Saturday, November 8, 2008

Horse slaughter, fallacious reasoning and revisiting "A Modest Proposal"

I am grateful that the U.S. no longer slaughters horses. Now, the U.S. needs to stop allowing horses to be transported to Mexico and Canada to be slaughtered. Katie Merwick has said it all, succinctly and well, in her 10/21/2008 post. Katie is awesome!
Anything said below comes solely from Chez Chevaux.
Chez Chevaux , along with many other established rescues operating in today's' economic climate, is currently innundated with a record number of phone calls and emails asking for stall space, placement assistance and rehoming options. We all do the best we can, but despite our best efforts, thousands of horses are indeed still going to auctions, being purchased by "kill buyers" and being shipped to Mexico and Canada suffering hideously as they go to, and endure, violent,terrifying,painful, undeserved, and horrifically brutal ends.
I do believe I have heard every argument in favor of slaughtering horses and I think that they are all, for whatever reasons, either fallacious, uniformed , in denial, or based on the flawed perceptual legal status of the domesticated horse itself: Are horses livestock or companion animals? I'd argue that a designation for equines as companion and service animals is most logical.
Regardless, there are many unwanted horses right now and many of them are truly dying by inhumane means. It's true. I have my own anti-slaughter arguments, but for all those that want to help horses in need, please do some thinking and come up with your own good anti-slaughter arguments and execute your own plans of actions.
Some points of consideration:
(1)Horses are the only animal athletes, currently and historically, included in the Olympic Games, and they've established valuable roles in Therapeutic Riding Centers.
(2) Horses are not generally eaten in the U.S., nor are cats and dogs (who are considered, generally, to be companion animals)
(3)Potentially fallacious reasoning, stats, and spin: Wikipedia offers some stats on who is munching horsemeat, and how. Yet, a caveat:A cited source: The Animal Welfare Council.Some cited "facts" just don't make empirical and logical sense to me. Both I and others I know well have spent quite a bit of time in western Europe and can identify a menu description of horsemeat., and we've not found it to be a really standard European menu item. You can probably find the familiar Golden Arches more readily .When I have seen horse hamburger or steak listed on a French menu, the price was low compared to regional specialties. So, in a country devoted to the freshest local seasonal food, daily shopping for the same, and a stratospherically elevated culinary culture, I had to ask " Is this horsemeat local or American?" In all events the response was that it was local. The French prefer fresh food from their own environs. They have plenty of horses, and I doubt they'd want the mix of chemical cocktails,adrenilan and staph infections that so many slaughter-bound U.S. horses contain. Still, one site does claim some U.S. horsemeat is imported frozen...which is, seriously, an anathema to any self-respecting French chef. If the French can get horsemeat locally or from nearby Poland, then why would they import it from America? Europe and Japan eat some horsemeat, true. But, I cannot see how they are eating it all. If someone who has the time to do the research can get the info about ACTUAL AND FACTUAL stats on export and import of processed horsemeat, and the dollars involved, then please do and share. I have no doubt U.S. horsemeat is going somewhere, for some purpose, but the logic and market dollars just don't add up and make economic sense. There is some food chain here for sure, but I have not seen any hard evidence to support the spin that tough, decrepit, chemical laden and diseased U.S. horsemeat is being clamored for as a global gourmet item .
(5)If the U.S. was slaughtering or allowing cats and dogs to be exported for slaughter as global food, I think the general public might get a little upset. So, why don't they get equally upset about horses headed off to Mexico and Canada? I'm asking here?
Maybe every child that asks Santa Claus for a pony this Christmas could get a cute limited edition Breyer model horse with a gift tag attached that says "Sorry, this pony went to slaughter, and your puppy is for Easter dinner!, Kitten has a temporary reprieve until she's a bit bigger, but if she won't quell the rodent population, then we can slash the food budget and have rat-on -a stick for our New Years' Party !!!... and then Kitten can be big enough for stew by the Epiphany (January 6, also my birthday...which I happily share with Joan of Arc and the legendary, although fictional, Sherlock Holmes)!
(6)Premarin mares and foals: Refer women in need of hormone therapy to Dr. Christiane Northrup's publications. Learn about bioidentical hormones and progressive compounding pharmacies.
(7)Promote responsible horse ownership
(8)Check out the process of slaughter.Really, do. Educate others. As with most things, it can be done as well as possible or badly. As an undergraduate I experienced, among other things, a year of accredited course work in "Meat Technology". I have been in active slaughterhouses and University facilities and while I did view the demise of cows, pigs, and sheep, I could not have watched the horses. In the 1980's I had the privilege of conversing at some length with Dr. Temple Grandin when she was in Reno ,Nevada to testify as an expert witness in a federal court case against the BLM wherein the BLM was charged with permitting the mass adoption of Mustangs to kill buyers. Dr. Grandin is a compassionate and brilliant authority on humane livestock handling methods and design. She and I may yet well disagree as to whether horses fall into that livestock designation. Nonetheless, I have never seen a species other than equine paired with humans to execute an Olympic Grand Prix Dressage test.
(9) Todays "Unwanted" domestic horse crisis is, directly or indirectly, a product of individual human production and individual current human circumstances on any given day. This "crisis" has always existed. Those that argue in favor of slaughter are either looking for cash, trying to dodge the proverbial "responsibility" bullet or feeling out of options. Pretty much the same situation, albeit with a different species, that Jonathan Swift addressed in 1729 with "A Modest Proposal". Rhetorical and analytical blame is pointless. The question is, what can you do to help?
(10) Hound your representatives relentlessly to end the export of horses for slaughter.Ask them for hard copy of where the slaughterhouse $$$ and horsemeat really go. Research how much your local livestock auctions and kill buyers have made so far this year. Raise money to help rescues you like expand sanctuary adjuncts or start a sanctuary yourself. Money buys unwanted horses TIME.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Zarkava and Zenyatta

