IFAR Attendees Look for Racehorse Aftercare Solutions

The inaugural International Forum for the Aftercare of Racehorses (INFAR) conference took place May 17-18 in Washington, D.C., in conjunction with the annual Pan American Racing Conference.

An international lineup of speakers provided insight on attaining the vision of an aftercare program for every racing jurisdiction.

An independent forum recognizing geographical and industry differences among racing countries, IFAR formed to enhance Thoroughbred aftercare worldwide by raising awareness, improving education on lifetime horse care, and increasing the demand for former racehorses in other equestrian disciplines.

Representatives from Australia presented examples of written protocols for post-racing options, which are enhanced using nonracing agreements that include the location and condition of all racehorses from birth to death. Australian racing authorities initiated the shift to full traceability in 2014 and the concept is gaining traction as the enlisted population grows.

Japan has had an “honored horse” status program for retired winners of Japanese graded stakes races that provides lifetime support subsidies at retirement sanctuaries. It’s expanding into OTTB care and use with retraining, castration, injury rehabilitation support, and an increased public availability for education and integration into the country’s existing equine programs.

Likewise, France is focused on promoting the OTTB to the large number of licensed equestrians (approximately 700,000) within the country by way of demonstrations of the different career tracks these horses have taken, as well as social media education. The success stories of horses such as Nutello, who competed successfully in France and was a poster child for the 2016 Thoroughbred Makeover, demonstrate the possibilities. The French organization Au-Dela des Pistes, which literally means “beyond the track,” has initiated charter documentation committing adopters to high aftercare standards for their retired racehorses.

Speaking of standards, the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance (TAA) gave several presentations demonstrating the value of their umbrella leadership, which is committed to accreditation of aftercare facilities by establishing facility standards and services to meet the needs of each horse; education on humane aftercare for Thoroughbreds; and advising on adoption policies and protocols to ensure proper placement of each horse. Adena Springs, an early leader in farm-to-track and back-to-farm aftercare, has worked extensively with TAA to provide an example of how successful such programs can be.

Allen Gutterman, a TAA board member, shared ideas to achieve ongoing industry-based funding without “fundraising,” including:

  • Creating a digital interface that provides the option to donate a portion of a bet to aftercare;
  • An industry student film festival competition to engage technologically inclined millennials to provide film clips that could be used in aftercare promotion; and
  • Shifting the model toward aftercare support of the star of the show (the horses) by the fans with a small surcharge one day of the year (preferably the “big day”), creating an annuity for racehorse aftercare.

Side conversations on the subject floated a cooperative approach with the Newmarket, England-based Injured Jockey Fund entailing a small fee per start paid by owner, trainer, and rider, which could then be used to support injured jockeys and racehorse aftercare.

Keynote speakers Boyd Martin (an U.S. Olympic three-day eventer) and Michael Blowen (founder of Old Friends Thoroughbred retirement facility, the main facility of which is in Georgetown, Kentucky) provided great videos of their equine partners in sport and retirement, respectively.

Stuart Pittman, founder of the Retired Racehorse Project, which puts on the Thoroughbred Makeover, spoke on the value of engagement and education to create a market for retired racehorses in a wide range of disciplines. Many of the Thoroughbreds Pittman described have been registered with The Jockey Club’s Thoroughbred Incentive Program (TIP), which in 2016 included more than 16,000 registered horses competing in more than 2,500 TIP shows and classes for a total of more than 24,700 Thoroughbred competitors.

Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, admonished that the racing industry needs to apply a “humane” economy to the use of all animals, which he described in racing as safe tracks, strict standards of care, and accountability via traceability.

Stacie Clark, of the TAA, encouraged industry members to “follow the truth” and tell the good stories!

In closing, Di Arbuthnot, of the U.K.’s Retraining of Racehorses, said of IFAR’s goals, "We hope to promote the versatility and adaptability of Thoroughbreds globally. We want the world to know that Thoroughbreds can excel in other equestrian sports as well as they excel in racing, and they also make fantastic companions, hacks (pleasure horses), therapeutic horses—the list goes on." 

In essence, the goal is “leave no horse behind” in the stewardship of their care. For more information, visit IFAR’s newly launched website.

About the Author

Kathleen Anderson, DVM

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