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I’m involved with a network of women who find homes for harness racing Standardbreds who are being discarded. Typically, we will hear of a horse (or horses) who must leave the track immediately or he will be put on the killer’s truck, which visits the track at least once a week. The horse will be taken to a holding place near Sacramento and evaluated. We add this horse to our list of available adoptees with a description of the horse and his limitations. If there is a fee required by the trainer/owner, this is listed as well, and a contact. We send out updated information on new adoptees to people who have inquired about getting a horse off the track. We also include horses who are one-owner removed from racing, to help promote the breed.

Most of our contacts come in over the internet, although I get about a half dozen phone calls a month for information. Oftentimes, the information required is just about the breed in general, since Standardbreds are not well known outside harness racing, the movie industry, and mounted police groups. I have a breed-related website that focuses on after racing homes.

We do not have any fees for this service; all our expenses are out of pocket. We’re not an organized non-profit with tax-exempt status. We gladly take in donations, but very very few have been offered – two, actually! We participate in the Horse Expo in Sacramento each year, sharing a booth with Capitol Racing, which offers harness racing at CalExpo and is, indirectly, the source of the horses we place. We do not follow up on the horses we place, unless the information is volunteered. We’ve placed or helped to place fewer than 50 horses since we’ve been working together – about 4 years.


I think it's important to make the distinction between adoption groups and rescues.


Rescues typically buy horses of any breed, generally after they have gone through an auction sale and been sold to a meat dealer, sometimes they literally buy them off the truck. The rescue folks seem to be 99% women. They will pay a killer a few dollars more than they paid for the horse, take it home, and try to nurse it back to health and then find it a home. It seems that some of them place horses for adoption, with a small fee and a lifetime follow up, some just try to sell and break even. There seem to be a fair number of people who just do this on their own and don't get themselves IRS charity status, etc.

Many of the rescue groups, with IRS status, work with animal welfare agencies, and will take horses from SPCA seizures, etc. Rescue groups will sometimes place animals through adoption agencies when they become overloaded. Some, like Tier Rescue, in Southern California, rescue abused, neglected, abandoned, and unwanted horses. They work to find homes for horses that have fallen into the hands of horse traders on their way to an uncertain future. When funds allow, they purchase needy horses directly from low-end auctions and killers’ pens. Once a horse in their care has been rehabilitated (if needed) and is deemed "ready for a new home", they strive to find Safe, Responsible, Loving homes for them through their adoption program.

ADOPTION AGENCIES (from several S’bred contacts)

Our horses are donated by owners looking for an alternative for their animals, often from the track. Most agencies will take rescues into their programs, often working in conjunction with animal welfare agencies. Most are donated either by the original owner, the trainer at the track, or the owner's agent, as a rescue settlement [the owner avoids prosecution]. We don’t turn horses away because of the severity of the injury or how extensive the rehabilitation. Many of the S’bred adoption agencies will take any horse, though they concentrate on the breed.

The organized groups do not relinquish ownership of the horse and the animal is always assured a home back in the program if the adoptive family can no longer care for it.

The large adoption agencies center not only on the welfare of the horse, but heavily on education of the owners, adoptive families and general public as to the versatility of the Standardbred, and the general care of horses, no matter what breed. This is accomplished with a one on one with adoptors and free seminars for both children and adults. I think you will see more and more agencies heading towards this format.

Education of the public is perhaps, the most important thing we do. It ultimately results in equine welfare laws being passed [a better informed public puts more pressure on our lawmakers], better care for the horses and of course additional funding to help with the rehabs.

One of the largest groups in the east broke down their funding: "After our last audit, 88.9% of our funding goes directly to transportation, board and rehabbing horses. 10% goes to advertising and sponsorship of the Standardbred National Horse Show; the rest goes into government-required fees [state] and accounting fees for reporting purposes."


90% are non-competitive Standardbreds that are either injured & won't come back sound enough to race again or not good enough to breed or didn't make it to the races at all (not fast enough or foul-gaited, or poor conformation). A few owners will keep these horses for life if they have a farm (many don't), but most owners want to make room for horses that are racing & making them money. It's not a hobby anymore; many in the industry will tell you it's a cutthroat business; greed in other words has taken over. The other 10% are older, either retirees or horses that have been away from the track and need new homes because they’ve gotten too old to be useful. Adoption groups are not generally put in the position to have to buy a horse. Occasionally, the owner will help financially to care for the horse until a home is found, but that’s rare.

The Standardbred Retirement Foundation, one of the largest and oldest eastern organizations, has placed about 1,200 horses, follows them for life and has a network of a few dozen foster homes. They retain ownership of all horses that pass through their organization, and keep track of them all. There are generally a few dozen at a time that are looking for homes and some that have been unplaceable for years because no one wants them - too old, not sound enough to be ridden, etc.

So, that gives you a figure of about 80,000 STBs that are active in some capacity in the US and/or North America.

Main reasons horses come back to adoption agencies:

Local Adoption..... (Pam Berg, GEVA, Sonoma County, CA)

"For the number of horse owners and the amount of money spent on horses in Sonoma County there is very little concern for the overall welfare of horses in need. Even making direct appeals and mailings to locals in the business, there is little response. This is not limited to Sonoma County, but unfortunately the horse industry in general in all categories - racing, showing, eventing, dressage, pleasure, polo, etc – and in all parts of the country.

"We get very little help and have to BEG for it from the industry. The general public and horsemen alike are not actively supportive. There’s always lots of lip service about what a wonderful thing we're doing for the poor dear horses, but not many people are actually dipping into their pockets and not much coming out when they do.

"It really doesn’t say much for us as a group -- those who make a good living from the horses and give nothing back for their retirement and those who profess they "love" horses, but do nothing to provide for those that need help.

"GEVA’s costs are difficult to break down per because it varies with the needs of the horse. A horse in paddock/pasture without problems probably runs about $80.00 per month. A horse requiring confinement to a stall runs about $400.00 per month due to the cost of bedding and not being able to accommodate bulk supplies. A horse needing medication or bandaging adds on that much more. None of these costs include labor or overheads such as property rental/mortgage, electricity, insurance, etc. That is merely the cost of feed and bedding.

"Volunteers mean well, but usually don't have the needed experience to be helpful, or the dedication to pursue active participation. Most often, its kids – usually preteen and teenage girls – who just want to be around horses.

"GEVA is limited to the number of horses they can take in due to lack of funding. The number of horses that are placed for adoption is also limited, but that is because most inquiries are from youngsters or people looking for a "free" horse without the knowledge or finances to care for one. Most of their horses come from the Thoroughbred tracks with racing related injuries. I don't see any "rescues" except from euthanasia or slaughter. Most of ours are race track injuries (TBs) ranging in age from 2 to 4 with one older injury retiree at 8 (no cartilage left in his ankle). We have a couple of retired Grand Prix horses, and a wonderful Standardbred.

"People who have horses should be willing to accept the responsibility for them when they can no longer perform. Horse owners, in my overall perception, fail to accept this responsibility and merely wish to take from the horse as long as they can, and then discard the horse as an object, which is no longer serviceable or pleasurable.

"For the amount of business generated by horses and the amount of pleasure derived from them there is very little done for their long-term welfare. The industry needs to have its chain jerked to support these animals that don't ask to be born or ridden or abused. Give them a life after they've given their all!"

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