I just spent a good chunk of the evening catching up on the trainer’s blogs over at the Retired Racehorse Trainer Challenge. Awesome way to spend an evening, right?
What I love most about the trainer challenge is that it’s incredibly straightforward and really speaks to what these horses can do. We learn about the process of transitioning a horse from the track to a new career. There’s no fluff, just a straightforward examination of an individual Thoroughbred’s strengths, weaknesses and abilities.
How refreshing. It seems as though the conversation is changing somehow; that we’re moving away from the note of surprise in success stories about Thoroughbreds. Up until now they mostly seem to follow the theme of the warrior overcoming adversity and coming out on the other side, triumphant.
I’m glad that these stories exist. I gobble each and every OTTB story out there because hey, they prove my point, Thoroughbreds are awesome. The conversation so far has helped raise awareness of the value of OTTBs, leading us to be on the precipice of really making an impact in Thoroughbred aftercare. But I can’t help but think that by framing the conversations in this manner we’re doing a huge disservice to the breed in the long term.
Unfortunately we’ve all dealt with the very real problem of horses shipped directly to the kill pen, of horses having to be bailed and of broken down horses dumped on people. Hopefully, we’ll hear that story less and less with more attention paid to aftercare and with more human connections realizing the value in working with some of the many organizations out there.
What’s frustrating is that more often than not, that sense of desperation of the rescued Thoroughbred seems to fall on their not-so-desperate counterparts. And it’s clear that as long as that perception is around, more often than not the response from people who aren’t familiar with racing or the Thoroughbred as a breed will have their first thought of a Thoroughbred be a passive: “Oh, poor dears, we need to save them and MAYBE we’ll get a good horse out of it.” I want to hear a straightforward: “I’m looking for an excellent prospect, let’s see what’s available out there on a Thoroughbred retirement site.”
It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that a horse successfully transitioned off of the track into a new career. The horse world shouldn’t be shocked—shocked!—that a Thoroughbred is a beginner horse, or doing dressage, or galloping a cross country course, or adapting well as an “A” circuit hunter. The right reaction to these stories should be one that champions of the breed are already familiar with: “Well, OF COURSE he was out showing a month after he left the track, he’s a Thoroughbred. Duh.” These horses are smart, athletic and noble—and for centuries have been the representation of speed, grace and power. Let’s honor that. Instead of the shock of success let’s see the thrill of expectations being met.
We’re well on our way to making this a fabulous year for the OTTB. To accomplish that we’ll need to see more industry support for aftercare, more trainers retiring their horses when they are sound enough for a viable career afterwards and more work on a whole host of other initiatives. But it’s really up to those closest to the cause to start redefining the tone of the conversation.
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