A Sad Day Or A New Beginning?

For those of you who have been readers of this publication for the last few years, you know I am an advocate of horse owners giving money in support of equine research. Without money to pay for personnel, animals, equipment, and all the other things that make research possible, there will be no solutions for the new or age-old health problems of our horses.

There are many ways that researchers can obtain funds--through a university, breed or specialty organizations, or national groups. The most prominent of the latter has been the Grayson/Jockey Club Research Foundation. I say "has been" because many are worried about the direction that organization is taking after the recent resignation of the entire Scientific Advisory Committee. The industry leaders of that committee resigned after they were notified that their committee no longer existed and were invited to join a "combined" new committee. (See news item in the Up Front section, page 7.)

I long have felt that the Grayson/Jockey Club Research Foundation was the key funding group for equine research because it not only had an assembly of top research experts reviewing whether the science of the proposed project was good, but had people with the experience to know if the project was practically relevant. The Grayson/Jockey Club also had input from practicing veterinarians and horse industry leaders in the form of a Veterinary Advisory Committee. That committee was created to assist the Scientific Advisory Committee in ranking the necessity of research proposals to meet current needs.

While the Grayson/Jockey Club Research Foundation has the appearance of being a "Thoroughbreds only" club, that is not the case. Some of the research is directed specifically at Thoroughbreds, but there is very little "Thoroughbred" research done that cannot benefit all athletic horses, whether they be racing Quarter Horses, event horses, or working horses. The reproductive work has none of the breed-specific boundaries.

Grayson and The Jockey Club joined forces in 1989. They merged in order to improve the method of gathering and disseminating funds for equine research. The Jockey Club brought with it a bankroll of $3.1 million, and the Grayson Foundation brought its Scientific Advisory Committee, which gave scientific methodology to the sometimes maddening process of determining which projects got funded. A drive was started by the newly formed organization to raise a base of $10 million in order to ensure that a minimum amount of money could be allocated for equine research in future years.

In 1989, the combined group funded $419,000 of equine research. In 1997--eight years later--it spent $619,923 for research grants, a 32% increase from 1989 (without taking inflation into account). Expenditures for "other" expenses in 1997 (which are not broken down, but include salaries and office expenses), totaled $459,704--which is nearly 43% of the total spent in 1997.

Members of the organization said that the Grayson/Jockey Club Research Foundation now has more than $13 million in assets. The group's 1997 annual report (year ending June 30, 1997) listed $12,492,408 in net assets.

With all that money to spend, it might make you wonder if there is a dearth of qualified research. But there always are more "qualified" projects to be funded than funding allocated, according to the fund raisers, so that must not be the case.

A fundraising campaign was designed to "bank" $10 million against the future and generate interest to spend yearly on research. A goal accomplished. So what is the other $3 million for? Don't we have enough problems now that need that money invested in finding solutions?

Other questions that beg answers are these: Why did the entire Scientific Advisory Board of the Grayson/Jockey Club Research Foundation resign? Did not one of them feel that the new "one committee system" was an improvement? Why was no one on the Scientific Advisory Committee contacted during the process of evaluating the merit of the two-committee system in the organization? Why did the leaders of the Grayson/Jockey Club Research Foundation feel the need to re-organize in the first place?

Grayson/Jockey Club president Edward L. Bowen said that no one felt the old system was broken or didn't work, but that the organization was just looking for a better way.

There is an old adage for that: If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

In a 1990 article in The Blood-Horse magazine, written when he was editor of that publication, Bowen explained the jobs of the two committees. Requests for equine research grants were received by the foundation, then evaluated and ranked by the Scientific Advisory Committee, Bowen wrote. That committee decided which projects represented "good science." In order to balance academics with current industry demands, the Veterinary Advisory Committee would review the grants passed by the Scientific Advisory Committee and rank them independently.

A mathematical system combined the recommendations of the two committees, and available funds determined the number of proposals to be funded. (Many projects are funded for multiple years, so a certain amount of each year's allocation is already spent.)

This sounds like a good system, but it apparently wasn't working, even though Bowen said the old system was not the problem. If it wasn't working because there were personality conflicts (as some have suggested), then those conflicts should have been resolved among the few, not cause what has been considered the greatest asset of the organization--the Scientific Advisory Committee--to resign en mass.

The Grayson/Jockey Club Research Foundation is, in my opinion, the best hope horse owners have of getting money to the right people to perform research that is needed for today, and tomorrow.

What would have happened if funding to discover a vaccine against equine viral arteritis had not been granted 30-plus years ago by the Grayson Foundation? Not only would that disease have spelled the end of a Thoroughbred breeding season in Kentucky, it could have spread throughout the country and doomed many horse owners to unrecoverable financial loss because of abortion, permanently shedding stallions, and sick mares and foals. And while EVA again is rearing its head today as a result of shipped semen from many breeds around the world, because of research, there is knowledge to fight this disease.

The same can't be said of many other problems.

So this is a plea to the leaders of the Grayson/Jockey Club Research Foundation and all other equine research funding organizations to make sure to keep their houses in order. When they shake the confidence of the general public, they hurt equine research for everyone.

About the Author

Kimberly S. Brown

Kimberly S. Brown was the Publisher/Editor of The Horse: Your Guide To Equine Health Care from June 2008 to March 2010, and she served in various positions at Blood-Horse Publications since 1980.

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