Day At The Track

Owner responsibility starts with the horse

11:54 PM 07 May 2012 NZST
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Horse care is vital in ownership
Horse care is vital in ownership - even grooming should be taken seriously.

There are many things that a prospective horse owner examines prior to buying their next race champion or even their next pet. Things like cost to purchase the horse, breeding, usefulness, where to board, who to train, and the monthly costs to feed and care for the horse, and how much money will the horse make for his/her prospective harness racing owner are among the top of the list.

The one thing most owners fail to assess prior to buying a horse is what will happen to the horse if he/she breaks down or if one cannot afford to pay for the horse's expenses any longer.

Recently, I was mortified to discover a blog about the "Slaughterhouse Six" via Facebook. Written by The Canadian Horse Defence Council, the blog covers the deaths in 2011 of six former standardbred race horses, namely Hurricane Jeff, Major Baby, Silky Shark, Spill the Ink, Elite Din Pach, and Promising Lucia, via the Canadian slaughterhouses.

I was mortified because I was the owner of one of the standardbred pacers mentioned in the blog, Silky Shark. I owned him from early 2007 to the summer of 2008. To learn that he was senselessly killed leaves me heartbroken and enraged. But I ask myself, "Did I do everything I could?"

In the beginning, for any new owner, it is all about the money and in the end; it almost always comes down to the money as well. I bought Silky from his owner in New Jersey in 2007. We shipped him to Ohio to race him. When we got him, he had a paralyzed flapper in his throat which caused his air to be cut off when he performed. I took him to W

odland Run Equine Hospital to have tie-back surgery (a procedure where the surgeon "ties back" the paralyzed tissue in order to open the horse's airway to improve breathing).

After months of recovery, he tried valiantly to race for us, but in the end, the surgery attempt failed and the tie-back broke. We had tried racing him in Ohio and Illinois before we found his surgery failed. He won a race at Maywood Park with nearly a total air blockage that we had no idea existed at the time. The horse was all heart!I spoke to his trainer in Illinois and had him shipped back to Ohio and Woodland Run to have the surgery re-done.

This time the procedure worked and Silky won his very first start for us at Scioto Downs following his 2nd surgery. Silky was then shipped home to Kentucky to race at the Red Mile Racetrack. Shortly afterwards, I began struggling through a financially devastating divorce.

I was told when I started in the business that sometimes you just have to let horses go that are costing you money. It is a tough realization when it happens to a person, like me, who loves every horse to ever step foot into his barn. Unfortunately, I was forced to sell all of my horses at that time due to the financial hardship.

Silky was the last of my original stable to be sold. Because I loved him so much and had a lot invested in him, he was the hardest to sell. I remember the day like it was yesterday because on my way to the track to sign over the papers to his new owner, I was rear ended by another vehicle just a mile from the Red Mile where he was stabled. In the end, I sold him (and cried my eyes out nearly immediately afterwards).

Silky Shark went on to win one for his new owner, but then had suspensory problems arise that threatened his racing career.

Shortly afterwards, in 2009 I found out that he was sold in the Blooded Horse sale for $1100 to a guy in Ohio. That was the last I heard of him until today. Like so many of my former steeds, I never heard from any of the owners after me. Whenever I sold horses, I always asked their new owners to at least call me to ask if I wanted them back or not. To date, I have only had one person do this out of over two dozen.

The US Trotting Association came out with their Full Circle program a short while back. I signed every one of my horses, I had previously owned, up for it immediately, including Silky Shark. The Full Circle program is designed to have later owners of horses call Full Circle owners of the horses listed to ask them if they want to try to help find the horse a new home or career or if they want the horse back.Unfortunately for Silky Shark, I never heard from anyone. I do not believe the Full Circle program failed; I simply think the program was too new and under promoted.

