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Hilltown Archives The Altamont Enterprise, June 23, 2011
Berne horse show to benefit Thoroughbreds discarded from the track
By Anne Hayden
BERNE At Shadowbrook Farms, rescued Thoroughbred horses far outnumber any other breed.
“Thoroughbreds are so blatantly over-bred, and are thrown away if they aren’t fast enough, get injured, or are too old to race,” said Cherie Pettit, who owns the Hilltown farm with her husband, Brian.
On July 10, the farm will hold a horse show to benefit Akindale Thoroughbred Rescue in Pawling, N.Y.
Sandra Gonyea boards two Thoroughbreds she has rescued at Shadowbrook and is helping to organize the show. With the state of the economy and the huge number of horses in need of help, she said, rescue groups are struggling.
“Akindale is an upfront, good, honest rescue organization; there are some shady people in the horse-rescue business, and I didn’t want to give people’s hard-earned money to a place that wouldn’t put it toward the horses,” said Gonyea of why she chose Akindale.
The not-for-profit organization was founded in 2006, by lifelong Thoroughbred owner and breeder John Hettinger, and, since then, has rescued over 100 Thoroughbreds from auction. Hettinger stated in his sales contracts that any racehorse he bred had a place on his Akindale Farm to live out their lives after retirement.
Gonyea became interested in rescuing Thoroughbreds many, many years ago, when she was at the racetrack and saw a table that listed Thoroughbreds for adoption.
“I read about a horse dying in a slaughterhouse and it disturbed me…I vowed way back then that, if I ever got a horse, it would be an off-the-track Thoroughbred,” she said.
Holly Cheever, a veterinarian who co-owns the Village Animal Clinic in New Scotland, told The Enterprise Thoroughbreds are “overdriven and overstressed when they are too young.” The horses run on hard surfaces on open growth plates and bones that aren’t fully developed, which can cause fractures.
Cheever has a bachelor’s degree from Harvard University and a doctor of veterinary medicine from Cornell University. During a five-year hiatus between Harvard and Cornell, she worked for a year with a race-horse veterinarian. She also worked in Kentucky for a year, as an exerciser, galloping horses.
“There are nearly 1,000 racetrack injuries per year in the United States, some of them fatal,” Cheever said. Then, there are the horses born every year that have no future.
“Thousands and thousands of horses have to be bred to produce preeminent equine athletes. There are a few dozen from all of those that are going to be the top names,” said Cheever. The horses that don’t stand a chance in racing are either sent off to auction, or worse, shipped across Canadian or Mexican borders to slaughter plants.
Up until 2007, there were slaughter plants in the United States. The last three were in Texas, and closed four years ago, according to Cheever. However, there are no laws preventing horses from being shipped across borders.
“In Europe and Japan, there is a big demand for horse meat for human consumption,” said Cheever. The horses are killed in Canada or Mexico and then sold for meat to European and Asian countries.
“The slaughter plants are worse in Canada than they were in the United States, and the ones in Mexico are beyond the pale,” Cheever said. If horses are to be euthanized, they should be unconscious first, she said, but in Mexico, they are often killed in a way that is painful and prolonged.
“I believe euthanasia is necessary in some cases, but, in the slaughter houses, it is gory and inhumane, and the animals don’t deserve that,” said Gonyea.
Pettit agrees, which is why she re-trains Thoroughbreds for “other jobs” at her farm.
“They can become pleasure animals and walk, trot, and canter in the ring, or go for trail rides; they can do barrel races or become hunters or jumpers,” Pettit said. She said she trains the team the horse and the horse’s owner to work together.
“The horses usually need about six months of down time after coming off the track, and then they can be re-trained. They need rest because they can have psychological as well as physical issues,” said Pettit.
Gonyea worked with Pettit to train her Thoroughbreds.
“It was an amazing transformation,” said Gonyea.
“It is important to remember that Thoroughbreds have never ‘had’ a person and they are companion animals, not just livestock,” concluded Pettit. “Folks that are interested in adopting one should be ready for a commitment; but it’s worth it.”
The show will be held on Sunday, July 10, at 326 Canaday Hill Road, in Berne, beginning at 8 a.m. The show is open to all horses, and entry fees will be waived for adoptable off-the-track Thoroughbreds.