The USTA has proudly announced the 1,000th horse registered under the Full Circle Program. The Full Circle Program allows the owner of a current standardbred to contact someone involved with the horse previously to determine the future of the horse. It can be as simple as giving the horse back to the breeder; a sale back; perhaps sharing the expenses to retrain the horse for a future career. The program is voluntary on all so an existing owner is under no obligation to contact an interested party, and the interested party can decide not to rescue the horse due to a change in circumstances. While not a perfect program, the fact it exists likely means more standardbreds will avoid an unfortunate end when their racing career concludes.
Today, Anouk Busch, standardbred trainer and head of Horse Rescue United (HRU) made a trip to New Holland, a place best described as the largest meat broker in the Eastern United States. Many types of livestock, including horses, are auctioned off to kill brokers who ship their horses off to slaughter in Canada or Mexico. This is not to say some horses don't get a reprieve; some get purchased by the Amish for use as road horses; a few others are purchased by others for legitimate uses, some are purchased by kill brokers who will ship the horses to other auctions where they hope to make a bigger profit off someone else or then they will send the horse to slaughter; but don't kid yourself, for the vast majority of horses and other animals, death within days await them. For some horses, there is no hope of rescue; they get immediately purchased by kill brokers, bypassing the auction where the slight chance of redemption exists.
Well, today Anouk was a buyer, bidding successfully against kill brokers for three horses. HRU has a preference for standardbreds but will save horses of other breeds. So today, a draft horse in need of eye surgery and special TLC will be heading to quarantine along with a standardbred gelding and a standardbred mare. For these horses, their futures will not end tragically.
While the USTA Full Circle Program is a great step forward and the USTA is to be congratulated as is Anouk Busch for her efforts, this is not the end all for efforts to save unwanted standardbreds. The following message has been posted at various spots on Facebook, even on the USTA's wall:
Ok,to all my stb people,owners,trainers,drivers,grooms...me and some friends are working on a project to try help our retired horses/no longer racing horses and their grooms.We are thinking big and we already got some big names on board.we are in the very early beginning stages and need all the help we can get.you can contact Randy McCown for more info. please share this message
The ultimate goal is to have regional farms for retired standardbreds who have no homes run by retired grooms. However, they realize many preliminary steps are required to get to this goal and the initial aim should be to reduce the flow of standardbreds to kill brokers and may involve modifiying rules of the USTA. One may think this group is a bunch of tree huggers, but it is not. Some grooms, owners, trainers, breeders, and racetrack operators are already on board to help. They realize this is not a problem which will be solved overnight, but they realize it has to start somewhere; doing nothing is not an option. You don't know how far you can go until you start.
This is not to criticize the steps the USTA has already undertaken on behalf of our equine athletes; those efforts are not to be diminished. The fact is horses do fall through the cracks and as with this year's BLM mustang round up riling up the most attention and demonstrations this government program has ever seen, not just from "tree huggers", but mainstream people, attention on what happens to racing horses will continue to grow and the industry needs to be proactive.
No, the problem will not be solved overnight and may not be solvable, but you got to start and try somewhere. The USTA, horse rescues, and those looking to improve the situation are trying.
Update: Anouk returned home from New Holland with two standardbreds; one an unraced eight year old son of Misfit, the other a nine year old gelded son of Keystone Fool who last raced in 2007 ($19,882,4 2:02.3h). In addition, Anouk came home with a draft horse with eye cancer which will require chemo or removal of the eye. The prognosis is good. HRU will take care of that as soon as the quarantine period is over.