In response to an article on the state of Ontario horse racing published on the 2nd of September in the Toronto Star entitled “13,000 horses could be destroyed in 2013 if Ontario horse racing industry collapses”, as well as some small insight into the issues faced by Ontario horse racing today.
Before I spout off, I want to mention I work with a feedlot rescue group (Need You Now Equine), as well as living in an area with a lot of standardbred breeders. The crew behind Need You Now Equine have been dealing with the fall-out of government decision this for months, as well, I have spoken to a number of breeders, trainers & people involved in the industry about their futures.
If you are not familiar with the issues facing racing in Ontario, the Ontario horse racing industry had several years ago formed a deal with the province to introduce slots to the tracks. The income from those slots was then shared with the province as well as going to the purses won at those tracks, supporting the racing industry. Recently the Ontario government has chosen to pull the slots out of the tracks and instead focus gaming in casinos. There is a private members bill that was recently introduced to re-examine pulling out the slots; of course, if it passes, it will be after the smaller tracks have closed. Many Ontario racing jobs have already been terminated.
Personally, I don’t worry as much about the Thoroughbreds. They certainly go to slaughter, but there is more acceptance in the equine-community that they can be re-trained as pleasure horses and do very well in second careers. There are too many horses to find homes for all of them, but there are also several large rescues in Ontario that focus on Thoroughbreds alone. As well, some of the Qc slaughter houses are “no longer accepting thoroughbreds” (and I mean “no longer accepting”). Neither of these are true for Standardbreds.
Standardbreds are a much bigger hurdle. They can just as easily be re-trained as pleasure horses, and many excel in dressage; but they don’t have that public understanding of the potential of their second careers.
Need You Now Equine has 2 Standardbred stud colts right now that need homes. They’ve been pulled out of the feedlot, we’ve found people who want to loan the money to buy them, but they have nowhere to go. They’re both under 2 and one has been track-broke but not raced. If they were Thoroughbreds or Quarter Horses, I’m sure they would have found homes already. Even if the slots were staying at the tracks, I’m positive these two would still have been sold to meat; there is very little market for them outside racing.
Many smaller breeders did not breed this year, for lots of reasons, before the slots became an issue (just general downturn in the economy being a big one) so any wave of unwanted foals this winter/spring will be muted. People have already been dumping horses for months, as soon as this story first hit the media, it is the lower end trainers who started getting out. Higher end trainers have already shipped (or have plans to) their good horses from tracks that are closing to other tracks down south or to Woodbine.
So I want to point out a very important part of the article from the Toronto Star.
“A government panel…has forecast…up to 13,000 thoroughbreds, standardbreds and quarter horses by early next year should the industry collapse completely.”
That would include Woodbine closing (Ontario’s largest track) and this is unlikely to happen in the next year, no matter what happens with the slots or the other tracks. There is a major problem in Ontario horse racing, but hyperbole is not necessary to get this point across. 7,500, or 2,000 for that matter, healthy and sound horses being slaughtered, either are big enough numbers that we should all be outraged.
(I also feel people should be outraged that horses who won their owners $20k, $50k, $100,000 are turned into steaks for over-seas export; but I digress.)
All sporting events have an ebb and flow of popularity; that we should lose one that has been ingrained in our history and culture, as well as employs so many Ontarians, because of a seemingly nonsensical decision of the Mcguinty government, is mystifying.
Our racing industry had been the envy of the world for the innovative way we were generating income & interest in racing; which could only lead to greater income for the province and jobs for rural Ontarians.
This decision will cripple our racing industry in more ways than may be immediately seen. Those smaller tracks are used as a stepping stone for trainers, jockeys & drivers on their way to Woodbine and beyond, with these track closures we are loosing that crucial step. It put it in Canadian terms, they are cancelling Peewee Hockey.
The annual Ontario Thoroughbred & Standard bred yearling sales are held in September.
“If a $20,000 horse becomes a $10,000 horse, then the horse that used to bring $10,000 is now a giveaway,” says Sikura, who estimates it costs about $33,000 to care for a horse that races regularly each year.”
At Need You Now Equine we routinely see horses who were $20k,30k,50k as yearlings who end up being sold for meat after a few years of racing. Irregardless of what happens at the coming sale, to say a horse that was worth $10,000 being a giveaway, this was already true before any problems with the slots.
On top of these issues with the future of Ontario horse-racing, we have had a record-setting drought in many areas of the province and owners have been unable to keep their horses. So we don’t just have too many horses to re-home from the racing industry, there are too many horses who need homes in general. In addition, those people who might otherwise have space for another horse, are facing hay-shortages or increased prices on everything from feed to services.
In a 2008 it was reported as many as 100,000 horses were slaughtered in Canada (unfortunately it is very difficult to find updated & accurate statistics on horse slaughter in Canada). To say we are adding 13,000 from the Ontario racing industry, belittles the fact horses were already headed that way from the industry. This year, and the next, there were be a few more than there were in past years.
There are no simple solutions to the problems facing the horse industry, and Ontario Racing microcosm of the of the horse-community in Ontario. To concentrate on those horses that will be sent to slaughter would be short-sighted, because loosing these horses is the smallest part of this issue. The closing of tracks will gut vast swaths of rural Ontario, ending a living part of our history, and terminating a program that has been envied the world over.
We were already facing a perfect storm for horse slaughter in Ontario, and with the decision to pull these gambling revenues from the track, we are loosing a great industry as well.
If you are looking for a horse, and you have the expertise (or have it available to you) to handle a rescue, please consider one of the horses from Need You Now Equine. Since December 2011 we’ve been working to network horses, that are in feedlots around Ottawa, so that they can find new homes before they are shipped for slaughter. As of September 2012 we’ve already found homes for over 130 horses facing that deal sentence.