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Panel weighs fate of retired racehorses

Panel weighs fate of retired racehorses

A new state task force has a goal of making sure retired racehorses don’t end up in a slaughterhouse

A new state task force has a goal of making sure retired racehorses don’t end up in a slaughterhouse in Canada or Mexico.

“Is shipping them for slaughter our only option?” asked Jessica Chittenden, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Agriculture and Markets. “I hope not,” she said.

State Agriculture and Markets Commissioner Patrick Hooker and state Racing and Wagering Board chairman Daniel Hogan announced the New York State Task Force on Retired Race Horses on Monday in Albany.

The task force, created by an act of the state Legislature, will investigate the creation of employment opportunities for retired racehorses. The task force will also investigate the feasibility, cost and benefit of installing artificial turf at race courses. Many people believe artificial turf is easier on the horses’ legs.

Only 15 percent of all racehorses are successful, Hooker said in a prepared statement. The future for the remaining 85 percent of the racehorses is uncertain.

Diana Pikulski, executive director of the Saratoga Springs-based Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation, is among the eight volunteers named to the new task force.

The Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation has horse retirement and retraining farms in 11 states, including a facility connected to Wallkill Correctional Facility near Walden in New York state.

“I bring the day-to-day practical approach,” Pikulski said Monday. “I know this can be done.”

“We take care of 1,800 horses every day,” she said about her nonprofit organization’s horse farms across the United States.

She said the foundation will open two more prison horse retraining facilities this year, one in Pennsylvania and one in Maryland.

“They work,” she said about these facilities. “They have been proven to work for the inmates [who care for the horses] and the horses.”

Pikulski would like to see the task force make the racing industry more aware that protecting thoroughbreds after they end their racing career is “good for their business.”

She said racing fans don’t like to read about racehorses that thrilled them at the track being shipped off to a slaughterhouse.

She said new legislation in the states of Texas and Illinois has outlawed the slaughter of horses in these states. But she said old, broken-down racehorses are still being shipped to Mexico and Canada for slaughter.

She said more money should be set aside by the racing industry, through a percentage of purse money and handle, for retired horses.

“We have to have fewer horses come off the track unsound,” Pikulski said. When a horse is ailing and unsound this makes it hard to retain the horse for a new life off the track.

One of the reasons the task force is studying new artificial track surfaces is that many believe these surfaces are easier on the thoroughbred’s sensitive legs and hoofs.

Chittenden said the main goal of the task force is to “figure out and review the uses of retired racehorses.”

She said there are many ways to retrain and use these horses, including the growing popularity of therapeutic riding for ailing humans.

“We will look at all these options, look at the best options,” Chittenden said.

“I don’t think there will be one answer,” she said.

The task force members include horse owner Jackson Knowlton of Saratoga Springs, an owner of Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Funny Cide; Karin Bump, equine professor in Madison County; Grace “Jean” Brown, a standardbred farm director in Orange County; Fiona Farrell, an equine attorney in Stillwater, Saratoga County; William Hopsicker, a thoroughbred owner in Oneida County; Margaret Ohlinger, an equine veterinarian in Ontario County and Alice Calabrese Smith, president and CEO of the Humane Society of Greater Rochester.

The task force will hold its first meeting on Friday in the state Department of Agriculture and Markets office in Albany.

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