A Plea For Change
After the second version of Horse Racing 101 went live in October of 2016, I took a step back and quickly began focusing on my personal life. I came to terms with the end of my grooming career, and have since moved to San Antonio, Texas. My life in Texas is satisfying and I am actively pursuing new interests, but I cannot seem to fill the emotional void that formed when I left the horses. When I was grooming, nearly every waking moment involved working to improve the lives of the horses in my charge. I took the time to learn from every veterinarian or farrier, other grooms, trainers, and just about anyone who would give me the time of day and share a bit of their knowledge. While I never owned of these horses and only rode a handful, they were “mine”; I knew their favorite spots to itch, I did their legs up in special bandages when needed, I slept on hay bales outside of their stalls when they were ill, and I was a familiar, comforting face for them when they were stressed. I loved, and still love, them all and even though I am now far removed from them. I often find myself wondering where they are and if they are just as loved as they were when they were in my care. Of course, my grooming career had its fair share of highs and lows, but my love of the horse kept me in the game until my body gave out just after my 25th birthday.
From the beginning, when I envisioned Horse Racing 101, I had thoughts of the project booming right out of the gate. I believed that the idea was so clever that it would gain traction immediately and it would begin to pay off within months. I was right and wrong with this line of thinking; yes, the project is needed but is it too needed in the industry? As an industry, are we up against too much to overcome? Is the damage simply done? It seems that we cannot go more than a week without an online racing publication breaking a story about fines for drug overages or thoroughbreds being found in kill pens; we continuously have a black eye and we will not stop punching ourselves. Sure, for every article that paints the industry in a poor light, there are two articles that focus on retired thoroughbreds in their second careers or updates on fan-favorites but there is no real forward movement as a whole. My interactions with acquaintances, both “horse people” and those who have never touched a horse, are enough to tell me that despite the efforts we have made recently, we have not done enough. I believe that we are facing a mountain but I believe that the mountain can be conquered.
I am tired. I am tired of being accused of being an animal abuser. I am tired of correcting people when they state that they “rescued” their retired racehorse from the racetrack, as if the backside of a racetrack is a blackhole where horsemanship does not exist. I am tired of reading falsities in the comment section of online news publications. I am tired of clickbait articles on the internet that constantly vilify the sport. I am especially tired of coming home after a long workday and trying to defend an industry that seems to have given up on itself. Yet I persevere for the love of the horses and the sport; I persevere because I want to give back to the industry that took me places beyond my wildest dreams.
Between the gambling, excitement, cocktails, investment opportunities, fashion, regional foods, and also family-friendly activities… I cannot think of a single person who would not be enticed by something that our sport has to offer. That is why I find myself constantly frustrated with the state of horse racing; I see such incredible opportunities at every turn and an industry that will not help itself. I do not believe that I have the answers to all of racing’s problems, but I do believe that we can continuously do better as an industry.
- We can be more proactive for our equine athletes and ensure that they do not continue racing after their performance has declined.
- We can come up with just and swift punishments for horsemen who continuously break the rules; better yet, we can ensure that those punishments are enforced across all jurisdictions.
- We can give our horses good beginnings and maintain their soundness in order to prepare them for a second career as a riding horse if a breeding career in not likely for them.
- We can develop a more accurate database for breeders and owners to use to track their former horses.
- We can designate a nominal amount of total purse money for the day to be used for thoroughbred re-homing efforts.
- We can take our neighbor to the races and guide them through their first day.
- We can walk up to the couple who has clearly never been to the racetrack before and offer to help them place their first wager.
- We can actively dispel media misrepresentations that we come across and share our knowledge and experience.
- We can actively promote the use and showcase the skills of retired racehorses in second careers.
- We can open up the doors to our world and share our love of the sport and the horse with anyone who will listen.
- Finally, we can collectively decide that the path that that our sport is on is no longer viable.
These are just a few small changes that would be relatively easy for the industry to implement, if only we could collectively decide that changes must be made if we are to survive the next decade and beyond. We must change for the betterment of our sport, our livelihoods, and above all else, we must change for the horses who give us so much.
I acknowledge that I am a relatively nameless former groom, but I am tirelessly trying to build a bridge between the industry I love and the world that I live in, one article, and one changed mind at a time. I have made adjustments in my personal life that will allow for almost-daily updates in an effort to ensure that I am doing everything in my power to help this industry thrive for decades to come. The best is yet to come for this project!