While I have always enjoyed the reasonable equestrian pursuits of all breeds when they are well and rightly done, I have always, personally and unabashedly, preferred thoroughbreds. I absolutely adore the breed and laud the people who strive to humanely and ethically succeed in racing and breeding to the betterment of the breed at large. Above all, I love a big, tough, wicked-smart, and delightfully sassy mare with distance capability. Anyone who has ever visited Chez Chevaux knows this description fits my own mare, Claire . She really runs the farm!
This year I was overjoyed to follow the undefeated fillies Zarkava and Zenyatta.
Zarkava's victory over colts and geldings in the L'Arc de Triomphe, was both a magnificent example of what thoroughbreds are and a tribute to the broodmare line. She has now retired to stud.

Some fillies and mares can, should, and do take on, and best the boys!
On Saturday, October 25th, I was on the rail at the finish line for the fourth race, The Breeders' Cup Mile - Grade 1, 2 million$ purse. Goldikova, a three year old Irish filly, put paid to the boys that day and the five old mare Precious Kitten (great photo of her will soon be posted) was a more than respectable fourth in that field of eleven starters.Zenyatta's win in Fridays' Breeders Cup Ladies Classic was another stellar coup. She is awesome.
Remembering Eight Belles and Ruffian made seeing these marvelous mares come in sound even more precious.
Good stallions, obviously, may produce more progeny than good mares.
Unfortunately, for OTTB's transitioning into other areas and arenas, mares seem to be considered less desirable than geldings. We work to change that erroneous perception. George Morris has been quoted as saying "Good mares are geniuses". I agree. But, the right horse is the right horse for the right person...period.
Nonetheless, 75% of the emails and calls we get from potential adopters specify that they prefer a gelding. If you have a great mare story, we'd like to hear it!


