By Diana Pikulski
In a few weeks, approximately 70 Thoroughbred aftercare organizations will file their accreditation applications or annual reviews with the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance (TAA). These non-profits are seeking to be accredited by the TAA or remain so. Applications for accreditation are due every other year and there is a less rigorous review in the off year. Once accredited, the charities apply for TAA grant money.
According to its website, since 2012, the TAA has granted more than $13.8 million to accredited aftercare organizations and 7,800 Thoroughbreds have been retrained, rehomed, or retired by accredited organizations.
I caught up with Stacie Clark, who oversaw the establishment of the accreditation process and now serves TAA as Operations Consultant to talk about what the TAA seal of approval means and how it can help potential donors and owners looking to retire their horses to an accredited agency.
DP: What types of documentation and information does TAA require from the applicant?
SC: We require not only good horse care but also good governance and business practices. It is important that the organizations are viable and dependable in every way. We ask for proof of proper horse care in the way of receipts for services, feed, hay or supplies as well as policies on adoption, humane euthanasia and IRS compliance. And, we require proof that the policies and agreements are being followed. We also look at marketing materials because we want the Thoroughbreds and the industry to be represented fairly.
DP: How has TAA’s relationship with the accredited/applying agencies changed over the past eight years?
SC: At first, it was seen by them and I think it felt to them like a huge burden. We evolved to make the process more user-friendly and created a mentorship program because our goal is to be inclusive and help as many horses as possible. Now, more and more, the organizations utilize the mentors, and embrace the structure they must maintain. It seems that they have all come to appreciate the process of planning for the TAA review and keeping the records and the structure up to date all the time.
DP: Did TAA’s processes change and evolve as well?
SC: Yes, it was interesting to see how different each organization is, not only in how they care for horses which is often a geographic thing, but also from an administrative and governing perspective. We have modified requirements to fit the widely varying programs but not lowered the standard. For example, in California, some farms are basically desert but the horses are maintained beautifully on smaller plots of land with good hay.
DP: What are the numbers and ranges in size of the organizations?
SC: We have a minimum requirement. An organization must have five Thoroughbreds under its care, or 10 Thoroughbreds being adopted-out each year. The organizations range in size from five to approximately 600 Thoroughbreds.
DP: When we see the TAA accreditation seal on an organization’s website or brochure, what can we assume?
SC: That the organization has submitted and TAA has reviewed all of their budgets, financials, governance practices, IRS filings, as well as policies. You can also assume that thorough inspections have been conducted. We require that a veterinarian inspect the horses and premises on our behalf and that a TAA staffer or member of our team of volunteers has inspected the premises and the horses before accreditation and in the off-year.
DP: Have the types of facilities or second careers changed since you began working in aftercare?
SC: Yes, in large part because our knowledge of what Thoroughbreds have to offer people has changed. It’s amazing. The conversation isn’t always about hunter jumpers and eventers any more. Starting with the TRF’s prison program and now equine assisted therapy, we see that Thoroughbreds in particular, can profoundly change people in a positive way.
DP: You made one Eclipse Award-winning documentary on this topic, can you tell us what you are working on now?
SC: The first film was about Saratoga War Horse and how the Thoroughbreds initiate breakthroughs in treating PTSD in veterans. This time, we decided to follow the lives of people who have been helped by Thoroughbreds in a variety of programs for five years to tell the story of how their lives were transformed by their interaction with Thoroughbreds. Anything more would be a spoiler alert. Suffice it to say that no one who loves Thoroughbreds will be disappointed!
For more information, visit the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance website at www.Thoroughbredaftercare.org.
Diana Pikulski is the editor of the Thoroughbred Adoption Network.