Have you ever thought about what happens to a racehorse when it's no longer productive at the racetrack? Of course the well-known horses like Zenyatta and Big Brown go off to the breeding shed and stud farm, living out their pampered lives in plush fields. But what about the low-level claimers whose names are forgotten immediately after their last race? For this group, the future is not necessarily so bright. If owners and trainers can't find new homes for them quickly enough, there is the potential that these horses will become neglected and die.
Some horse rescue facilities and retirement homes will take horses when their racing careers are over, but they can’t take nearly enough. CANTER offers another option. CANTER, or the Communication Alliance to Network Thoroughbred Ex-Racehorses, is a national, web-based organization, with 10 chapters throughout the U.S. It started in Michigan in 1997 to help place retiring racehorses into new homes and careers.
CANTER is a non-profit agency relying on a small group of volunteers to seek out racehorses that trainers or owners are interested in selling to new homes for new non-racing careers. CANTER posts profiles and asking prices of the horses through their website. It does not charge fees for its services. The horses sold through CANTER may go on to careers in hunting, jumping, eventing, polo, and even simple pleasure riding.
Amanda Graham is the Director of CANTER's Kentucky chapter. With no prior involvement in the industry, Graham started the Kentucky chapter in 2009 simply because she saw a need for it and felt it was a way for her to give back to an industry she treasured.
“It's my way of contributing and trying to help out,” Graham said. “I was aware of a lot of racehorses ending up in unfortunate circumstances and I was trying to make a difference and offer the trainers a positive option because sometimes they end up at auction or they're thrown out in a field and starved.”
Graham, along with only four volunteers, spends her free-time walking the backstretch of Churchill Downs, Keeneland, Turfway Park, and other regional tracks educating trainers and owners about CANTER and offering its services when horses are ready to move away from racing.
Approaching these trainers and asking them to allow someone they don’t know to sell their horses may seem a bit daunting, but, since 2009, Graham’s perseverance has resulted in nearly 80 successful sales.
“Once you start placing horses for them, they start to gain your trust and they start calling you to try to find their horses homes when they're ready to retire if they don't have another option,” Graham stated. “We're different in the sense that we put the horses out there for sale on the internet for the trainers. The trainers and the owners are the ones who are being contacted. They decide where the horse goes and then I offer to follow up on all of them to make sure that they are in a good home and that it's all going to work out fine and I offer, if it doesn't, to take them back,” Graham continued.
Susan Anderson is a trainer that primarily runs horses at River Downs in Cincinnati, Ohio and Turfway Park in Florence, Kentucky. She has found new homes for her horses with Graham and CANTER Kentucky.
“They’ve helped me sell quite a few horses off the track that we’re trying to find homes for,” said Anderson. “A lot of people can’t afford warm bloods and such, so, a lot of people in the jumper world and the eventing world are looking for thoroughbreds off the track, so a lot of those people use the CANTER site.”
In addition to the internet sale listings, CANTER has begun to provide foster homes for horses in a more emergent need of relocation. As a non-profit organization that is strictly volunteer-driven, CANTER relies on donations and grants to pay for the care and expenses of these horses. In a down economy, donation dollars are scarce. That’s where O’Shea’s Irish Pub comes in.
Monday is Fund Day at O'Shea's Irish Pub at 956 Baxter Avenue, benefiting CANTER Kentucky. Fund Day is an event O'Shea's puts on three Mondays a month; once a month at each of their three locations. O’Shea’s donates 100% of the net proceeds of the day's sales to a designated charity or family in need.
"It started with Kaitlyn Lasitter when she was injured at Kentucky Kingdom,” said Amanda Fenwick of O'Shea's. “Her mother was an employee of ours, a past employee of ours. And it kind of started there and we've been doing it ever since."
That first Fund Day was in 2007 when O’Shea’s raised $42,000 to help the Lasitter family with medical expenses. Since that time, O’Shea’s Fund Day has raised over $390,000 and helped over 100 organizations and families.
The fundraiser benefiting CANTER Kentucky is set to begin at noon on Monday, August 1, and continue until closing, around 4:00 a.m. Former jockey, Dean Mernagh, will serve drinks as a guest bartender from 6:00 – 8:00 p.m. and the band Klondike & The Slow Rush will perform live music from 8:00 – 10:00.
Funds raised will go toward the care and maintenance of those horses in CANTER’s foster program, as well as in assisting with transportation and medical expenses for injured horses not yet healthy enough to sell.
“There was one case recently of a horse that a trainer nearly starved to death and I've been helping them with nutritional supplements to try to get them back to good shape where they can be ridden again,” said Graham.
CANTER Kentucky is providing a necessary resource and allows unsuccessful racehorses the opportunity to have successful careers in new areas and live out their lives in loving homes. Without this organization, these horses’ futures are bleak.
“A lot of horses would starve to death,” said Anderson. “People would end up putting them on their farms and not taking care of them properly. You can’t just turn out a thoroughbred, like this time of the year, with the flies and the heat, they go downhill even though you’re feeding them the same amount, they go downhill.”
Now is your chance to help in this cause. Come out to O’Shea’s and have a meal, order a drink from a jockey, and dance the night away. All net sales on Monday, August 1, will benefit CANTER.
If you can’t make it out to O’Shea’s but would still like to help, contact Amanda Graham about volunteer and foster opportunities at Amanda@canterusa.org  or visit CANTER’s website to make a donation.
If you’d like O’Shea’s Fund Day program to consider your organization or cause, complete an application online .
Photo: Courtesy CANTER Kentucky