I want to back up a little bit here because I think a lot of people might not know my history. I grew up in a family that was heavily involved in the racing industry. My stepfather was one of the leading trainers for many years at one of the big tracks here on the East Coast. We had an extremely large stable of racehorses at the track. We had a high volume of horses on the farm. Broodmares, young horses, horses on layup, etc. My mom did the layups, ran a lesson program, did retraining and everything in between.
In the 1980’s, horses went to New Holland (our closest auction) from the track weekly. Horses that my family genuinely loved and made money on went straight to auction. I did not really understand it at the time. Not all of them had soundness issues. I think it was just perhaps harder to network them into homes. There were not many non-profit groups, no internet and just lack of awareness. It did not seem to me like people cared that horses might end up being slaughtered. It was just what everyone did.
I was not ok with this and as I got older and started to formulate my own views, I decided that I didn’t want to be involved with racing and instead I wanted to do the retraining/rehoming. I started making up my own sales horses in the late 90’s to help pay for college. After I graduated, I started to work for Canter Mid Atlantic retraining/rehoming horses for their 501c program. I also started the CANTER branch at Delaware Park making track visits weekly listing horses for trainers, coordinating intake of horses into the CANTER program and retraining and rehoming the horses in the program. I saw a lot of horses. Horses in every barn at that track. You see things that most people never get to see both good and bad. It absolutely influences your beliefs on what is humane and what is not humane.
I think it is important to know that I really respect racing and love most people involved in the industry. I think the care of the horses is incredible. They are treated like top athletes. The are fed the best of the best. They are bedded in deep stalls to keep them comfortable. They horses are extremely pampered in terms of their care. Fans on in hot weather. Blankets in cold weather. Their feet are done, teeth, acupuncture, chiro and so much more. People love their horses. You only need to spend time on the backside of the track to see the love they have for their animals and the care they give to them. The majority of the owners/trainers stop running horses that aren’t fast or have soundness issues. They do their best to ensure they horses can move into new careers. Yes, acute injuries do happen, but they happen to our riding horses as well.
What I do have issues with are the people that knowingly medicate unsound horses to keep them running through injuries. People that don’t do the vet work needed to diagnose injuries. Those who keep running horses instead of retiring them when they know a horse isn’t sound or simply isn’t fast. The one more race syndrome can make or break whether that horse has a future as a riding horse or not. I have seen the result of what happens when you just keep going. Let me tell you what it sounds like to hear a horse that has no cartilage left in knees/ankles…bone grinding on bone.
Did you know that for all the big thoroughbred non-profit groups to receive funding they must adhere to the American Associate of Equine Practitioners guidelines on euthanasia? Those guidelines are found here- https://aaep.org/guidelines/euthanasia-guidelines. These rescues want to be accredit by the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance (TAA) and they must follow the code of standards- https://www.thoroughbredaftercare.org/code-of-standards/.
Why is euthanasia a dirty word? Why do people not want to stand up and talk about it? I talk about it and I talk about it frequently because I think it is a very important topic in our industry/business/etc. Horses need humans to be their advocates. If everyone wants to be hush hush about euthanasia than we have a long way to go as advocates to these horses. I have a lot of views on this topic and I have to say I am passionate about those views. I always say that perhaps I am such an advocate for euthanasia because I believe there are so many worse fates for these animals we profess to love so much.
I can’t tell you how many times I walked the backside of the track and horses were pulled out of stalls for me to list for sale and they were crippled. I would ask do they have xrays? What is the issue? The answer would be…oh they have a “knee,” an “ankle,” it’s on it’s 2nd bow in the same tendon, it has a fracture that needs to be repaired and so on and so forth. This would be followed by well it would be a nice trail horse…kids horse…4-H horse, etc. In the age of the internet I feared putting the horse out there at a cheap price because there are people that see free/cheap and take them right to auction for a couple hundred bucks. I would give my sometimes the kindest thing we can do is euthanize speech so many times saying the chance of the horse finding a quality home was very unlikely.
I euthanize horses. I am comfortable with that being part of a responsible sales programs code of ethics. I do not euthanize very many horses now that I run my own sales program because I can be a lot more selective. However, when I was involved with a very responsible 501c group we had to euthanize a lot more. Let me make it clear right now….nobody wants to euthanize horses. That is not our mission and something we all hope to avoid. The whole part about being an advocate for your horses is what demands euthanasia should be part of every responsible program whether for profit or non-profit.
Decision are not made in a bubble. For every single horse that I have ever been involved in euthanizing there was much conversation between vets, surgeons and all the key players. I do not think any respectable vet will recommend euthanasia if they 100% do not feel it is the right call to make. Nor do I think any respectable vet will allow someone to just euthanize a horse that could have a future.
My general policy here is that I euthanize horses that I deem dangerous for whatever reason. It could be on the ground or it could be under saddle but as a responsible reseller I need to feel comfortable that a horse will not purposely hurt someone. I will do everything in my power to rehab a horse to the point of being safe or I will rehome horses that I think can become safe with an exceptionally large disclosure. I have had horses that I felt should not be part of society. That is a judgement call, but I trust my instincts.
When I have horses with physical issues, I do a veterinary workup. That might involve my local vets, trips to larger vet hospitals and lots of diagnostic work. We often get 2nd and 3rd opinions. My general rule of thumb is that a horse must be able to be at least trail horse sound. If it has value as a broodmare, I will do my best to find it a quality home. Emphasis on quality home. It cannot be a horse that will become extremely painful in the near future. It needs to be able to live comfortably without heavy medication and live like a normal horse.