Saturday, August 16, 2008

Beyond the Track-an OTTB must read

"Beyond the Track", by Anna Morgan Ford, with Amber Heintzberger, does  a wonderful job of explaining and illustrating the  paradigm shifts OTTBs experience and the new basic skill sets  that they will acquire during their transitioning from being  racehorses to riding horses.
Thanks to the Keeneland Foundation, we will be giving a copy of Beyond the Track to those adopting an OTTB from Chez Chevaux. 
Anyone can purchase a copy of this book via the online store at Keeneland's online Gift Shop at


Monday, July 14, 2008

Tell us about your local rescues

We get numerous calls asking for information and/or referrals about/to TB and all breed rescues and potential retirement options outside of our immediate locale.
While there are organizations I do suggest  based on  positive personal knowledge, I'd like to hear from those who can speak to both the positive and negative in their locales. Please email me @


The OTTB and Trail Riding

Once an OTTB is going reasonably well in the arena, then it may be time to to assess what they know of, or think about, the world outside.
TB's at the track have seen, and know, quite a bit: But, they know it in a very controlled context, and, that context revolves wholly around them. 
There are few variables to the track routine, and everyone involved knows the rules.  
I've all too often seen the unhappy  results from humans who presume that 
any  OTTB who has raced past a packed and noisy grandstand, totally focused, at speed, enroute to the finish line should inherently possess the slightest clue about  uneducated and unrestrained vehicle traffic on a public road, or  immediately figure out and enjoy a leisurely trail ride, at a walk, on unmaintained surfaces, whether solo or  in dubious equine company.
Most American TB's have no experience with being ridden out, over roads or trails, when being started prior to beginning their racing careers. Some few do, and  that is truly wonderful. I think it helps promote a thinking and ratable horse.
Nonetheless, to start  OTTBs' riding out, it's easiest and quickest to begin  acclimating the OTTB to going down the road if one can employ an unflappable tour guide: The OTTB is already used to a pony horse. We are very grateful to a neighbor with just such a dear quarter horse mare who imparts her experience, wisdom and confidence to the green or unsure TB.
This is a process: It takes as long as it takes. 
Some TB's  NEVER really care for  the world outside; they view it as a scary punishment rather than as a relaxing reward. If so, then  we don't go there. Yet, those same TBs can still excel as stellar performers in the arena.


Monday, June 23, 2008

Transitioning the OTTB-Day 3

I find that every horse has a preferred training schedule. Some school better in the morning, others in the afternoon or evening. 
I have never been a proponent of the often standard five or six day a week arena schooling sessions when at home that many commercial stables endorse. The only times our horses are ridden for five consecutive days would be when they are ready to start showing at rated competitions.  They make the transition easily.
Meanwhile, at home, some horses may be ridden two days on, then have a day off, and the work the next two days. 
Other horses have made the quickest progress with  only three rides per week and a hack down the road. 
It is up to the trainer to quickly determine what schedule keeps each horse happy, thereby maximizing the horses' willingness to learn, retain, and apply new skills consistently. 
So, presuming the horse has had a day off after day 2, day 3 will begin with the same lessons as in day 2. If all goes as well, or better, than day 2, I'll introduce two variants:
First, changing directions across the diagonal, with, depending on the horses'  best inclination, either a downward transition from the trot to the walk at the center, or a downward transition from the walk to the halt. 
Secondly, if I'm getting a  nicely balanced trot through the 20 meter circle, I'll utilize the point at which I touch back to the rail to ask for the upward transition to the canter, and circle once or twice at the canter before continuing the downward transitions through to the trot, walk and halt.
Throughout every ride I am asking the OTTB to do somethings that they are often unfamiliar with: To keep thinking and listening  every stride while being willing to 
improve their suppleness and quality of movement throughout. 
Some OTTBs' have left the track as quite ratable rides, others not so much. 
Prior to introducing a hack down the road, it's essential to have a horse that is listening to the rider in the arena. 



Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Race horse retraining programs in the UK

In fall of 2007 I vacationed for two weeks in both France and England, my first trip back there in almost ten years. I've traveled to Europe many times before (my father was  British, and a quintessential horseperson) and throughout the flight I always feel incredibly excited about returning to another part of what "home" means to me: Re-visiting the expansive and pervasive British horse culture ( I enjoy Chantilly in France and the Lippizans in Vienna too...But London has the Queens' Royal Mews !). The Changing of the Guard would be unimaginable without horses. Tourists are well-warned to stand back as "horses may kick or bite" :-) :-):-)!!! 
It was a bit hard to come back to the U.S. this time. Admittedly, I am becoming increasingly bi-continental and I suspect there is no cure. While the UK is geographically smallish, it's almost impossible to not find something equine related going on daily, weather notwithstanding. 
Many 501C-3 organizations throughout the U.S. are working individually and , sometimes, collectively to these ends as well. 
But, I do wonder what a more centralized system of Racing Authority support could mean for American Thoroughbreds.


