Charlie, formerly the racehorse Charlie’s Quest, came to live with me three years ago on September 21, 2016. He quickly established himself as herd leader vis-à-vis my other PETA rescue horses Caroline (history unknown) and Henry (the former racehorse Root Beer Float).
Charlie’s Quest began his “career” at Gulfstream Park Racing & Casino, Florida on January 12, 2012. Over the next four years, he ran at tracks including Belmont Park, Aqueduct Racetrack, and Saratoga Racetrack in New York; Churchill Downs in Kentucky; Mountaineer Casino Racetrack & Resort in West Virginia; Lone Star Park in Texas; Indiana Grand Racing & Casino; and Parx Casino & Racing and Presque Isle Downs in Pennsylvania.
A descendant of Secretariat, Man O’War, and other famous names, Charlie’s Quest placed first in several early races, earning a total of $207,000. But soon he began to drop in ranking. After New York trainer Steve Asmussen’s stable marked Charlie’s Quest a “rat” (racing parlance for a slow horse), he passed through multiple owners who continued to race him — even as his hocks became progressively more swollen. Fortunately, after a July 10, 2016 Presque Isle Downs race where Charlie finished last for the third straight time, PETA observed that he was at imminent risk of a track breakdown, and stepped in to rescue him.
When an equine veterinary specialist examined Charlie in August 2016, she found him to suffer from quadrilateral lameness, and observed: “It seems unreasonable that a horse unfit for even moderate riding sport was recently subjected to high speed racing competition. Even with a pampered life as a pasture companion, he will continue to have degenerative changes that worsen over time.”
To date, Charlie has done well in his pampered life on my farm, spending his days grazing with Henry and Caroline, and running and playing when he chooses to do so.
But Charlie is among the very few Thoroughbred racehorses who make it this far.
Every year in the United States, even according to The Jockey Club’s conservative statistics based on voluntary track reporting, some 500 horses die while running a race. Many more racehorses die in training. Still more racehorses die off the track in their first few years of life, of ostensibly natural causes that are almost certainly traceable to the stress of racing and drugging. (See for example Horseracing Wrongs, March 29, 2016 piece “The Jockey Club’s Death Database is a Joke.”)
And it often gets even worse for those horses who survive a few years on the track.
As Kathleen Parker wrote in her May 8, 2018 Washington Post piece The grim future facing most of America’s racehorses: “In 2017, almost 79,000 horses, some of them thoroughbreds, were transported to Mexico or Canada under abhorrent circumstances — crammed into trucks or trailers for more than 24 hours without food or water — to be slaughtered under often brutal conditions. The U.S. Agriculture Department calculated that 92.3 percent of the horses sent to slaughter are healthy and could complete a normal lifetime but for a place to call home.”
Additionally, PETA reported on May 2, 2019 that many U.S. racehorses and their offspring are slaughtered in South Korea for meat.
For those of us who care about horses — as opposed to horse racing — Jockey Club statistics on the U.S. Thoroughbred foal “crop” are a positive sign: the number of new foals has dropped from roughly 40,000 in 1990, to just 20,000 in 2019. That means twenty thousand fewer Thoroughbred horses brought into this world with a high likelihood of dying a brutal death.
In the meantime, many thousands of racehorses alive today are in desperate need of homes where they can live out 20-30 years of their post-racing lives. It is no easy matter to find such homes, as each horse should ideally have at least two acres of land for grazing, exercise, and waste recycling; and the horse’s human guardian must have knowledge of equine nutrition, handling techniques, and pasture management.
Still, as a longtime urban dweller who entered the wonderful world of horses relatively late in life, I am convinced that anyone with the requisite land can learn to care for a horse if they have the will to do so. I am also convinced that we benefit from horse companionship for companionship’s sake –- just as we benefit from dog or cat companionship – without riding or otherwise putting the horse to work.
As I advocate both personally and through the Gregory J. Reiter Memorial Fund for an ultimate end to horse racing — especially by supporting PETA’s Campaign to End Cruelty toward Race Horses — I also advocate both personally and through this Fund for more people to adopt individual horses from the racing industry.
Are you at the stage where I was six years ago, an urban-to-rural “migrant” looking to spare magnificent Thoroughbred racehorses from brutal ends? Or are you at the stage where I am now, having already adopted former racehorses as pasture companions? Comment on this post or email me!