In 2010, another of my beloved horses, Cobrador Kosmos, was experiencing career threatening problems as well and needed a new home. I had tried for two years to get Cobra back. Finally, after numerous phone calls and emails, he was headed home. With the help of Larry Rosenblum and The Equine Tax Group, as well as help from the USTA's Jessica Schroeder and her mother, Susan Schroeder, we managed to get Cobra back.

We found him a home with Susan Wellman at the American Standardbred Adoption Program in DeSoto, WI, and he now lives out his remaining days in the pastures with his new friends awaiting adoption. Susan Wellman added, "Cobra is happy and if no one adopts him, he will remain here happily as he is safe and we all love him so much."

I wish that had I known that Silky Shark was in dire straits, I would have been able to do something to save his life. I would have not stopped until he was in good hands and safe. It sickens me to hear about his end and the news has forever changed my life.

Unfortunately, horse slaughter is, as I have been told, a reality of the business. However, another reality of the racing business is that the horses put their lives on the line every week for our livelihoods, and our fans' entertainment. They are the true stars of racing and without them we would all be doing something else. Why not treasure them, care for them and repay them like they should be repaid?

This is not accomplished by slaughtering them, but by insuring they have a good home and a good life after the races. Far too many stories have been coming out in recent years of famous horses being slaughtered like champion thoroughbreds Ferdinand and Exceller, and other racehorse millionaires showing up in sales only to be purchased by "butchers".

While many will argue that slaughterhouses have their place in our world, and perhaps to a small degree they are correct, more so, adoption programs, retirement homes, therapy programs and others like it that help our fast friends have an even bigger place in our world and should be the first thought and not the last.

Microchipping horses is a great idea! Many jurisdictions are beginning to warm up to this notion. By placing a microchip on a horse which contains the horse's information and list of previous owners, if the horse shows up at a slaughterhouse, the law would require the slaughterhouse to contact each of the previous owners to see if they had an interest in saving the horse's life.

There is still a responsibility to the slaughterhouses to actually follow through with their due diligence, but this can be aided by having a government monitoring of this procedure to ensure it has been done.

The bottom line here is that if you are currently an owner of a standardbred race horse, or you are thinking about becoming an owner for the first time, you should stop and ask yourself, "What if he/she can no longer race or I can no longer afford to pay his/her bills?" Then create a plan for the future of your horse. Sign him/her up for the Full Circle Program.

If you have to sell your horse for financial reasons, create an agreement with his new owner that gives you the right or a say so in determining his/her future if he/she can no longer race or ask the new owner what their plans would be if the worst happens.

If you hear anything you do not like, then do not sell them your horse. Remember, in most cases, donating your horse to the proper program(s) is tax deductible and in a majority of the cases, the tax deduction is fair market value and comes with far less guilt afterwards when you realize your former racing star has another life as a riding horse, a therapy horse, or simply a pet for someone who needs that extra love in their life.

Owner Responsibility is everyone's duty, whether you are the seller or the buyer. Be accountable and do everything in your power to make sure that you have some say in the horse's future. Who knows, you just may be saving their life.

Call your local horse retirement/adoption programs today and make donations they so desperately need to keep their operations going. Places like the American Standardbred Adoption Program, New Vocations, Old Friends, the Exceller fund and dozens more have needs for donations of more than just money.

They will accept equipment, feed, hay, fencing materials, pro bono farriers, and so much more. Most programs also need help shipping horses from their saviors to the location of the program. If you are a horse shipper and have an extra opening on your trailer, why not call a local program coordinator and see if they have a need to ship a horse where you are already going in the first place?

And if your horse cannot make it to the races anymore and you need to find them a good home, please call a program close to you to see if they have the room for one more. Chances are they will open their doors for your horse with arms open wide and a smile in their hearts and if they cannot, they will surely direct you in the proper direction to find someone who can help.

God bless you Silky Shark and all of your beloved friends that suffered the same fate as you...I miss you and I hope you are running free in Heaven somewhere happy.

by Ken TERPENNING

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