Friday, May 30, 2008

Eight Belles On Kentucky Derby Day, 2008

By Melodee Shelley-Bolmgren and Katie Merwick

Chez Chevaux and Second Chance Ranch were invited to share in the festivities of Derby day at Emerald Downs. The Washington horse racing community and Emerald Downs truly care about the health and welfare of thoroughbreds during and after their racing careers. Proof of this is evidenced by the newly established Prodigious Fund which will help us support our missions of thoroughbred transitioning and retirement. They donated table space, two pages of free advertising in the Derby Day Program, and an autographed photo of Street Sense, the 2007 Derby winner, for us to raffle off. Emerald Downs invited us to bring retired and retrained racehorses out on the track between races in a further effort to fundraise for and publicize our efforts. With repeated announcements throughout the day, they called for the fans to get involved, come meet us, and make donations. Melodee and Chez Chevaux volunteers set up and manned the table upstairs while Katie and her volunteers hauled in four retired, retrained and rehomed ex-racehorses to show off in a parade, both in hand and under saddle, before a packed grandstand. It was their first visit back to track since they retired. Regardless of what PETA and other categorical detractors of all racing might imagine, the alumni were happy to be back on the track.

Neither of us actually had time to watch the Derby live. The Chez Chevaux volunteers at the fundraising table watched the race while we hustled trackside to prep the horses to head out onto the track. The Kentucky Derby is the event of the year in American racing. Much of the general public only knows anything about racing on Derby Day. It is usually a joyous day. People dress up, drink a lot, and wear hats. But this year, the Mint Juleps went by the wayside when Eight Belles went down.

Everyone has a speculative opinion. We have our own too. We may agree jointly, and disagree individually on some points. But, both of us do know what we're talking about throughout multiple arenas of the equine performance world. And we do have some things to say: Eight Belles' injury was a tragic accident and her resultant trackside euthanasia, albeit necessary, was traumatic to see. Don't throw a blanket of comprehensive blame on the racing industry. Shortly prior to this years' Derby, two Rolex (Three-Day) eventing mounts, Frodo Baggins and The Quiet Man, were euthanized due to falls at fences in the cross-country phase of the competition. Teddy O’Connor also competed that day without injury, however, just recently he had to be euthanized due to injuries suffered in a freak barn accident. Horses have also broken legs and required euthanization thereby, from the proverbial "bad steps" taken while running barrels, cutting cows, and while bucking, running and playing at liberty in turnout pastures. Oh, and don't forget trailering accidents! No one who loves horses wants to see them die: EVER.

Re: The numerous calls and emails we've received both enquiring and complaining about racing:

(1) Racetracks in America may be dirt or polytrack. Tracks do strive to provide the best surfaces possible regardless. Surfaces are better installed and maintained than any others you are likely to find in amateur performance and pleasure arenas, and/or trails and endurance races. Racetrack footing is groomed and prepped before each race. If you're astride the twentieth horse with studded shoes to go over fences in a three-day event, you're on your own to find a take-off spot that isn't slop! Steeplechase racers and open-jumping stadium competitors may fly over water above fences that are constructed to yield to rider miscalculations and/or an errant equine leg, but they don't solicit immovable drop fences into it as does three day eventing.

(2) Be assured that the condition of the racing surface and the health of the equine competitors is of paramount concern to all connected and with aspirations to the Kentucky Derby.

(3) Jockeys really can, and must, ride well . Quickly, consistently, and in company. If they are hurt, at best, they lose their paychecks. Jockeys will not mount a horse if they feel it is not sound. They are consummate professionals who know their lives are at risk every time they are legged up onto a horse. Pleasure, amateur, and professional performance competitors who cannot ride well, and even those that can, may get hurt, and may indeed occasionally die, but more often than not they have the luxury of merely being sore and temporarily embarrassed.

