After completing the question and answer session with Anouk Busch, I could not help to think about her answers.
Yes, I knew Anouk was involved with horse rescue and I have been a champion for making sure our equine athletes were treated fairly after their racing career was over, but I must admit I was severely disappointed when Anouk responded to the question asking whether or not owners take steps to make sure their horses are retired when their racing career is over. Her response, "Sadly, most don’t care what happens with them or they care more about getting a few hundred dollars for slaughter or Amish them. Also, many owners/breeders I contact when I save their former horses don’t care." not only disappointed me, it saddened me. I knew there were people who owned horses, not only racehorses, who treated horses like a piece of property, free to do what they wanted to do; but I was hoping to hear her say a lot of owners are responsible. To hear her say most could care less was a kick in the gut.
Certainly there are people in our industry who do what they can to save race horses. From Russell Williams who purchases horses at auctions to keep them away from the hands of kill brokers; groups like the Starfish group and others like Anouk who purchase horses at grade auctions to keep them from slaughter; breeders like Perretti Farms who will never send a broodmare to a grade auction; people like Meg Jewitt Leavitt who had the courage (some would say audacity) for speaking up at the Night of Champions award dinner back in January of 2008 about the problem of horse slaughter after receiving the USHWA President's Award; former owners and breeders who purchase a horse they previously owned or bred once they find out they are in jeopardy, but apparently they are the minority. The USTA offers a program to provide funds to groups that rescue standardbreds confiscated in abuse cases; a program which can't be discounted, but only addresses a very small portion of the problem.
Unfortunately, there are far too many others who feel no such obligation to their equine athletes. With the exception of Bangor Raceway and Raceway Park which are owned by Penn National Gaming, no harness track has a policy regarding trainers and owners who permit their horses to be sent to slaughter. No harness track has implemented a program to save at risk horses; other tracks permit the Amish access to the backstretch on qualifying days to purchase horses that don't make the cut, sometimes using horses as farm or carriage horses; other times acting as a middleman to send horses to the grade auctions. We have breeders continuing to breed more horses, some of dubious quality, than the racing industry needs. It is our own "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy.
The industry needs to reduce the books of future stallions to ensure we don't over-breed. By reducing future books, breeders will be more selective as to which mares get covered and by producing less mares, will increase the value of those yearlings that are bred. The industry needs to tell its owners that responsible ownership of horses is not only expected but demanded and sending horses to slaughter is not an option. If an owner is unwilling to be responsible, then we don't need them to be part of standardbred racing.
I recognize there are more unwanted horses than welcoming homes for our equine athletes and the world is not fair. That being said, for those horses where there will be no home available for them, there is a far better, humane method to end their lives instead of slaughter; it is called euthanasia. Owners, have no problem spending hundreds of dollars for vet bills to keep their horses racing, but are unwilling to pay one last bill to euthanize their horse if so unsound for a post-racing career?
Not talking about or addressing the problem is not an option. If racing is unwilling to put its own house in order, other groups are more than willing to step in and take care of the problem in their own manner, by eliminating standardbred racing. Hopefully, racing will step up and take ownership of this problem with regards to standardbreds.