Co-authored by Tom Ludt
This past week, the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation (TRF) completed an exhaustive and comprehensive evaluation of its entire herd of 1,100 retired Thoroughbred racehorses. The evaluation was performed by multiple teams of veterinarians visiting all 29 TRF-contracted farms spread throughout the United States. The complete report was conducted to critically evaluate the horses and the facilities, with an emphasis on targeting the increasing special needs required of an aging equine population. The ambitious endeavor was initiated late last year through a joint effort with -- and generously sponsored by -- the Mellon Estate. The purpose was to properly assess the physical status of every member of the herd, determine suitability of the contracted facilities, and assist in formulating a long-term plan for these horses in an increasingly precarious financial climate.
It is more than unfortunate that the very information solicited by the Board of the TRF was earlier leaked to the media in an incomplete form and produced misleading and very biased information. However, the TRF -- a largely volunteer, donation-dependent, grassroots organization dedicated to the care of ex-race horses with nowhere else to go -- is taking every comment and concern seriously and is committed to making a stronger and more effective organization.
The final and complete evaluation was generally quite positive. While approximately ten percent of the herd was below ideal weight at the time of the veterinary inspections (January through April), the herd is in good overall condition. The few horses in the TRF herd of 1,100 found to be in need of special care were attended to immediately. The evaluation also showed that the TRF needs to do a better job at consistent and sustained oversight of the farms it contracts with by making administrative responsibilities for employees more clearly defined with better recordkeeping conducted. Improving administrative responsibilities, as well as paying affiliate farms more promptly, is a priority for the entire TRF Board. But perhaps the most salient information in the complete herd evaluation is that the TRF must find more reliable and consistent sources of funding if it is to take care of the discarded horse population it serves.
The TRF is lucky to have committed supporters and generous sponsors who understand the urgent need of caring for retired and aging horses. An overwhelming majority of farms we contract with have also pledged to do everything they can do to care for these animals. Partners like The Jockey Club have come through in big ways, too. At our unique prison programs, which provide vocational training for prisoners in caring for horses, the inspirational messages of love and redemption through a connection with horses keep flowing in to our offices.
But it's not enough. The lack of coordination and cooperation in the racing community in addressing the myriad problems facing ex-racehorses has reached a tipping point. The volatility in the American economy is severely impacting the consistent funding stream needed to protect this growing and vulnerable horse population. The broad public discussion on the subject provides a unique opportunity for the racing community to confront this issue head on, and provide a catalyst for change which can benefit not only the horses, but the racing industry as a whole.
While many in the community refuse to discuss difficult issues, such as fees to pay for retired horses or euthanasia as a compassionate end to a horse's life, the TRF is committed to confronting these and other challenging issues. Without these difficult discussions, the number of retired horses will continue to grow while the funding sources shrink.
Recently, organizations in various states have adopted "per start" fees in an effort to help defray the cost of taking care of our aging horse population. We think it's time for the entire racing industry in the United States to do something similar. The TRF Board is calling for industry funding and an industry wide meeting to identify and generate significant and stable revenue streams for our equine retirees. We have launched this effort by speaking with other Boards, Foundations, business leaders, institutions, and Congressional leaders to help organize such an event.
Providing care for retired athletes isn't unique to our industry, in fact it's one of the key sticking points in the NFL's ongoing lockout. Unlike that other billion dollar industry, the horse community isn't split into camps of owners and players feuding over money. There is no other side, no competition, no obstacle other than our own willingness to make a strong, sustainable commitment to the cause. There's little reason why a solution can't be developed to address this critical funding issue. There may not be agreement on the means, but the ends -- providing compassion for these beautiful animals -- is something we can all agree upon.
The TRF and its Board reiterate our pledge to continue doing everything we can to ensure that these aging horses are provided the dignity and care this industry owes them as they reach the twilight of their lives.
George Grayson is the President of the TRF Board and has been an owner and breeder of thoroughbreds for most of his adult life. He and his family own Blue Ridge Farm in Upperville, Va., currently the home of retired stallions Lord Avie and Miners Mark. Mr.Grayson is a Managing Director with the investment firm Brown Advisory in Washington, D.C. Tom Ludt is Chairman of the TRF Board and of the Breeder's Cup. Ludt is also President of the Vinery - a full-service Thoroughbred facility with locations in Lexington, Ky. and Summerfield, Fla.