(4) Risk is inherent in all equine endeavors and interactions as it is in life. All individual creatures on this planet will die. Some people die of "old age", some die doing what they love best, albeit "risky".

(5) Successful racing and performance horses do love their jobs and the people connected with them. A recent example is the Canadian racehorse, Topaz Legacy from Assiniboia Downs, who unseated his rider at the gate and ran the entire race using strategy, tactic and skill to win the race!

(6) We have rescued starving and abused horses from private citizens.We have never had to so do at a racetrack.

(7) Reality stories: Racing owners and trainers may easily invest myriad hours and more than 5 or 6 figures into a sound racing prospect before it becomes evident that the horse doesn't like the proposed job description. Those same connections have donated those horses to our organizations to be retrained for a second career. We must note that racing is the only sector of the equine sphere that has routinely donated such “expensive” horses to us for retraining while they were sound and marketable. They've also donated and asked us to help rehome other sound horses that they didn't feel were physically or mentally suited for the demands and skill sets of racing, and paid board and vet bills for them pending rehoming, whether stabled at our facilities or elsewhere in the interim.

(8) Fact: Many unwanted horses of all breeds do not get a happy retirement. See: The Unwanted Horse Coalition. The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) reports that in excess of 100,000 horses are annually transported from the United States to Canada and Mexico to be slaughtered. These horses suffer miserable conditions enroute. Their deaths are unnecessarily violent beyond comprehension. The voices of those who target their criticisms of equine endeavors at racing might better direct their concerns for equine welfare to this ongoing situation.

(9) Some two year old thoroughbreds are physically and mentally ready to race. Others are not. Nor will they be at three or four. The same applies to any equines' potential entry into pleasure and performance careers. Ultrasounds and other available veterinary technologies, coupled with a capable trainers' lengthy experience and duly-earned hands-on instincts can be employed to make educated decisions utilizing the best empirical information available at any given moment.

(10) Race and performance horses can, and do, retire sound. Glo's Mo, a Second Chance Ranch retiree, began racing at two and retired sound at ten years old without injury.

(11) For those that believe all horses should run free in "nature": Begin by thoroughly educating yourselves with an investigation of the mustang herd management policies and practices of the Bureau of Land Management. When think you know it all and you've earned your Equine Doctorate ( do consider, a Doctorate in conventional education usually takes at least seven years, forty hours per week)...try an apprentice practicum with any equine professional and work sixteen hour days 24/7 , weather notwithstanding, for an additional year. Then write your thesis and GO ON to start your real equine world education by launching your own training barn or rescue.

(12) Or, go on to Veterinary College: Equine Veterinary Practitioners have completed four years of University (for a Bachelor of Arts /or Science Degree) and four years of Veterinary School. Surgical accreditation will take another three years. Veterinarians at Teaching University Hospitals and Racetracks are committed to their practices and lifelong learning. We have stood with, by, and held beloved equines when immediate humane euthanasia was the only answer. Vets do not want to euthanize a horse for whom any hope of recovery exists. Doing what had to be done expediently for Eight Belles, while compassionately providing her with every measure of dignity possible as the whole world watched, had to be both a profound personal misery and the ultimate test of triage and professionalism under fire.

In closing: Racing is neither cruel nor evil. No equine and human interaction is without inherent risk. Domesticated horses rely on their human connections to care for them. While there are a small number of less than caring humans in all equine arenas, one cannot fault an arena-at-large for the perceived actions of a negative minority. All evidence indicates that Eight Belles’ connections strove to do the best job they could for her at all times. The safety of all racing participants is paramount to the industry and the industry continually works to maximize policies that promote safe outcomes. See: The Washington Horse Council.

Most importantly please recognize that all of us, from every side of the table, are working toward the same goal; to protect and provide the best for horses. Second Chance Ranch and Chez Chevaux are dedicated and responsible nonprofit equine welfare organizations. You can help a race horse today by donating!

