Call to owners: do your racehorse a big favor - retire him while he's still sound

Erin Crady during a visit Our Mims Retirement in Paris, Kentucky. Our Mims is a TCA grant recipient.

Twenty-five years ago, the Thoroughbred aftercare industry was a fraction of what it is today. A few organizations were rehoming ex-racehorses, but there were few unifying ties and the word “aftercare” was seldom used.

A few owners, led by Herb and Ellen Moelis, of CandyLand Farm in Delaware, and the late breeder and philanthropist Allaire du Pont, launched a charity event to raise money for retired racehorses. Their event grew from a small auction that raised $15,000 in 1990 (awarded to the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation) to a million-dollar Stallion Season Auction in 1997. Seeing a need to award grants to a number of retired racehorse non-profits, the Thoroughbred Charities of America was formed.

In 2000, TCA became the charitable arm of the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association. It now has a United Way structure, raising and distributed money to other non-profit organizations with the aim of bettering the lives of Thoroughbreds and the people who care for them. TCA funnels donations into a number of organizations with a wide variety of missions. Some work to retrain and rehome racehorses, some help support backstretch and farm workers, others use Thoroughbreds in therapy programs.

At the end of its 25th year in existence, TCA has granted $21 million to 100 charities across the country. These grant recipients are known far and wide for their invaluable work.

Organizations such as Saratoga WarHorse, Old Friends, CANTER, the Belmont Child Care Association, and the Retired Racehorse Project have all received assistance from TCA.

TCA’s Executive Director Erin Crady, who has been with TCA for five years, is impressed by the work that she’s seen from TCA grantees and is hopeful for the future of aftercare.

Erin Shea recently talked to Crady about the changing landscape of Thoroughbred aftercare, the responsibility of retiring racehorses, and the future of racing charities.


What does TCA do and why is it important to the industry?

“We are a non-profit organization, we are the charitable arm of TOBA. Our mission, which we tweaked a little bit this year - it’s not a sustainable model to retire every Thoroughbred, we have to focus on the rehoming and the retraining - is to provide a better life for Thoroughbreds both during and after their racing careers by supporting qualified repurposing and retirement organizations and by helping the people who care for them.

“We included the word “repurposing” and we took out the word “rescue” because we felt that rescue devalues the Thoroughbreds a little bit. We felt that repurposing was more accurate to where we are today with aftercare.

“I think that it speaks to the overall evolution of where we’ve come in the past 25 years [with aftercare]. When TCA was founded 25 years ago, ‘rescue’ was probably the most appropriate word to use, but look at where we are today and where we’ve come with all the programs and awareness, [the focus now is more to] repurpose, rehome, rehabilitate, and retrain.

“An important distinction about TCA is that we help both horses and humans. So we provide grants to organizations that provide aftercare services, but we also provide grants to organizations that are assisting the backstretch community and the farm workers community.”

So TCA was created 25 years ago to give aid to non-profits helping retired racehorses. How has the aftercare industry changed since then?

“I think there’s been significant change in the five years [that I’ve been here]. One of our grantees is the Retired Racehorse Project, and we just feel that what they are doing is a huge piece of the puzzle. Yes, horse care and retraining efforts directly with horses at aftercare facilities is very, very important, but increasing demand and creating a market for off-track Thoroughbreds is an integral piece of that puzzle. The Retired Racehorse Project has created major inroads for creating that market for Thoroughbreds among pleasure horse owners. They’ve done a phenomenal job.

“Working with programs like the RRP, the Thoroughbred-only horse shows that are all over the country now - TheJockeyClub’sThoroughbredIncentiveProgram (TIP) [TCA’s IndustryServiceAward winner this year] - is just phenomenal. In the same vein as what RRP is doing, they are creating a market to increase demand.

“If you can actually win cash and prizes competing on your Thoroughbred, that’s better than just competing for a 5-cent ribbon. Kristin [Leshney, administrator of TIP] has just done a phenomenal job with that program and it’s a huge piece of the puzzle. Aftercare facilities are one part of it, but on the other side that has to create that market - programs like RRP, TIP, and Take2 - seeing programs like that come to life in the past few years, that’s just great.

“I think it’s been in the past few years that we’ve seen the biggest changes, and I attribute it to organizations that are not only caring for the horses but are working to create that market and increase that demand.”