I absolutely run a profitable business, but I do not put horses down just because they will cost me money to rehab and fix. If I can fix it then I will fix it. If I think I can find someone that can give it a lower level home than I absolutely will do that. At the same time, I think it is important to respect the veterinary professionals when they tell you that no matter how much money you spend the horse likely won’t be fixable. I had to euthanize a horse with extremely bad pleural pneumonia. I had to euthanize one that was completely blind in one eye and almost blind in another. Those are clearer cases where the vets do not think a horse will have quality of life or be a horse I can responsibly rehome. We have euthanized the majority of horses because they had injuries that were causing or would soon be causing them to be extremely painful. Chips in joints that couldn’t be removed and had extensive arthritis, cartilage that is just completely gone, fractures that couldn’t be repaired or didn’t make sense to repair, ligament/tendon injuries that were so extensive a horse likely would never have a future as a trail horse and some were just horses that we tried to fix and they wouldn’t heal for whatever reason.
What does responsible rehoming mean to you? We see so many horses that aren’t sound, don’t have a veterinary workup and have an unknown future. Is selling them/adopting them/giving them away the right thing to do? Sometimes I feel like we champion “finding them homes” instead of humane euthanasia. Define a quality home because that is a very gray area in my opinion. You see I am a believer that thoroughbreds are the absolute best breed and you won’t change my mind 😊 I do think that they flourish when kept/fed/conditioned in a certain way. If you try to change what they are used to then problems arise. Many hate living outside in field board situations. Many are absolutely crippled when shoes are removed and people force them to be barefoot. They lose weight, limp around and are absolutely miserable. Many require extensive calories that can’t be provided in certain homes nor can they be afforded. Thoroughbreds are not inexpensive to own. They aren’t like some horse that get fat on air, can tolerate living outside with bugs/etc, go barefoot, etc. They end up with people that aren’t educated in riding them/retraining them/don’t fit tack properly, etc. I guess you could say that I feel strongly about where my horses end up and for me just getting them a home is quite complicated. I believe that giving a horse a humane ending is often the better choice than the unknown. Now I know a lot of that that I just said is subjective and not all thoroughbreds have issues with these things but it is something to consider.
You may say well why can’t they find homes? I suppose my experiences make me jaded but a lot of the people that want a cheap horse really don’t understand limitations. Say you have a horse that should only be a walk/trot horse because it has xyz injury. You thought you got it a great home but these people are jumping it every single day. The horse becomes extremely crippled. Now its suffering but hey you got it a home. I am not trying to stereotype but the performance homes that often are best equipped to have success with thoroughbreds very rarely will take horses with extensive injuries. So then you are faced with trying to get a horse with limitations into a home with people that will respect those limitations. Maybe the person you rehome it to will respect them but what if they get married/divorced/move/have kids/etc and sell the horse. The next person comes along and boom the horse is suddenly lame and they don’t want it. Then it’s passed along. Maybe it’s rescued. Maybe it’s in the slaughter pipeline. Lots of things can happen. Those of you who think that pasture homes exist, I want you to prove it. I have been involved in rehoming/reselling horses for a very long time. I have more contacts that most people. It’s just plain hard to find people that truly will take a horse that is only pasture sound and give it the quality of care that I think is appropriate. Again, quality of care because giving a horse away where it will not get proper quality of care is worse than death in my opinion.
So what is so bad/wrong with euthanasia? Have you been involved in euthanasia? Have you seen a horse put down? I ask that honestly because sometimes I wonder if the people shouting about how horses have more life to give couldn’t just stop to see euthanasia as the greatest gift we can give to an animal. We end their suffering. We guarantee they will never starve, feel pain, be passed along, etc. For me it is a sense of relief. Maybe that is not the way others view it but sense of relief to not ever have to worry about where a horse ends up. I make the tough decision to say I will not allow the responsibility to be anybody but my own. I can’t trust other people to euthanize a horse that might need it so it is up to me. I would be horrified if a horse of mine ended up somewhere bad and the thing is that our society views horses with issues as throwaway objects. Everyone wants perfect. Horses that aren’t perfect are often disposable and I would be horrified if a horse of mine ever ended up standing at an auction/kill pen/etc because I do believe it is often because someone would rather just “get them a home” than give them a humane ending.
When we have to euthanize a horse we stuff the horses full of their favorite meals. We spend time with them. The vet tranquilizes them, so they are nice and relaxed. They don’t feel the euthanasia solution. They fall gently typically guided by the vet. We talk to them while we wait for their heart to stop. There is nothing sad about this. One minute they were eating grass happily and then they are gone. They don’t anticipate it. They don’t think oh geez they are killing me today. They don’t care that they possibly have a few more years to give to someone. Who gets to define if a horse has a few more years to give? Maybe it does but maybe it doesn’t? When a vet/surgeon tells me that this horse will not recover, and it will be painful than it is my role as a responsible owner to be the advocate for my horse. I don’t think we always can see when a horse is painful, so I also do not try to hold off for the inevitable. I do not believe in suffering or making my responsibly someone else’s responsibility. A horse doesn’t think oh but I could live another year. They absolutely do not know you are going to euthanize them.
I am not numb to this nor will I ever become numb. It is always an emotional process. I never take it lightly. You can’t shame me. I absolutely refuse to be shamed for doing right by my horses.
I have lost some clients/customers/etc because of my beliefs but I have also gained some. I often believe that if I showed you what truly happens to horses you think got good homes maybe you might be a bit more open minded on the topic.