Every spring, we turn our attention to this year’s crop of outstanding three-year-olds, speculating endlessly about our favorites for the Kentucky Derby, then the Preakness, then the Belmont, hoping for the chance to history be made with another elusive Triple Crown victory.
As we celebrate the achievements of a particularly outstanding horse this year, Justify, the conversation inevitably turns darker. Justify may be a champion, but horse lovers are quick to use his moment to point fingers at the racing industry, citing it as a world full of people who see the horse simply as a tool to make money, with unsuccessful horses thrown out like garbage to end up at this nation’s “kill sales” to ship to slaughter.
As with most hot-button issues, none of this is entirely a lie. It’s also not the entire truth.
It’s true that some Thoroughbreds, when their racing days are over, wind up in bad straits. It’s also true for many registered Quarter horses and other stock breeds, various sporthorses, backyard horses and branded mustangs. There are bad apples in any discipline or breed world. As with any issue in the horse industry, there’s also a healthy majority of good owners and trainers who are in the sport for the love of the horse, and work hard to make sure that their horses end up in good hands, even if there was no return on the initial investment.
“Our current climate loves to focus on the scary stuff and the bad news,” describes Carleigh Fedorka, a lifelong Thoroughbred advocate and well-known blogger at A Yankee In Paris. “The good guys don’t get the attention they deserve, usually because they don’t demand it. But they’re out there. So many of them are out there.”
It’s this truth that prompted Carleigh to start #ForTheHorse — a way for OTTB owners and riders to tell the story of their horses and how the horses’ connections ensured that their animals found the soft landing that they deserved when their racing days were done.
Within just a few hours, stories started flooding social media — the stories that usually fly under the radar and go untold.
The details vary, but the theme is true: many owners and trainers are in the industry for the horse. These people work hard to make sure they do right by their animals, both on the track and after the races.
Telling these stories and celebrating these happy endings will help ensure that more owners and trainers seek the soft landings, working with the multitude of aftercare organizations that help transition horses from the track to second careers as sporthorses, recreational mounts or companions.
With Justify putting horse racing back in the limelight, the time is ripe to share your #ForTheHorse story. If you have a Thoroughbred in your life, share his or her story on social media with that hashtag, and let’s keep the conversation moving forward for aftercare.