By Diana Pikulski
Aftercare of Charles Town (ACT) was founded in 2013 under the corporate name of Equine Encore Performance at Charles Town. ACT's stated purpose is the rehoming, repurposing and retirement of Thoroughbreds that have raced and trained at Charles Town Races located in Charles Town, WV. The program was started with a fund from the Charles Town Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association and is supplemented with a paddock fee (start fee) of $5 per start. Until last fall, the paddock fee contribution was $2 per start. In 2019, ACT assisted 43 horses. The program operates with just a small volunteer board and no employees. I caught up with Georgiana Pardo, the current volunteer president who guides the organization and maximizes its tight budget while maintaining high standards in their careful placements of the Thoroughbreds entrusted to them.
DP: Georgiana, what is your background and how did you come to this post at Aftercare Charles Town?
GP: I have a small general practice law firm in Charles Town. I've ridden most of my life and had off-track Thoroughbreds as my riding horses. In late 2016, a friend of mine was on the board and she contacted me to ask me if I was interested in serving. I said yes right away because it was something I care about. I became the president in 2018.
DP: What makes you most proud about serving on the board and as president of ACT?
GP: ACT may be a small program, but we have high standards and insist on quality programs for our horses and I think we can hold our head up, even among some of the more well-funded heavy hitters in the track-based aftercare realm. We are down in the trenches doing the actual hard work of dealing with the needs of each individual horse and creating good outcomes. It is very satisfying to see the horses and their new owners happy and connected.
DP: Can you give us an overview of how the program operates?
GP: Horsemen file paperwork with us to accept horses that have raced or are racing at Charles Town. Because most of the funding comes from the horsemen at Charles Town, we have guidelines that allow us to serve the horses that have primarily raced here. We also require vet records to help us get a picture of the horse's soundness and what sort of second career will be most appropriate for the horse. Based on the horse and its potential, we arrange for it to go to one of our placement partners where the horse will be rehabilitated, retrained and adopted out. We provide a stipend and pay for procedures that are needed to make a horse sound for a second riding career.
DP: How do you choose your placement partners?
GP: We work with non-profit organizations who are experienced, do follow-up and provide a safety net if that horse is returned. Each horse is a unique individual with personality and potential. I am not sure that everyone understands the amount of time and effort and skill it takes to give a horse the best chance of ending up in the right place and in the best condition. We look for partners who have experience and care about identifying the issues, doing the appropriate rehab, making full disclosure to the potential adopters and then matching the adopter to that horse and what conditions the horse may have.
DP: Did the COVID19 pandemic affect your organization financially?
GP: Yes, when racing stopped our income from paddock fees stopped so that has seriously impacted our budget.
DP: When the track was forced to close, did you see an increase in requests to accept horses?
GP: Surprisingly, no. We expected that we would receive more requests to place horses, but we did not. I think that the Horses First Fund relief effort as well as generous in-kind donations from Triple Crown and Blue Seal helped horsemen to feed their horses and hold on to their stables until racing started up again.
DP: How did the relief program work?
GP: We partnered with Thoroughbred Charities of America, Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races, the Charles Town HBPA, Southern States, Gower's Feed and Triple Crown to aid trainers facing economic hardship due to the cancellation of racing, with horse feed and forage.
DP: What is your greatest challenge going forward in 2020 and beyond?
GP: Our greatest challenge is that our funding is limited even with the supplemental private donations that we receive. With better funding, we could place more horses. We also need to convince more horsemen that aftercare should be their first choice when a horse is ready to retire from racing.
DP: What do you see as the greatest opportunity going forward?
GP: After Care Charles Town is a great example of how a racetrack and its horsemen have stepped up to help provide reliable equine retirement options. Racing's image with respect to horse welfare is only as good as the latest story out in the public on aftercare. It doesn't matter to the public if the horse is a champion or never broke its maiden. So, every story should be a good one. Every racehorse deserves a safe and secure retirement. They don't know if they made $2 or $2 million. The horse that never managed to break his or her maiden tried just as hard as the multiple graded stakes winner, and they are equally valuable and deserving of a good life after racing. Adequately funded aftercare at every track for every horse is achievable and it is a worthy investment for all involved: the owners and trainers; the horses; and the horses' new owners/adopters. Everyone wins in this scenario.