Aftercare Discussion Kicks off NHBPA Convention


TAA panel | Jennie Rees


LAS VEGAS-Taking care of Thoroughbreds after their racing careers have ended not only is the right thing to do for the horse, but the right thing for owners and trainers to do for their business.

That was the message of a panel on the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance entitled “The TAA: Protecting your investment in retirement,” a session kicking off the National Horsemen's Benevolent & Protective Association convention Wednesday at the South Point Hotel and Casino.

Since its 2012 inception, the TAA has quickly emerged as a game-changer, getting a fragmented industry to pull together for the common good by accrediting organizations involved in the retirement, retraining and adoption of retired racehorses. As importantly, the TAA also raises and provides funding for those organizations meeting its rigorous accreditation standards, now up to 64 throughout North America.

“If we don't take care of our own industry, we will get the helping hand–and I'm very sarcastic–of the government,” said prominent owner-breeder Madeline Auerbach, an aftercare pioneer in California and a member of the TAA's executive committee. “If the government has to step in and do the things that we should be doing ourselves, it will not be done with the same gentle and loving hand. It will not be as cost effective. A lot of us in this industry work on a very fine margin. We don't have room for a lot of expenditures that are not essential. What we're trying to tell you today is this is not a pleasant diversion. This is a necessity for all of us.

“… This is as important as paying your taxes and insurance. This is part of our insurance that the industry survives.”

Joell Dunlap, founder of Square Peg Foundation in northern California that uses off-the-track Thoroughbreds to work with developmentally challenged children, said TAA funding has allowed her organization to increase from helping 30 to 60 families with autistic children. She said story-telling is an incredibly powerful tool to changing perception of the racing industry.

“Why invest in aftercare and why can you say aftercare is an investment?” she said. “Here's the deal: From the first time a soldier said to his mounted regiment, 'Last one to the top of the hill is a rotten egg,' there was a horse race. More than the horse race, after that there was a story. And the story lasted a whole longer than the horse race.

“Racing is going to thrive, or racing is going to struggle because of the stories. The public perception of racing has suffered because we forgot to tell [the public] these great stories. If you don't believe me, go ahead and Google Ferdinand. The first two [topics], you're not going to see Bill Shoemaker's amazing ride in the 1986 Derby. You're going to get a slaughter story. Ferdinand, amazing animal–and we get a slaughter story. That's a failure to tell these great stories

“…. If we don't, we know the news is going to get us stories of those horses in the kill-pen, with their tattoos burned off. Investing in accredited aftercare produces great stories. These stories aren't just Pollyanna, do-good fluff. These are stories that change the perception of racing. These are the stories that make the public trust us again…. Investing in aftercare isn't just the right thing to do, it's the best investment.”

Trainer Rick Hiles, president of the Kentucky HBPA and a vice president of the National HBPA, discussed the partnership forged among the horsemen, Churchill Downs and Keeneland and the TAA for a voluntary program that makes it convenient for horse owners to donate $5 for each starter, with Churchill and Keeneland matching the amount. He said that has resulted in $170,000 going to the TAA and its accredited programs the past two years.

“I would ask each one of you go back and make a presentation to your racetracks and your horsemen's group and say, 'Look, we want to be part of this,'” Hiles said. “If you can't give $5, give $3. But get involved.”

Stacie Clark Rogers, the consultant overseeing TAA operations, said the alliance also mentors aftercare programs that are just falling short of accreditation. She said TAA is helping to break down the barriers between aftercare entities, changing their view of each other from competitor to community.

“If you like the horse, do it,” she said of contributing to aftercare. “If you like the business, do it. If you don't like the business, but like to make money in this business, you should do it.”

In reference to issues facing the industry, Rogers said, “If we don't take care of aftercare…we don't have any issues.”

The convention runs through Friday, with the National HBPA board meeting Saturday.

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