Happy ninth birthday to Charlie, who may be the junior member of my three-horse herd, but has nevertheless established himself as the undisputed herd leader.
Although Thoroughbreds can live to age 30 or more with proper care, it is significant when a former racehorse makes it to age nine. Drugging and over-racing cause many to break down and die on the track, during racing careers that start at age two or three and last at most a few years. Thereafter, an appalling number are shipped to Canada or Mexico to be slaughtered for their meat–which even industry publication Horseracing Insider acknowledges is the fate of half of all U.S. Thoroughbreds.
Charlie, known during his racing career as Charlie’s Quest, is descended from Secretariat and Man O’War among other famous names – but his pedigree and his own early earnings record didn’t protect him from abuses commonly inflicted on horses in today’s U.S. racing world. Charlie began his career in January 2012, racing with a number of strong finishes on a succession of Florida, Pennsylvania, and New York tracks. In July 2013, he was claimed by Steve Asmussen, a prominent New York horse trainer whose stable was the subject of a PETA undercover investigation. When a Saratoga track veterinarian judged Charlie unsound and unfit to run, he was transferred to a series of other trainers and raced at cheaper tracks in Texas, Indiana, West Virginia and ultimately back in Pennsylvania. Meanwhile, PETA’s investigation led the New York State Gaming Commission to fine Asmussen for drug violations; and PETA followed Charlie’s journey, concerned that despite obvious signs of lameness, he was not allowed to rest between races.
In the summer of 2016, PETA took steps to rescue Charlie, and approached me about providing him a permanent home. It had been only nine months since my husband Greg’s tragic death, but animal rescue had been central to our life together; and during those early months of widowhood, my two rescued horses, two dogs, and five cats had been my greatest source of solace. I welcomed the opportunity to honor Greg’s memory by adding Charlie to my animal family.
In September 2016, after extensive examinations at veterinary boarding facilities, Charlie came to live with me and with Henry and Caroline, the two rescued horses Greg and I had adopted from PETA in June 2014. Examining vets determined Charlie to have “quadrilateral lameness, some of which is very severe,” which “even with a pampered life as a pasture companion” will show degenerative changes over time. For now, however, he is indeed living a pampered life, spending his days grazing with his two friends on 14 acres of pasture, walking comfortably, and running only on his terms.
More about Charlie and me in the December 2016 story “Who Rescued Whom? Grab a Tissue Before Reading This Horse Rescue Story.” More about PETA’s recent work to help racehorses at “Bettor sues harness-racing trainer for loss linked to doping” (USA Today, 3/7/18) and “PETA-Proposed Technology Will Spare Horses Used for Racing.” (PETA, 4/5/18).
Photo of Charlie and Henry running c Irene Abdou Photography.