Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Retirement `Solution'

--Sue Finley

Over the past two weeks, dozens of people have called, emailed or come to talk to me about the New York Times story on the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation. As most of you are aware, I was on the board of the TRF for 12 years. As some of you may not know, I left the board last August for reasons which included differences of opinion with some board members, lack of time, and simple charity fatigue. After begging people for years to support this cause, I was simply worn out.

That doesn’t mean I don’t still support the cause, or don’t support the TRF, or don’t think you should still give your money to them. I do, on all counts. While I’m going to leave much of their own defense to the organization itself, as I have not been on the board for seven months now and am no longer versed in the daily goings-on, I will say that I’m pretty confident nobody at the TRF was starving horses for lack of money. They’re an incredibly dedicated bunch of individuals who have taken up a cause nobody else cared to do. If I had to guess, I’d say that it’s difficult to maintain hundreds of mostly 20-year-old racehorses over a long, hard winter, and that it’s impossible to expect that they’re all going to thrive out in a herd. Should some of them have been put down last fall? Probably. Is it hard for a ridiculously understaffed, underfunded organization to know that everyone on 13 farms is making the exact same decisions at every moment that they would make if they were there? I would imagine so. Did they make some mistakes? Absolutely.

Were they starving the horses for lack of funds? In no way do I believe that’s what has happened.

But the most troubling aspect of all this to me is people--good people, smart people, caring people–most likely overwhelmed when they look at the scope of the issue, are now suggesting a `solution’–that we should just humanely euthanize them at the end of their racing days if we can’t get them privately adopted. This isn’t a new theme--I’ve been hearing it for years–but it has grown in popularity of late.

It’s the only solution, they tell me. It’s humane, and it’s simple, and it solves the problem.

To anyone who thinks that’s a solution, I’d like you to do a little exercise. Think back to the first time you ever went to a racetrack. Maybe you were five, or 10, and your parents took you to Keeneland or Belmont or Newmarket (or Suffolk Downs, if you were me.) I know what I remember, and what attracted me to the sport. It was the horses. They were big and beautiful; majestic and inspiring creatures. I ascribed personalities to them (that they may or may not have had) and felt every bit as bad when they had setbacks as I did when the Red Sox lost to the Yankees. If I had asked someone then what happened to the horses when they were done racing, and they had said, “Well, we kill them...but we do it humanely,” I would have run screaming from the building, never to return, as I imagine you would have done.

So if you can’t admit to the world what your athletes’ pension plan is and be proud of it, I’m pretty sure this isn’t the retirement `solution’ racing needs to pursue. If we don’t want racing’s slogan to be, `the best cared-for and loved animals on the planet...until we don’t need them any more, at which time we kill them,’ let’s all aspire to better.

This can’t be left to charity any more. It’s time for an industry wide institutional funding mechanism that we can shout from the rooftops about. Because I’m pretty sure that if we can’t shout about it, there’s something wrong with it.

It’s time for all of the constituents in racing to sit down at the table and agree upon who is going to contribute what percentage from every mount, every start, every foal, every sale, every claim.

If you think we can’t afford it, you’re fooling yourselves.

We can’t afford not to.


darlene said...

I was just thinking the other day along similer lines for a retirement fund for every foal born involving everyone involved all along the line from the stallion owner contributing % of fee to the owner of mare contrib %of sale to the buyer contrib % of purses or breeding monies all going to a central acct to care for all That way the heavy earners help to care for the less talented Would take a lot of work to get this going and a lot of moaning and groaning by those potenully involved but it would start showing a sense of responsablity towards thee animals

mark said...

By definition, like it or not, the word “euthanize” already contains the concept of “humane”. Like “déjà vu all over again,” “humanely euthanize” is redundant, but without the humor. So why would any good, caring person in the racing industry resort to linguistic overkill (excuse the slip), unless there were some deep-down guilt. We have used race horses for our passionate entertainment and for the indispensable feature of a job-producing industry. They’ve done us well, even when they’ve lost. By defending the right of a race horse to retire decently, we are defending our own humanity.

Unknown said...

i think any racehorse deserves to have a comfortable retirement but they cannot be turned out in a field all year, especially when they are old. i was quite shocked at the huge number of ex racehorses at rescue centres.ideally the ones that are sound can be re-homed but the Racing Industry needs to take some responsibility for these poor horses,they can t be allowed to suffer like they have recently.

Sue Finley said...

@lilian: I agree with you, but it's a question of money. Horses can be kept in any possible manner, but it costs money. If nobody is willing to give up a small slice of their pie, what you have is the situation we're in now.

gary said...

You are right,it takes money-money-money.
I'm not even in the industry, just a fan of the sport & I send a check to a number of the horse organizations whenever I can.Bravo to you for all you did & still do for the horses.
leave the EVIL EMPIRE out of this.
( Yankees )

TDN Staff Blog said...

@gary: No need to define the Evil Empire to me, Gary. Long live Larry Lucchino!

Unknown said...

i agree with Darlene, the money can't all come from charity ,it has to be set aside from the beginning.

Jill W. said...

You make a number of great points, Sue. A voice of reason in all the madness surrounding this issue.