Last week, in our first in a three-part series spotlighting the good that's being done in the realm of aftercare in the Pennsylvania racing industry, we featured New Start, which has changed the approach to racehorse retirement and become a trusted resource for many trainers on the backside of Penn National. This week we're switching our focus to Parx Racing, where their official aftercare partner, Turning for Home, is celebrating its 10-year anniversary of helping horsemen at the Pennsylvania track take a proactive approach to racehorse retirement and rehoming.
Created by the Pennsylvania Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association (PTHA), the organization was the first retirement program at a year-round racetrack in North America and has served as a model for several other programs throughout the region.
Turning for Home program director Danielle Montgomery says what help serve as a catalyst for change in Pennsylvania horse racing was a story on the cover of the New York Times several years ago that showed a horse that had been euthanized after a breakdown on a racetrack.
“Front and center for all to see was this dead horse. It wasn't in Pennsylvania and it wasn't even a Thoroughbred – it was a Quarter Horse – but that didn't matter. It was shocking to everyone on the inside of horse racing, so you can only imagine what those outside of the sport thought,” said Montgomery. “The members of the PTHA thought ‘this could ruin us [as a sport]' and that's when everything really started to change.”
Montgomery said Turning for Home has a symbiotic relationship with the horsemen at the track. Funded largely through a system in which a fee is paid to the 501(c)3 organization for every start made at the track, Turning for Home also gets support from Parx Racing, jockeys, the Pennsylvania Horse Breeders Association and individual owners or trainers who want to support the horses they put into the program.
“Getting money per race, per start gives these trainers and owners a real connection to our program. Many times, owners will kick over a little extra when their horses win a race or a stakes race,” she said. “We never turn a horse away. This business is as much about the horses as it is the people and the horsemen at Parx know we're here for them and for their horses. It's a two-way street.”
The criteria for horses to be accepted into the program are:
- Horses must be continually stabled on the grounds of Parx Racing for 90 days prior to the time of application or have raced in the last 30 days with a trainer based at Parx Racing for at least six months of the year
- Horses at training farms must have raced at Parx Racing in the previous 30 days from application and must have run over 50 percent of its races at Parx in the previous 365 days.
- Turning for Home will keep its waiting list shorter than three weeks (currently Montgomery says it's about two weeks)
- Surgical cases will be moved to the front of the waiting list
- A horse may move to the front of the waiting list if the full placement cost of $2,500 is donated
Owners must sign over the foal papers to Turning for Home for a horse to be accepted into the program. The papers are then sent to The Jockey Club along with the completed “Sold as Retired from Racing” form to ensure the horse will never race again.
Turning for Home is able to remain committed to the approach of never turning a horse away thanks to its 15 partner farms throughout the eastern half of the United States. The farms retrain and adopt out the horse at whatever price point they deem fair based on the training put into the horse and the horse's potential, and the farms keep the adoption fees. Turning for Home reviews all adoption applications prior to a horse being placed.
“We send each horse with a one-time stipend and then they keep all of the adoption fees. Nobody is going to get rich off of this approach for sure, but it makes it worth their time and effort. If they put the time and training into a horse to make it into a nice upper-level eventing prospect like one of our Florida farms does and can sell it for five-figures, that's great, but most of our partner farms sell these horses for about $2,500 or so on average,” said Montgomery. “The adopter has to give us an update after six months, and once we receive that update, we send them the foal papers that have been stamped as ‘Retired from Racing' and that makes it official.”
Each horse retired through Turning for Home receives an evaluation and soundness exam by a veterinarian before being placed with a farm in its network and a stipend to cover its initial expenses is sent with each horse.
“Dr. [Patty] Hogan was instrumental in getting the program and protocols started and is still very involved. She's a tremendous resource. Dr. Tom Lurito is our program vet and watches every horse jog and helps to come up with a rehabilitation plan if a horse is retiring with an injury, and if it's an injury that needs x-rays and/or surgery, Dr. Janik [Gasiorowski] reads X-rays and performs surgeries for us,” said Montgomery. “These people, our blacksmiths… so many people are so generous with their specialized skills and that is a big part of how this all works.”
Education is a large part of what Montgomery does. She said in her five years serving as program director, she has seen a marked change in the mindset of trainers on the backside of Parx Racing. She said they are becoming more proactive about retiring their horses before injury necessitates them doing so.
“The zero-tolerance slaughter policy is huge and it's enforced, but more than anything I think educating trainers on not getting into the ‘one more race' mentality is big and making sure they see and hear about what others are doing on behalf of their horse when it comes in with an injury,” said Montgomery.
“At the same time, many of our owners and trainers want to stay up-to-date with where their horses go and how they're progressing. I see them commenting on Facebook as soon as their horses' pictures are up and as they progress through their training and adoption,” she continued. “A racehorse's life is so front-loaded. They do so much in those first four, five or six years. When they come through our program, it's kind of like sending their kid off to college for a lot of these owners and trainers. They want to see them succeed and have a great life.”
Montgomery also takes her role as an ambassador for the racing industry one step further, regularly speaking to state legislators about the positive changes that have occurred and continue to take place in the areas of equine welfare and aftercare in Pennsylvania.
“Turning for Home has shown that this model works. It's just like the [Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance], in that everybody is chipping in,” said Montgomery. “I think the safety net for these horses is getting stronger. Every racehorse should have a place to go when they are done racing. No excuses. There should be absolutely no reason a Thoroughbred should go to slaughter. There is no excuse for a horse not to be given every chance for a successful transition after racing.”
Jen Roytz is a marketing, publicity and comprehensive communications specialist based in Lexington, Kentucky. A native of Cleveland, Ohio, her professional focus lies in the fields of equine, health care, corporate and non-profit marketing. She holds board affiliations with the Make a Wish Foundation, Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance and the Retired Racehorse Project, among others. She is the go-to food source for one dog, two cats and two off-track Thoroughbreds.
Email Jen your story ideas at [email protected] or connect with her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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