CONCENTRIC CIRCLES

“The original idea for the MMSC was fantastic in both senses of the word,” I often say when asked about the genesis of the Center. “Fantastic in that it is an amazing idea, and fantastic in the sense that the plan was full of fantasies.”

The idea was to have a showcase facility for reshooling and adopting out off -track Thoroughbreds at the Kentucky Horse Park that receives about a million visitors a year. It would be staffed with a director and a barn manager. The rest of the work would be done by volunteers. The horses would come directly from the track and get adopted at the rate of 100 or so a year. All the adoption and rescue agencies would work together to find donated horses, and willingly send their best, soundest exemplars to the Center. Somehow, although it wasn’t clear how at the time, it would be funded.




It’s true. The KHP is the perfect location for a facility that showcases the athleticism of TBs in new careers. But a staff of two to care for and train all the horses; keep the campus in perfect shape; handle every phone call, as well as the billing, fundraising, and marketing; in addition to shepherding around the KHP visitors who regularly drop in? It can’t be done. I’ve tried it. There aren’t enough hours in the day.

 Add volunteers and interns, and the equation may get better, but learning curves, the work ethic bar, and weather factors always skew the outcome. Sure, everyone wants to ride, but riding is very different from training. It’s the difference between attending a class and teaching it. And Thoroughbreds, as smart as they are, can learn the wrong way just as quickly as they can the right way. Not good. Besides, liability insurance  is a nightmare. Even when taking care of horses, mucking, grooming, and hand walking, you are not likely to hear volunteers whistling while they work. After a few stints, they fade away all together. As for the unglamorous MMSC tasks (Weed-eating anyone? Taking out the trash? Cleaning the bathrooms?), you have to pay someone to do those things, or do it yourself.

Next was the thought that 100 horses a year could be adopted out directly from the track. First of all that’s a huge number of horses on a limited MMSC campus: Ten stalls, 15 acres of paddock. Then do the math: you would have to adopt out 1.92 horses per week every week, spring, summer, winter, and rain of shine, Polar vortexes, or epic heat blasts none withstanding. No time off for holidays. Vacations either.  Not looking so fantastic.

It’s also idealistic to think that you can take racehorses directly from the racetrack and find new homes for them immediately. Horses are nomadic herd animals. At the track they are isolated and sequestered. It’s a counter instinctual high stress life with a high energy diet and a highly demanding schedule. A bit like combat for young soldiers. Ask a young vet
coming back from Iraq to go directly to Wall Street to work on the floor with no down time, and he or she will probably dash for cover under a desk every time the stock exchange bells clang.








The same is true for former race horses. They can suffer from post traumatic stress, as well as muscle soreness and other injuries. They will be worried when learning different behaviors to adapt to a new job. Some adopters are experienced trainers and know how to help racehorses make this transition. Most, however, are not. That spells a colorful mess for the rider—“Green on green makes black and blue,” goes the saying. It also  sets the horse up for failure and the often unfair designation of “crazy Thoroughbred.” Far better to let them have four to six months off turned out in a field, just learning to be horses again. Not to mention giving them the time they need to heal should they be sore or injured. Now and again, a few ex-race horses, make the transition directly from track to MMSC, but those are the exception, not the rule. They must have been social workers in their former lives.

But the most fantastical—as in the sense of F A N T A S Yidea of all is that other adoption and rescue organizations would relinquish their finest horses to the MMSC director to retrain them, showcase them and find them new homes. From a marketing standpoint that makes no sense: Give the “competition” your best asset? From a human nature standpoint, it’s far fetched as well, unless you are talking about a group as noble as the twelve disciples and even they, we know, had their failings! Add to this the phenomenon that horse people rarely agree on how to train or care for a horse, AND the fact that most horse people these days are female. Oooo! Cat fight time!  


Finally, it can be rightly said that most women in the rescue/adoption field are passionate…to the point of psychosis. I know this first hand.  I am one of them. For all these reasons, initially the MMSC had a tumultuous time finding its way, its voice, and its role in the vitally important crusade for aftercare for former Thoroughbreds. Those times, thank goodness, are behind us. 

In the ten years the MMSC has been open, much as changed, not only within our campus, but also in the industry as well. Aftercare as a word has entered our vocabulary. It’s an ongoing discussion among industry leaders. Adoption and reschooling facilities are popping up like spring crocuses. So are organizations trying to tackle the issue: Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance, Retired Race Horse Project, Thoroughbred Incentive Program and so forth. It’s an exciting time.

Call it a tipping point. Call it the 100th Monkey Effect or the Butterfly Effect. Call it what you will, but most important call your friends together to add vigor to the pressing need for solutions and change.

That’s why I have approached several  of my colleagues recently about coming together to “complete each other as opposed to compete against one another.” We have met twice in the last three months. The first time we met we talked for the first hour about the issuest those of us who are down in the trenches are struggling with (funding, injuries, bias against mares, lack of education) and the second hour we dreamed about what the ideal racing industry would look like. We drew concentric circles around all the stakes holders who were response-able: the adoption agencies like us, the trainers, owners, racetrack officials, and fans, and talked about ways to share the responsibility of aftercare amongst us all.


Most recently we talked about ways to work together as individual organizations: starting with a joint adoption facility fundraiser. We settled on a mass tack sale to be held on the Kentucky Equine Humane Center on September 13 from 9 to 1. We will all collect donated tack.(*If youd like to donate tack, please contact us at mmsecretariatcenter@gmail.com) We will work together, and we will all benefit. We talked about hosting a much bigger fundraiser in June 2015. We discussed what we thought our coalition stood for. We tried to come up with a name:  C. A. R. E -the Coalition about Rehoming Equids-was the first acronym to surface. We knew we could do better with a little more time and thought. We assigned homework to help educate us about what is going on within the industry and across the States. We scheduled another meeting date. We adjourned, excited and, I believe, rejuvenated. United we stand, divided we fall. 

It’s all about throwing that first pebble in the water, isn’t it? Just pick it up. Toss it in, and watch how its circle widens then replicates itself in ever bigger concentric circles. Imagine what would happen if more of us tossed in our thoughts on aftercare! If we took action, how might our mutual efforts intersect? Don’t these magnificent sentient horses deserve a second chance? Let us vow always to complete one another and not compete with one another! Now, go ahead, volunteer at an adoption agency, or send a check to one, or call your representative or Senator, or petition racetrack officials, or contact the Jockey Club, or the NTRA. Just toss your pebble…

Cheery bye, 

 Susanna