Have you ever wondered what happens to retired racehorses? They usually retire early, most of them by the age of around 7, which is very young for animals which usually live well into their twenties. So what do they do for the next two decades? When they are winners, they will usually get the star treatment and be snapped up by breeders for stud purposes, so that they can breed yet more winners. But this will not happen to the vast majority of horses running on North American race-courses, who, once their racing careers are over, will face a much more uncertain and precarious future ( or often no future at all).
If they are not sold to breeders to spend the rest of their lives on stud farms, they may be given new jobs, e.g. in dressage, jumping or therapy, and this can last until they are in their teens. Apparently, thoroughbreds in particular are very versatile in this respect, i.e. adapting to other activities. The equine placement agency, New Vocations is one of dozens in the US which accepts retired racehorses and trains or finds new homes for them. So far, they have fulfilled this function for around 5,000 former track animals.
Unfortunately, many horses are not lucky enough to be bought to do a new job. Many end up being sold for slaughter. It is estimated that around 166,000 horses were sent to be slaughtered in markets in Canada and Mexico last year, according to the ASPCA. The US now no longer produces horse-meat for human consumption (the last such facilities closed in 2007) but ten of thousands are still exported for meat in foreign markets, such as the ones aforementioned.
Even if horses go on to have second careers, these may not last more than a few years. They may be starting to get too old for competitive events, etc, by the time they are in their late teens, and since horses can live into their late twenties, this poses a problem for how to keep them, once they are too old to work, since it usually costs thousands of dollars per year to care for them. The organisation, the Unwanted Horse Coalition has been set up to help with this problem: it is an alliance of various organisations dedicated to eliminating the issue of abandoned and unwanted horses. It does not have exact figures for how many of these such homeless animals there may be, but states that the slaughter figures indicate that are not enough work placement opportunities, offers of adoption or funding for all of the unwanted horses in the country.
The Coalition gives a list of all the organisations, farms and facilities that accept and look after abandoned horses, and, if all else fails, also lists an estimated price for euthanasia: around $66 (not including disposal, e.g cremation, etc).
Picture courtesy of www.deviantart.com