The large number of horses channeled through the racing industry presents unique challenges and opportunities for nonprofit organizations. Several racehorse retirement programs exist throughout the country, including ReRun, Inc. located near Lexington, KY, The Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation, Inc., located in Lexington, KY and Canter, located in Texas. All three of these nonprofit organizations have chapters operating in several states. These organizations fulfill many of the roles required by nonprofit institutions. They are grounded in the community and seek to improve the lives of retired horses and their human components in the racing industry, create jobs and initiate a sustainability movement throughout the entire equine industry. They are run by “social entrepreneurs” who strive to improve both their geographic communities and the community of horses and horse people.
The Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation, Inc., located in Lexington, KY, was founded by entrepreneur Monique Koehler in the early 1980’s. Koehler enlisted the help of the owners of Secretariat, Forego and Kelso to contribute to a fund to help less-fortunate retired horses. In 1983, a fund-raiser at Belmont Park brought in $200,000 which allowed the Foundation to open. A recent endowment of $5,000,000 ensures the Foundation will operate for several years to come.
The Foundation estimates that over 700 Thoroughbreds have been saved (Clines, 2001). This operation has found a unique way to reduce two major expenses, land and labor. Through the help of a New York Senator, Koehler was able to negotiate deals with several prisons, which tend to own vast amounts of unused, lush pasture. The prisons, including Blackburn Correctional Institute in Kentucky and Wallkill Correctional Facility in New York, provide the land and selected inmates to care for the horses seven days a week. Veterinarians and farriers (professionals who trim horses’ hooves and attach shoes) volunteer their time as part of an ongoing education and training program.
Koehler’s nonprofit organization benefits not only the horses that might otherwise go to slaughter, but also provides rehabilitation therapy for the inmates. Some of those inmates have found jobs on the racetrack and with private horse facilities after their release from prison. The veterinarians and farriers, with their community training programs, contribute to the efforts of the Foundation to educate the public about the fate of some Thoroughbreds after their racing days are over. The Foundation hopes this education will lead to a change of attitude in the racing industry so that Thoroughbreds become something more than a by-product of the races.
Another nonprofit organization dedicated to extending the career opportunity of ex-racehorses is the Communication Alliance to Network Thoroughbred Ex-Racehorses, or Canter. This organization was founded by entrepreneur, Lynn Rorke. Rorke and her husband raised $30,000 from donations to contribute to the price of buying a twenty-six acre ranch in Cedar Creek, TX which can accommodate eight horses at a time. They do not take a salary for themselves and charge no fee for their service.
Rorke estimates that over 2,500 Thoroughbreds have been rescued through all of Canter’s state chapters since 1997 (Blumenthal, 2004). Unlike the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation, which uses the prisoners to rehabilitate the Thoroughbreds until adopters can be found, Canter acts more like a link between Thoroughbred owners and potential buyers. The owners board unwanted horses at Canter while the organization uses the Internet (www.canterusa.org/texas) and word-of-mouth to sell the horses at a price determined by the owner.
Both of these organizations, although they provide slightly different services, have commented on the way the racing industry has reacted to their efforts. “The horse industry has welcomed the initiative. ‘The fantastic thing about Canter is the way it legitimizes racehorse retirement’” (Boyd in Blumenthal, 2004). Trainers and current owners are spared the incessant questions from potential adopters who now have a channel through which to acquire retired Thoroughbreds. The executive director of the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation also comments, “The industry is really working with us” (Clines, 2001).
The racing industry, never wanting to repeat the public disapproval it experienced in the early 1900’s, would almost certainly welcome any endeavor to improve the situation of Thoroughbreds who simply cannot run fast. The executive director of the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation, Inc. understands the dilemma many owners face. “Nobody in this business wants to treat their horses badly, but there is an economic low point at these smaller tracks and fairs” (Pikulski in Wise, 2003). This economic low point is evident in the stories of several ex-racehorses.
A Thoroughbred by the name of Klabin’s Gold is now cared for by the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation, Inc. Before retiring, Klabin’s Gold had won the 1998 Hirsch Jacobs Stakes at Pimlico, Maryland. He raced in fifty-five races, winning eleven, placing thirteen and showing seven, earning $346,179 in his racing career. Several months after finishing last in a claiming race, Klabin’s Gold was found in a stall at Suffolk Downs in Boston nearly one-hundred pounds underweight. Three of his four legs were fractured and horseshoes were embedded in his overgrown hooves.
A Thoroughbred who earned nearly $1 million, Banker’s Jet, was found at a riding ranch in New York standing up to his knees in manure. Exceller, the only Thoroughbred who outran two Triple Crown winners, Affirmed and Seattle Slew, met an even worse fate. Although an accomplished racer, Exceller did not have much luck at the breeding shed. He was killed in 1997 and sold for horse meat in Sweden. The Exceller Fund, a nonprofit internet group, was founded in direct response to this tragedy. The Exceller Fund’s goal is to rescue horses that may meet the same fate as its namesake.
Stories such as these finally reached the public’s attention when Ferdinand, the 1986 Kentucky Derby winner and 1987 Breeders’ Cup Classic champion, was slaughtered in Japan in 2002. That same year, a federal bill was introduced in the House of Representatives that would ban the sale, transportation and slaughter of horses for human consumption. It was assigned to a subcommittee, which approved the passing of the bill. It now awaits approval by the Senate. Although the bill still remains under consideration, the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation, Inc. reports that the number of slaughtered horses has been steadily declining. In the late 1980’s about 350,000 horses of all breeds were slaughtered. In 2001, the number had dropped to 60,000. These numbers are only estimates, however, since the federal government keeps no records of equine abuse (Wise, 2003).
The drop in the number of slaughtered horses over the last twenty-five years may have some correlation with the efforts of nonprofits such as the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation, Inc., Canter, and ReRun, Inc., which will be discussed in detail in chapter five. The “social entrepreneurs” of these operations have recognized the problem facing the racing industry and endeavor to change the system. Through their efforts at education and rehabilitation, Thoroughbreds, which are treated like royalty while winning, will have a second chance to make new careers as pleasure horses, pasture mates, champion show horses, eventers, jumpers, or merely as companion animals.