There are a number of stereotypes and misconceptions surrounding the race horse industry. These range from race horses being crazy, to them being untrainable, through to them all going for dog food once their careers are over. For as long as these stigmas have existed there have been people fighting to change them. No one has fought as strongly as those directly involved in the race industry, or those who have come to love these horses as their partners after their racing careers have ended.
However, this does not appear to be the case (as it seriously should be) with all members of the community. Many of you may have seen the article written by Glen Schaffer in regards to a lady named Felicia Allen and her efforts to ‘rescue’ and care for retired harness horses, many of which have come from Fraser Downs.
Here’s a link for those who haven’t: http://vancouversun.com/news/local-news/no-room-at-the-stable-for-retired-racehorses-as-construction-forces-them-out
The article begins by covering the feel good plugs about how Allen runs equestrian programs for autistic children and adults with PTSD, both of which have many academic studies proving their value and worth. An effort which is both honorable and would take great effort to pull off successfully.
Unfortunately, that’s where majority of value in this article ends. It then goes on to state that harness horses would otherwise not be able to find homes due largely to injuries sustained while racing and because of the type of training they get for ‘cart-racing’. Injuries that are not specific to the racing industry and exist in literally every other equestrian sport there is. The training that introduces them at a young age (2-3 years old) to many experiences and useful life skills such as trailering, shoeing, bathing, medical work, driving, and becoming familiar with things like tractors, loud speakers, working in crowds, strollers, balloons, and an inexplicable number of things that horses outside of the race industry would be blessed to see by age six, if ever. Taking a horse off the track is one of the few instances where you can get a horse that’s already had a career, and has an entire set of life skills while their counter parts from outside of harness racing and the race industry are still sitting in a field smelling dandelions.
Next, Allen herself has been quoted as saying, “Those horses are not rideable when they come off the track and they are usually quite badly injured.” And adds that their ‘pacing’ gait generally leaves them unable to canter or gallop like normal horses.
How dare you, Ms. Allen. As someone who claims to be working in the best interest of these horses, and asking people to donate money to her via her GoFundMe page, how dare you speak about these horses from such an uneducated point of view that would only serve to perpetuate the stereotypes and falsehoods that are the reason they are ‘hard to find homes for’ in the first place.
Firstly, Pacing is an additional gait. Not a replacement gait. All Standardbreds who are bred for pacing, are born knowing how to walk, trot, canter, gallop, and pace and are fully capable of doing all those gaits. Yes, they have another gear. And yes they’ve been taught that it’s the preferred gait. Just because their education has taught them that does not mean they are incapable of doing other gaits. They can learn that you’re asking for canter, or gallop, just like they can learn how to stand quietly to have their legs wrapped, or that a cluck means they should move forward. (Both of which are things they would have learned from their race careers)
Secondly these horses are not ‘untrainable’ or ‘unsuitable’ for other sports or careers. Clearly, not much of an effort has been made to actually work with these horses by Allen. Perhaps if she had taken a look at her own website, www.standardbredfanclub.com , where many of the Standardbreds who have gone on successfully to second careers after racing are in fact listed publically, she would have a drastically different opinion.
Finally, many of the horses that are retired from the race track are retired for reasons that have nothing to do with injuries. They were either too slow, or simply weren’t interested in racing. Not unlike a warmblood who’s not very good at jumping, or a quarter horse that wants nothing to do with cows. To label them all as ‘broken down untrainable cripples’ is naïve and disrespectful to the daily effort and care that those who work in the industry put into these horses to ensure they have the best chance possible at finding a new job outside of racing.
I challenge you Felicia Allen to spend a week working with these horses and their trainers and caretakers. I can guarantee you without doubt, that by the end of that week you will be ashamed to have referred to these horses as suffering abusive practices, and will certainly rethink referring to them as being ‘saved’ or ‘rescued’ on your GoFundMe page. And how dare you pull on people’s heart strings, for your own financial gain, by misrepresenting the industry and this incredible breed of horses.
I am shocked and disappointed that this not only how the race industry has been portrayed – as something that teaches horses useless skills and runs them into the ground beyond repair and without reprieve – but that this is how ‘fans’ of the breed and the horses themselves are being represented. It is incredibly disheartening that this is what the horses are left to compete against; a lack of education and a complete misunderstanding of their capabilities and worth.
While I acknowledge it is unfortunate that Ms. Allen has found herself in these circumstances, and that her efforts to this point, although misinformed, have persevered many other challenges – I sincerely hope that if these horses end up being rehomed, that they will find themselves under the care of someone who is willing to put in the effort to educate themselves, believe in these horses, and not simply pigeon hole an entire breed without giving them a chance, all the while perpetuating the stereotypes for their own personal gain. I strongly encourage everyone to read Glen Schaefer’s article, visit Felicia Allen’s GoFundMe page, and at that point, to really seriously consider who and what you’re supporting before donating to her ‘cause’.
UPDATE May 2017: In a curious turn of events, a judge has granted an injunction muzzling Ms. Allen following a series of events that can be read about here, http://vancouversun.com/news/local-news/judge-grants-injunction-muzzling-maple-ridge-operator-of-horse-rescue-business