horse world, is to convince all of the breeders, trainers, and owners that the metaphorical “WE” of the sport horse world is actually a world full of PETA activists who wants to shut down the industry in its entirety. Many of these people are quick to say that they “rescued” their horses, or that their horses were “in bad shape” and I hope to advise them that their breeder was probably not their last owner on the track, nor were they a money hungry mob man. I find it may be easier to simply make a list of things that I wish I could say to all future OTTB owners/caretakers:
1. Your horses breeder/owner was in the business to “make millions.”
This is Dynamaker as a yearling. He is my personal OTTB, so I will base most of these off of him. His dam Dynamist is by Dynaformer, who stood at Three Chimneys for his final breeding season at $150,000 per live foal. He himself is by Empire Maker, who stood at Juddmonte during his INITIAL breeding season at $100,000, but was more likely around $30,000 by 2007 when Dynamaker was conceived. His dam Dynamist was sold the year Dynamaker was born at the Keeneland November sale for $360,000. Did you know that the average price to board one of these weanlings/yearlings/mares at an elite breeding farm is approximately $30-$40/day? So board for the year for ONE horse is approximately $14,000? And that’s not including vet/farrier/dentist? So his breeder had spent approximately $500,000 by the time Dynamaker had made it to the track – and he won a whopping $6,040 before being retired and rehomed as a jumper where I found him. So, lets see, $500,000 – $6,040 = a $493,960 deficit. I don’t think many financial advisors would recommend this specific investment!
2. You horses breeder/owner thought of his/her animal as a commodity and did not love them.
Each of these animals is loved, adored, and cared for surrounded by the most educated horsemen, veterinarians, nutritionists, and farriers known to the industry. We may send them to the sales to allow someone else to enjoy them in their racing endeavors, but you will never see a more full “Virtual Stable” than that of a breeders or farm managers.
3. Your horses breeder/owner does not care about their horse post-racing.
I have had the privilege of being in contact with the breeders as well as the farm where my Dynamaker was foaled/raised/and raced for and can assure you that this statement couldn’t be further from the truth. The day I purchased him, I woke up to an email with this:
And two years later, I received a gorgeous competition saddle pad paying homage to his breeder and his racing career, with Dr. Chandler’s silks as well as his JC name embroidered on them for all to see:
Through email, running into each other at the sales, instagram, and facebook – I stay in contact with my horses breeder and farm and they are THRILLED with his success post-racing. As a manager of a different farm, I can guarantee you that I enjoy nothing more than finding out that one of mine has been rehomed to a second career, and will bend over backwards to give them any information/pictures that I can get my hands on!
4. Your horses breeder/owner simply “didn’t care” to follow their horses career or know what happened to it.
I was recently told that a foal that I had bonded slightly too strongly with would be going through the November sale, and had to choke back the tears as I realized that not only do I only have 4 more months of having immediate access to him – but that I would also potentially be losing any interaction at all, as the system is not set up to have information made public when horses are bought/sold/moved.
As the farm manager (or in this case, the farm managers girlfriend) I have zero say in what is chosen to be done with this foal, and I know that the owner has to do what is right for him and his herd of horses. I am currently plotting how I am going to maintain track of him during this transitional time until he is named and on the track where I can follow him through works and races, but it is not a perfect world and I understand that there is a chance that I may lose him. Does that mean that I won’t be devastated if that happens? Absolutely not. Does that mean that whoever gets ahold of him 4 years from now should assume that he was never loved? Well I hope that it is my name next to OWNER in that case, but otherwise I think that these pictures are evidence enough for that answer.
I understand that in just with every other industry, there are bad people in the thoroughbred industry, and these people tend to flood over any information about the good. The good people who have endured through the highest of highs and the lowest of lows, just to be a part in the crazy, spectacular, and at times heart breaking world that is horses. I have seen owners cry after selling a mare, I have seen grooms spend the night in a stall to watch a colicky weanling, and I have seen farm managers walk away sobbing after losing one of “their own”.
We are attempting to clean up the industry bit by bit – just a few days ago a group of the top trainers signed a pledge to stand behind the elimination of race day medication by 2016 – and in the past few years more farms and tracks have pledged their assistance to thoroughbred aftercare. We still have a ways to go – but the path is slowly being chiseled away, something that needs to be done from both sides. We as breeders need to support and build aftercare, but the sport horse world and fellow second careers need to respect and not be disillusioned about the breeding and racing industries as well. One day I hope that we can meet in the middle, but until then I will continue to assist others in their journey with their ex-racehorses and hopefully remain a bridge between these two worlds.