By Diana Pikulski
In 2006, the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association (NYTHA) created Take the Lead to facilitate rehabilitation and retraining placements for retiring NYRA racehorses. The program is open to all horsemen based at New York Racing Association tracks. Recently the program received a new funding source through a percentage of claims made to help with the cost of caring for horses needing a longer rehabilitation before starting a second career. We caught up with trainer Rick Schosberg, chairman of NYTHA's Aftercare Committee who has overseen the program since its inception.
DP: Can you describe the Take the Lead model?
RS: For us it was very important to get horses transitioned to second careers instead of just retired if they are capable of doing that. So Rick Violette and Andy Belfiore had the idea of creating Take the Lead and Take2. So, they created a demand at the same time. Take2 funds prize money in Thoroughbred-only classes in horse shows across the country.
DP: You've been a very consistent and strong leader for Take the Lead. To what do you credit your success?
RS: Rick [Violette] came to me in the very beginning–I'll never forget the day–and said 'I think you can really do this' and it was right in my wheelhouse, so I was happy to say yes. I grew up with show horses and Dawn and I had a farm for retired racehorses. It has always been one of my biggest priorities. It is in my DNA.
DP: How does the retirement process work at Take the Lead?
RS: Once we get a call about a horse, it takes anywhere from 48 hours to 10 days to get the horse placed. We organize the full vet exam for the horse and then we get the word out to the various TAA accredited organizations that we use. We take time to figure out which place is the best fit for the horse. We gather all of the paperwork and we set up the transportation of the horse. Then, I make sure that the horse is on the van with all of its paperwork. Also, I have numerous conversations with the contact person at the facility where the horse is going. It is important to me that they know exactly what is going to walk off the van and that the organization has all the paperwork, x-rays, ultrasounds etc.
We also make a significant monetary donation with the horse that goes to the aftercare facility. We do ask for donations from the owners as well to go and very rarely do we get turned down. The owner writes a check directly to the facility.
DP: That is a lot to coordinate. Is it a cooperative effort?
RS: We could not do it without all of the cooperation that we get. The vets are happy to do the examinations and they also help with the horses' records once they are released by the owner. The van companies are amazing. They call us regularly when they have an open spot in a van heading to KY or anywhere else. The facilities are also good about letting us know when the horse arrives and how the horse does along the way.
DP: How does Take the Lead's association with the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance help the process work?
RS: We basically race in the city. So, there is no facility nearby or on the grounds. We need to be able to trust the farms where we send the horses. We also wanted a model where we could track the horses so that owners and trainers would be confident in the process. We are very strong on knowing that the horse is in a good place and is being checked on. The TAA now has accredited 74 organizations and they require a screening process for adoptions and they require that the organizations are checking on the horses in their new homes. They also have a return procedure which we feel is important. A lot of owners and trainers have tried to do their retirements privately, but it's really hard to keep track of the horses. Using TAA facilities gets that done for us.
DP: How are Take the Lead and Take2 funded?
RS: Out of the NYTHA budget, we spend $300,000 to $400,000 on aftercare divided evenly between Take the Lead and Take2. But we needed more funding to help with longer rehabilitation times for some of our horses. It made sense that the horses needing the extra help were the horses that raced longer and went through the claiming ranks. So, we negotiated and got 1 1/2% of all claiming prices and that is split 60/40 with the larger share coming to Take the Lead and the remainder going to TAA, which eventually comes back to the organizations caring for the horses. The breeders also donate to our aftercare efforts. It is an industry-wide effort because we all agree that the welfare of the horses is our priority.
DP: What other steps does NYTHA take to secure the welfare of its retired horses?
RS: We are microchipping all of the older horses on the grounds that didn't fall into the new regulations.
DP: Among the issues facing racing today, where does aftercare fit in?
RS: It is of the utmost importance. And, Rick Violette deserves all of the credit here because he was determined to get it done. The health and welfare of the resources in the retirement is for most of their life. The horses may race to age four or five and then have 75% or more of their life ahead of them. So, this is extremely important and racing is under a microscope. Our story here on how well the program works and how everyone in the industry is cooperating on the health and welfare of the animals should be broadcast. We are very proud.
Diana Pikulski is the editor of the Thoroughbred Adoption Network and a partner at Yepsen and Pikulski, Public Policy Specialists.