Monday, May 26, 2008

Transitioning Thoroughbreds -Day 2

New arrivals at Chez Chevaux  start their first morning in a new barn displaying  typical eagerness for breakfast and curiousity about the morning routine. They are happy to find out that the humans feeding  and cleaning stalls always have some carrot treats in hand!
After breakfast, it's turnout time. For some TBs that are unaccustomed to regular turnout, we begin with monitored and incremental turnout. Whenever possible, after suitable introductions and monitoring, our horses are turned out in twos with a compatible playmate. New horses will begin turnout in the arena alone, but will be able to socialize over the fences with the horses in both the east and west adjacent turnouts. No halters are left on during turnout time. All horses that can be turned out stay out for at least half the day, weather permitting. The turnout  areas are big enough that they can really run if they like. While turnouts are not available while away at a show, it's an important component in keeping horses happy at home. We will reject any potential adoptive placement that does not have regular and adequate turnout. While thoroughbreds at the track do not have free turnout, they do get PLENTY of exercise and attention. The average performance or pleasure barn is unlikely to offer that amount of exercise . Here, turnout time is a must.
Unless we have to leave early for a show, they get at least one hour turnout time before schooling .   
When schooling time begins,  new horses will be moved out of the arena and into a paddock where they can watch (and they do, with interest!) what's going on and get a sense of the routine. After a couple of horses are schooled, I'll bring the new horse back into the arena for a little more time at liberty, and then,  it's time to see what they do(or don't)know about longeing.
Some OTTBs need a substantial amount  of "R & R" before they are ready to think about starting a new job, while some are immediately eager to get involved with going in a new direction.
With horses I know have some previous familiarity with a bit, I'll begin by bridling (without reins) and attaching the line to a plain snaffle bit. Using a "Y" attachment that clips to both sides of the bit and then to the longe line eliminates the need to switch the line when changing directions. 
I always begin using a bit on OTTBs as some, who may have no prior clue about longeing, equate the circle to the hotwalker and want to pull and play. The occasional OTTB will still pull HARD in a regular snaffle. If so, then I'll utilize a gag snaffle.
For a horse that has no prior clue about longeing, I'll be happy with three or four revolutions, in both directions, at something resembling a circle at a decent trot. I don't generally bother with the walk at this stage, and I don't encourage the canter yet as OTTBs, unless they  possess a natural collected canter, are likely to get heavy on the forehand on the longe circle at this point. It should also be noted that some OTTBs don't respond at all to  "Whoa". If half-halts don't work, then I'll decrease the circle size and finesse them into facing me and halting.  I think it's a waste of time and often a source of confusion for the OTTB to try and perfect the halt on the longe intially. If a horse has no understanding of "Whoa", it's quicker and easier to offer bribes: On the way to turnout every morning, and whenever being led, I stop and say "Whoa". Equine complicity, or any reasonable attempt at it, earns a little piece of a carrot.  Also a good way to teach them to stand still (for moment anyway) at the mounting block. OTTBs are used to moving forward while a rider is being legged up. 
The saddle is now put on, and the reins to the bridle. One or two revolutions at the trot, with stirrups down, in the horses' best direction, then it's time to get on. I introduce them to the mounting block. If they stand still a moment or two, then they get the a little piece of carrot. Yes, with a bit in their mouth!
I like to have someone on the ground stand with them and try to keep them quiet as I mount. 
Beginning in the horses more supple direction,  it's off large around the arena at the walk with an approximately 20 meter circle in each of the four corners. It is key to keep the circle large enough to ensure than the horse does not lean on the inside shoulder or counterflex. Should this go well, then the next revolution will include an upward transition to the trot. As this gait is powered by two diagonal pairs of legs, then a suggestion from my properly placed inside leg should prompt the horse to begin the trot from the inside hind and the outside fore, with my upward posting diagonal accompanying,or forward and lightened inside seatbone, if sitting, this transition. We'll  once at the trot (sitting or posting as best suits each horses' natural way of going) and utilize the circles' completion for the downward transition back to the walk. If the horse shows no response to the half-halt, or leans on the bit (can be an OTTB habit) we'll continue the circle at the trot and I'll become more insistent that s/he engages and moves their hindquarters to the outside of the circle and off my inside leg, engaging the outside hind leg (the opposite diagonal pair from the upward transition)for the downward transition to a half-halting outside rein. During these upward and downward transitions, I am able to assess how naturally supple (or not) the horse is and establish some communication thereby of the basic aids ( especially for the less-than-supple horse), and develop the best individualized action plan for teaching the basics of a subsequent and essential lesson: The shoulder-in exercise. 
As the last circle at the walk is completed, I'll ask that the horse halt as we come back to the rail utilizing the same downward transitional aids. Should I get a halt, and hold it for three seconds, SUPER!!!
Reverse, same as above.
This usually goes well as by beginning with the horses' more supple direction, we're ready to work on their less flexible side.
Remember, most people aren't wholly ambidextrous; nor are horses.
Paying attention to what's going on with my mount through every step s/he takes, and making adjustments as needed, establishes the framework that assures the horse that a rider is, and should be, always open to feedback and dialogue. Comfortable horses are, or will become confident horses and then re-training can proceed swiftly and easily.
This entire session shouldn't take more than 20 minutes. That's enough. Remember the OTTB's prior work, schooling and attention span...races are run in a few minutes! Throughout the session, I praise all positive efforts the horse makes.
The reward for doing, or trying to do, what I've asked, is that the horse gets to stop doing it and go play. The tack is taken off, they get a little piece of carrot, a roll in the sand, and turned loose in the arena for a few minutes before it's back to more turnout before  lunchtime. The new horse usually runs a victory lap, showing off for the other horses who  have been watching throughout to see how it went!


