by Bob Wood, Special to Pennsylvania Equestrian - August 2010
“Racehorse Retirees Face Happier Futures” was a recent headline in the Pennsylvania Equestrian. The report of 200 racehorses saved yearly by this recent effort is a positive rescue direction. The sad truth is that the vast number of raced Thoroughbreds have no future. As great as 200 saved a year sounds, it's a drop in the bucket of abandoned Thoroughbred racehorses. Furthermore, this kind of positive news often takes the focus off the true scale of the problem.
Having retrained many TB racehorses over many years, I feel the rescue/adoption solution has never and will never address the vast number of horses raced and discarded. The practical answer to this problem is to deal with the challenge of a second career before their racing days begin, not afterward. The focus must be on the underlying first causes of their unadoptability, because there will never be enough rescue stalls to provide more than a token post-career solution. We therefore must increase their adoptability to the average person wanting to own a horse by making them easier to retrain after racing.
An inventory of the racehorse skills set reveals a horse that knows how to run fast, turn left, and stop within a half mile or so. They scare the average potential horse owner to death. Their fundamental lack of early basic training makes them unusable as riding horses later in their lives. They do not know how to stand still when mounted, they are unfamiliar with the full weight of a rider in the saddle, or the feel of a rider's leg against their barrel. Most are, as a result, ticklish when they are first mounted with a riding saddle, if you can mount them at all in any conventional sense. They end up in a second career job market with no real marketable skills, and often with the additional handicap of a minor injury, a mental scar like cribbing or weaving, or manners that few average riders can endure. All this could be made easier after race retirement, if time were taken at the beginning of their training to build the foundation of a second career skill set when they are most open to learning.
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