By Diana Pikulski

So, it’s time to retire your racehorse…

What comes next? You are likely aware of a variety of options and services available to you as a horse owner, but which path ensures that your horse will be equipped with the proper safeguards to ensure he ends up with the best chance at a happy life over the next 20+ years? You dread the prospect of receiving a phone call or Facebook message saying that the horse you once owned is at risk in a kill pen, and you want to take every measure to avoid that situation.

A good place to start is the local HBPA or owner’s organization to see what programs may exist and are funded through the track and horsemen’s group (Take the Lead, Turning for Home for example).

Alternatively, go directly to one of the non-profit organizations dedicated to Thoroughbred racehorse aftercare. Most are accredited by the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance (TAA), giving you assurance that the facilities are inspected regularlyand the governance and management have been vetted by the TAA. Most likely, you will be asked to make a donation. See the list of accredited organizations here.

But such placement is not always available. Many horses need time off before retraining or are not sound enough to be re-trained for a second career as a riding horse. The placement spots for pasture-sound only horses are limited at least until the demand for Thoroughbreds in equine-assisted therapeutic placements increases.

So, what options exist for horses that need time off, rehabilitation or are only ever going to be pasture-sound?

First, it is worth a try to retire your horse in a TAA-accredited or otherwise reliable non-profit. You will most likely be required to make a larger donation than if the horse was sound for retraining. But, you can be confident that the horse is enjoying retirement and you can check on him regularly and continue to support him.

“When trying to retire a horse that needs a sanctuary or non-riding home, the TAA recommends reaching out to a TAA-accredited organization in your area that is a noted sanctuary or rehab. Placing a horse in a sanctuary home may take some time,” said Erin Shea of the TAA. “Many equine sanctuaries have large, aging herds, so patience and clear communication of your horse’s needs are key to re-homing your horse if this is your situation. Also, just because a horse cannot be a competitive athlete does not mean that they cannot have a new career and are bound for sanctuary life. For example, TAA-accredited organizations Saratoga War Horse, Equine Rescue of Aiken, Life Horse at Breezy Hill, and Square Peg, among others, all focus on equine-human therapy along with sanctuary for horses.”

The Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation’s Second Chances Program which maintains pasture-sound horses at prison-based farms where the horses have a meaningful second career rehabilitating incarcerated men and women is a great option.

A second alternative is retirement boarding. The cost will be between approximately $200 and $500 per month, not including trimming (which averages $40 every 8 weeks) and vet care (vaccinations and teeth floating run an average of $350 per year). Retirement boarding farms now exist all over the U.S. Once again, you have control over the horse’s well being. One good example is Historic Long Branch in Virginia.

As a third option, you could choose–as a number of owners do–to sell or give away your horse. No one wants their horse to end up in the kill pan, and most tracks have a policy which states that any horse owner or trainer found to have directly or indirectly sold a horse that ends up in the kill pen will have their stalls permanently revoked. This could happen unknowingly if you are not careful about vetting out the buyer or recipient.

Here are some tips to help ensure your horse’s safety:

1) Use a signed agreement like the one provided by CANTER USA to the trainers who chose to list horses for sale on its website.

2) Consider a ‘first right of refusal’ requiring the buyer to agree that they will not give away or sell the horse without first asking if you want it back.

3) Consider a clause that allows for you to check on the horse.

4) Obtain a copy of the buyer’s driver’s license.

5) Include language that they will never put the horse in a livestock auction or sell it to slaughter buyers.

6) Have the agreement notarized.

7) Require a professional reference from a veterinarian. Ask of the vet when they last visited the farm or saw the animals of the person. Obtain the veterinarian’s license number.

8) Sell the horse as “Retired from Racing” and execute the forms provided by The Jockey Club.

“Thoroughbreds are more in demand as riding horses than ever in the past 30 or so years, thanks in large part to incentive programs like TIP and TAKE2, as well as the work of Retired Racehorse Project,” says Nancy Koch, Executive Director of CANTER, USA. “But owners and trainers must use due diligence in their transactions. It is extremely important to get references and check on the horse, or have someone check on the horse a week or so after it leaves to be sure it is adjusting and the people are who they represented themselves to be.”

Being part of a syndicate adds a few issues for owners seeking to secure a second career or retirement for a racehorse.

Regina Schneller, whose partnership has horses with Eddie Coletti, has her name and address attached to all of the partnership horses’ papers in the event that the horse gets claimed and is owned by someone else at the time of retirement.

“To find homes, the first thing that our partnership does is ask if any partners are interested in giving the horse a home, next is to contact Turning For Home. If the horse has problems, then I make take the horse or board it at a retirement farm. I then ask the other partners to chip in on the board/donation, explained Schneller. “One horse recently needed a period of time for to be turned out before training so he went to CANTER and I paid for his care until he was ready to be adopted.”

Diana Pikulski is the former executive director of the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation and currently the editor of the Thoroughbread Adoption Network. Visit www.thoroughbredadoption.com.