A state panel approved a rule Thursday that would help racehorses after their days on the track have come to an end. The rule calls for some money from the Oklahoma Breeding Development Fund Special Account to be used to help pay for the retraining and care of Oklahoma-bred thoroughbred racehorses. The Oklahoma Legislature still needs to approve the plan by the Oklahoma Horse Racing Commission. Retired and unwanted racehorses have become a serious problem in Oklahoma and other states, according to Oklahoma horse racing officials. “We can’t save all the horses in the world, but we want to do our part to take care of the ones that are Oklahoma bred,” commission member John Smicklas said. He said the number of unwanted horses has increased dramatically since the last three horse slaughter plants in the United States were closed down in 2007. Although eating horse meat is not culturally accepted in the United States, it is common in many foreign countries. Oklahoma thoroughbred owners recently agreed to double registration fees for Oklahoma-bred horses to fund the new program, he said. No state funds will be used. About $100,000 a year is expected to be available, he said.Comments
Concept is supportedSmicklas said he would like to see additional funds available to care for thoroughbreds that have raced in Oklahoma but were not part of the Oklahoma-bred program. Smicklas has been urging the Oklahoma Thoroughbred Racing Association and Oklahoma racetracks and jockeys to come up with additional funds so money would be available for that purpose. Scott Wells, general manager of Remington Park, said Oklahoma City racetrack officials support the concept. Wells also said he hopes horse breeders in other states will adopt similar programs. Oklahoma quarter horse groups have decided not to adopt a similar program. Debbie Schauf, executive director of the Oklahoma Quarter Horse Racing Association, said her organization carefully considered setting up a similar program for quarter horses but chose not to because there is generally a stronger market for quarter horses that have retired from racing. People will buy such horses for roping, barrel racing, pleasure riding and other purposes because quarter horses are very versatile, she said. Smicklas said thoroughbred racehorses also often can be retrained. Many make excellent hunter-jumper and polo horses, among other things, he said. Smicklas said he believes unwanted former racehorses are a problem for both quarter horse and thoroughbred owners. He provided statistics showing that about 70 percent of the horses slaughtered in the United States from 2001 through 2005 were quarter horses. It is not known how many of those had racing backgrounds. The Oklahoma Horse Racing Commission wants to make sure unwanted thoroughbreds that can be retrained for adoption are retrained, so it is requiring that at least half of the money set aside for unwanted horses be spent retraining and caring for horses that have a potential second purpose, Smicklas said. Nonprofit organizations would have to meet commission standards to receive funds to care for eligible horses. Christy Buchanan, owner of Cadence Equestrian Center in Edmond, said her center has had great success retraining former racehorses. “We have many show horses at Cadence that used to be racehorses and have been retrained to be hunter-jumper horses,” she said. “One of our trainers at Cadence — Michael Gass — doubles as a racehorse trainer and hunter-jumper trainer. Michael has been very successful at converting racehorses from off the track to the hunter-jumper show ring.” Retired racehorses are a problem because they can be financial burdens on their owners, Smicklas said. It costs at least $1,800 a year to properly care for a horse, he said. Because of the financial burden, many retired and unwanted racehorses have historically been sold to slaughter plants. Although there are no longer horse slaughtering plants in the United States, horses are still sold at sale barns here and exported to Mexico and Canada.