Do you think racehorse owners have become more invested in aftercare for their own horses?

“Yes, absolutely. I think it’s become more top of mind, and the education seems to have increased. I think there is definitely room for improvement and we have a long way to go, but I think more and more owners are becoming aware that these horses are amazingly versatile, and, once their racing careers are over, that’s not the end for them, that’s the beginning.

“As a part of TOBA, when I’m in the same vicinity as their ownership seminars, I do the retirement portion and what I try to drive home to owners is that one of the best things you can do for your Thoroughbred is retire him while he’s sound.

“If you see your Thoroughbred and he’s dropping in class or he’s hitting a certain level, try not to just get that one last race, let’s retire him while he’s sound. You may have to cut your losses, but in the end, you’re not going to pay your trainer a day rate, you’re not going to pay your farrier or vet bill while you’re risking possible injury to your horse.

“If you retire him while he’s sound and get him into an aftercare facility or retraining program, he could excel as an eventer or hunter/jumper and there is value there. The demand has increased now and, if we can find that value once these horses are off the track, that’s a good option for owners.”

Where does the burden of responsibility fall for aftercare?

“I think ultimately it is the owner’s responsibility. During TOBA’s ownership seminars, they advise owners to put their business plan together - the first thing we tell them is that this is a business, put your plan together and outline your objectives for your racing stable.

“One of the first things I tell them is: put in your business plan your retirement plan for your horses. Before you even purchase your horse, think about your retirement plan. Make it one of the first things you consider so you’re not caught off guard when you’ve got to retire your horse. Just have a plan in place. We always talk about a 401k [employer-sponsored retirement plan] for people, so let’s start retirement planning for your horses.

“So I think ultimately it would be the owner’s responsibility, but I think the industry has done a pretty good job of stepping up as a whole and bringing aftercare to the forefront of where we see it today.”

Do you think there’s been more investment in backstretch workers’ rights?

“I think so. It seems to be very regional. Here in Kentucky, our Kentucky donors support Kentucky-area organizations like BlueGrassFarmsCharities. But in New York, you have the BelmontChildCareAssociation and BEST [Backstretch Employee Service Team].

“I think awareness as a whole has increased, probably not at the rate of the aftercare movement, but it is a very important population of our industry. They are the backbone of the industry, and its often under-served.”

TCA also gives grants to therapeutic programs that use Thoroughbreds. How did the TCA get involved with these programs?

“[Therapeutic programs are] certainly not for every horse, and not for every Thoroughbred. It takes a very special horse to be a therapy horse. Not only the riding for the handicapped [programs] but organizations such as Saratoga Warhorse, a TCA grantee, who help veterans suffering from PTSD.

“So programs like that work with exclusively Thoroughbreds and it’s a win-win. It has proven to be very effective, although there isn’t a lot of scientific data but there are studies underway and, just kind of anecdotally, it seems to effective. For Saratoga Warhorse, the success that they’ve seen is something we absolutely love and are likely to support because it’s needed and it’s good work.

“I think there are more organizations like that popping up across the U.S., at least from what we’ve seen anyway. Or it’s an organization that was originally focused on riding for the handicapped and now they may be adding working with veterans into their program - it seems to be expanding far and wide.

“It’s such a powerful metaphor for the veterans to understand that these horses’ racing careers have ended and a lot of the veterans have seen their military careers end. I can’t say enough good about these program.”

How do you see the future of TCA?

“For TCA, I’m excited to see our next 25 years. We’ve had a great 25 years so far. At that time, I believe the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation was around, but there weren’t many people sounding the alarm about aftercare. Aftercare wasn’t even a word at that point.

“So what TCA founders Herb and Ellen Moelis and along with the late Allaire duPont and what our board has done over the last 25 years - working to bring support to these organizations that are caring for Thoroughbreds after their days on the track are over - has been pretty impressive. I only see that expanding over the next  25 years.

“I think the focus on retraining [in aftercare] has room for growth and expansion. And I think there’s room for growth on the awareness and education side.”

What can the racing industry do to help the horses and the people involved in the sport?

“We’re a non-profit organization so we rely exclusively on donations and volunteers - but really support of any kind is appreciated.

“Other than monetary support, awareness is important. I think there is definitely room for growth, mostly education and awareness.”

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