Friday, May 23, 2008

Transitioning Thoroughbreds -Day 1

We frequently receive   phone calls and emails from well-intentioned potential first-time horse owners enquiring about adopting an OTTB (Off-The-Track-Thoroughbred) or a rehabilitated and retrained rescued TB. While we never discount an adoption applicant without previous hands-on equine ownership experience, Chez Chevaux is committed to ensuring that the best possible permanent match is made for every horse and human. Our adoption application process will verify that potential adopters are willing and able to make the necessary  time, training and financial commitments.
In the case of OTTBs, particularly those directly exiting a stall at the racetrack, a structured transition into a lower-impact performance paradigm is key. OTTBs have had excellent , yet specifically focused, care and training. They are accustomed to, expect, enjoy and anticipate  a predictable routine of feeding, exercise, shoeing, grooming,  handling and, as needed, prompt veterinary attention. A racehorse leaving a successful career has, in fact, enjoyed his/her  job.
Psychologically, the OTTB best benefits when the transition from the backside to a transitional facility is made with the consideration and knowledge of what each horse is used to in mind. There will, naturally,  be changes in routine and environment, but it is important to institute them incrementally and positively. 
It is much easier to transition an OTTB right into a new environment than a rescued TB. OTTBs have had positive human interactions and they are neither sick,starved nor abused. The OTTBs may, intially, miss familiar faces and their stable buddies, but they  generally adapt more quickly as they lack the anxiety factor of rescued TBs (who can be very afraid that things can get WORSE... hay does help lessen that worry pretty quickly!). The most pathetic and lengthy rehabilitative rescue challenges we've faced have been TBs who left the track happy and healthy and then transited through one or two homes that became progressively less attentive. 
So, what does Day 1 look like when any TB arrives at Chez Chevaux?
First, a walk around the perimeter of the barn and the barn aisle so they can see where they are, settle,then into their stall where a meal of (for OTTBs)  whatever hay they are used to is waiting for them. Our regular feeding program includes 4 daily servings of hay and a.m and p.m supplement feeding. OTTBs are often used  to having full haynets in front of them. Throughout the first  week, we make sure they have some good grass hay available, when stalled, between feedings. For underweight rescues, mini-meals of second cutting orchard grass hay will be fed. All of our stalls have attached paddocks and an incoming horse will be housed next to a calm, friendly and happy resident that can serve as a social ambassador. Should a new horse require stall rest or limited movement for rehabilitative reasons, we can close off paddocks or offer a small paddock. Horses are supremely intelligent herd animals that glean much from watching and interacting.We can see the barn from the house and my office and we monitor how quickly a new horse relaxes in his/her new space. Domesticated horses like a predictable routine and they relax and settle in most quickly when it is apparent that a logical routine is in place.
As the incoming TB relaxes and demonstrates additional curiousity, we may introduce some turnout and a hand-walk around the arena on Day 1, although that's usually  Day 2. 

