$$$ and Change

We have an incredible address: The Kentucky Horse Park located in Lexington, Kentucky, “Horse Capital of the World.” It’s privilege. It’s also a responsibility. We are mindful that we are guests on state property. The MMSC ethos is: QUALITY. EXCELLENCE. TRANSPARENCY. HONESTY. I insist that we reflect those values in all that we do. What that means in terms of our address is: Be ever ready to welcome visitors. Have the campus trimmed and neat at all times (thank you Tony My Tiger!). Dress appropriately. (I wish I had money for MMSC uniforms!) Keep the barn clean enough so that if the Queen of England were to stop by for a spot of tea, all you would have to do is neaten your hair.  

Maintaining these standards is labor intensive and takes money. Caring for and training horses takes money. Outreach programs take money. Running a business takes money. 

People often assume that because we are at the Kentucky Horse Park, we are state funded. Nope. People also assume that there is so much money in racing that aftercare providers should have ample industry resources. Nope. People sometimes remark that our horses seem so expensive compared to those from other adoption organizations. That’s because we put so much time into the selection, training, and care (from supplements to regular alternative therapies) to every one of our horses. Our goal with our adoption fees is to have the horses pay for themselves. All other overhead costs have to be paid for by the humans.

All non profits know the drill: The dog chases its tail, trying to make ends meet. It can get dizzying at times. I remember years ago when I went to see Seattle Slew for the first time, I got to talking with his groom, an older black gentleman. I asked him if he liked job. “Yes!” Did he get weary with the hard work and long hours? “Well, yes. But if you make your bed hard, you gotta learn to roll over.”

I never forgot those words of wisdom. Running a charity for used luxury items--former racehorses--requires a lot of rolling over. I have had to scavenge the Park’s dump for discarded fence boards to replace our broken ones. We ride in donated saddles most of them as hard and slick as old church pews. Our truck, “Miles” is rusted out, has a mercurial engine and would be scary to take out on a real road. Nonetheless, he’s really handy for picking up brush, moving jumps, and carrying out hay bales and feed to the fence line on sleeting days relieving Felix, my own personal car who now sports 165K on his odometer from his hard labor volunteer duties (see FELIX, February 5). Our office computers are antiquated and don’t know how to talk to one another. Our ancient microwave is on its last legs. Our plumbing grinds. Our toilet leaks. And the list goes on.

Yet no matter how you limp along in your charity, you just can’t take any consecutive steps forward without staff. Don’t get me wrong! Volunteers are invaluable! But they, are like gravy on mashed potatoes or chocolate cake at the end of a meal; unexpected bonuses. You can’t run a business on windfalls from providence. Horses, as do people, need to eat.

This is currently on my mind because I am preparing the budget for next year for my December board meeting. I was a Comparative Literature major in college as numbers never came as easily to me as language. I was so lopsided in fact, that years after graduation, to help balance my knowledge base out I signed up for Accounting 101 at the University of Kentucky. I learned a lot (of course I got an A!), not only about how numbers stack up vis à vis one another, but also about how creative a field accounting can be. Like literature or poetry, you can make numbers express whatever you wish. Figures lie and liars figure, they say. It’s true, which makes the fiscal rhetoric in Washington truly sobering. You realize now that they talking about astronomical sums that are mere subjective glimpses of the behemoth. Sort of like the blind man trying to take in the concept of an elephant.

So I have looked at my budget and I’ve trimmed and I have pared. I have asked all providers for free services or to reduce their fees. I have written begging letters to former donors of horses and donors of money, adopters of horses, internet friends, friends I haven’t even met yet but whom I think might like to know about our work and mission. I have peered into the crystal ball trying to see how many horses we will take in next year and what they will cost on average and bring in on average. I have guestimated what undesignated donations might fall our way. I have thought up many, many ideas for fundraising efforts--the possible outcomes of which need to be assessed in relation to the amount of labor and time they will take to put on. There are grants to be written, and foundations to approach. Corporate charitable giving departments could be visited. What about the Thoroughbred industry itself? Can’t they help out with aftercare efforts?

That’s a huge issue right now. The viable life of the average racehorse is probably 4 years. Horses can live twenty years beyond that and then some. You have twenty plus thousand foals born a year. That means a lot are going into the system but getting stuck on the way out. It you want a visual for what that’s like, think of your stacks of daily mail. Where does it go? The kitchen or hallway table? Does it sit there for a while and accumulate? If it doesn’t, I hate you. If it does, then you know what I am talking about. You don’t jettison it because you think you need to see it, read it, deal with it, keep it maybe, but somehow it is not quite the time to do that because you are so busy at that present moment.
So it piles up waiting until at some point you have to deal with it or be buried by it. That’s sort of where we are with the TB aftercare issue right now.

There are so many horses, so much press about their plight, so many discussions going on about what to do. This is good. Change starts with individual efforts such as The Jockey Club’s voluntary donation check off box on the foal registration papers or the Thoroughbred Incentive Program to award TBs in the show world. The Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance. The Retired Racehorse Retraining Project. The myriad reschooling adoption centers popping up everywhere like spring mushrooms. All good. Very good.

Eventually individual efforts lead to collective ones: Perhaps some kind of mandatory aftercare system? A humane euthanasia program? An industry program that pays for the ones that can be rehabbed and reschooled? Or legislation mandating any or all of the above?

Many may bristle at these suggestions. That’s always the way with change. Look at the example of the late Nelson Mandela. The honor the world now accords him and the reverence with which his country views him weren’t always the case. For years his fight for change was perceived as a threat to the established economic, social, and world orders. Yet, eventually his determination, his courage, his example of personal sacrifice, his dignity lead to a collective force to commence the righting of the wrongs within his country. We can see now that he was a visionary and that he was right.

I trust this too, will happen in the Thoroughbred industry. Our voices crying for the ethical and responsible treatment of retired race horses will be heard, acknowledged and answered. Then, finally, those of us in the aftercare won’t have to “roll over” quite so much on the hard beds of our businesses. We will sleep easier knowing that there will always be a cushion of funds to care for the horses we love so much. Not that we will stop crusading. We are not expecting pillow tops. Just something other than the constant threat of a puncture in the flimsy air mattress.

Cheery bye,