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Thoroughbred Identification- Consider Microchipping

Chez Chevaux is a rescue organization devoted  to thoroughbred horses. Priority is given to ex-racehorses. As such, we only accept purebred thoroughbreds as residents.We are happy to offer any referral assistance that we can to those who contact us enquiring about placement options for any equines in need. 
While all of the TBs currently at Chez Chevaux are accompanied by their original papers, we will be microchipping them. We also directly assist, as possible, TBs with or without their papers that  we don't have room for here, provided that we can establish that they ARE TBs. 
The Jockey Club is the Registry that maintains records and issues the Registration Papers for thoroughbred foals. A complete set of registration requirements may be found by visiting the site and searching the Interactive Registration Help Desk.
In 2001 The Jockey Club inaugerated identifying DNA as one precondition of TB foal registration. While microchipping TBs and the reporting of the same remains optional, the Jockey Club does maintain records regarding the TBs for whom such information has been reported.
Personally, I would like to see standardized microchipping become a mandatory addition for TB foal registration. Although thoroughbreds that raced will have been tattooed inside their upper lips, those that did not are unlikely to be. Those tattoos fade over time and may often become indecipherable as TBs age.
Whenever possible, we contact prior connections of an incoming TB to let them know where the horse is now. To some it may be a comfort, others are shocked, and there may be those that don't care.
Please see below regarding TBs that could be quickly identified:

King 5 Broadcasting Story 

The Thoroughbred Times 

For the TBs that don't have readable tattoos or their papers in hand, an implanted microchip could provide an added technological safety net if someone with a scanner was there to look for it.
If auctions were REQUIRED to scan all horses for microchips, and any microchipped horse going through auction without original papers and/or a permanent brand inspection card (the brand inspection card is not, alone, necessarily a wholly accurate means of identification, but a number of western states do require it for interstate transport) was held at least three days for identification to ensure it wasn't stolen, it could help buy more  horses some time.
Consider: A neighbor left her home to run a few errands on a Saturday afternoon. When she returned, three of her four horses were right where they should have been: In their turnout pastures, eating grass...but, her Friesian gelding was missing, along with his halter and leadrope. 
Luckily, he was back at home by evening. 
Two teenaged girls (unknown to the owner) had trespassed onto the property and stolen the gelding.  Several miles down the road, they approached a home with a barn and deposited him there, along with the highly suspect story that they found him wandering loose down the road. The Snohomish County Sherriffs' Department had been contacted immediately by the owner, and, thankfully, by the person who stalled him pending proper reunification with his rightful person.
This gelding is papered and microchipped. 
But, had he been transported to an auction, such documentation might not have helped much if a scanner and some wait time wasn't routine auction protocol.  


Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Emerald Downs

On Saturday, February 16, Susie Sourwine, VP of Marketing for Emerald Downs announced a new (and first ever) fund for off the track Thoroughbreds. It is called the PRODIGIOUS FUND, named after a horse who raced for seven years and retired, healthy, in 2007. The proceeds for 2008 will be divided between Second Chance Ranch and Chez Chevaux. Owners and trainers at Emerald Downs have been very supportive of our work. They are committed to finding good homes for the horses who leave the track and we are a valuable resource for them, however, we need funding to keep the program going! The Prodigious Fund will be a popular option for owners to support and honor the horses they love, all the way through retirement. I am extremely honored and grateful to Emerald Downs for introducing the fund, and for their continued generosity! In past years, Emerald Downs and the WTBA have been dedicated to promoting our work and donating to the cause. Ron Crockett, President of Emerald Downs, kicked off the fund by personally donating $5,000!