Sunday, May 05, 2002

Adoption program saves old racehorses

The Associated Press

        HILLIARD, Ohio — Retiring to a life of romping through pastures and breeding awaits many of the top thoroughbreds that run in events such as this weekend's Kentucky Derby.

        But other racehorses that were never good enough to run in a prestigious race often don't share the same fate, winding up in slaughterhouses to become food in Asia and Europe.

        An Ohio woman whose family has been in harness racing for five generations believes there's a better alternative. For the last 10 years she has been finding homes for racehorses when their careers are over.

        Dot Morgan's New Vocations horse adoption program began in the Dayton area in 1992 and this year has branched out to this Columbus suburb.

        Since the program began, she's been able to find new homes for more than 900 thoroughbreds and standardbreds.

        The standardbreds, which are used for harness racing, are trained to wear a saddle. Thoroughbreds, after being pumped with steroids and ridden intensely, “mostly need to learn to calm down and be a horse,” Morgan said.

        Some are adopted for trail riding. Others prove too physically or psychologically damaged to be suitable as anything other than “pasture ornaments,” said Anna Ford, Morgan's daughter, who runs the Franklin County adoption center.

        New Vocations took in 217 horses from 17 states in 2001. That was up from 142 in 2000 and 83 in 1999.

        Morgan said she started the program because “it bothered me to see these horses that had given us so much be discarded so randomly.”

        She said it's not easy to obtain horses for no cost when horse meat dealers, who roam the stables at racetracks, offer $500 or more per animal to horse owners.

        Sometimes owners are willing to put a horse up for adoption, but only if the agency takes it right away.

        “If you don't get them tonight, they're going to be gone tomorrow,” Ford said.

        New Vocations won't pay for horses, but it appeals to owners' consciences and provides the opportunity for a small tax deduction for each donated animal.

        Only experienced riders are allowed to adopt from New Vocations, which charges as much as $700 and monitors conditions in the adoptive home for two years.

        The organization relies on word of mouth at racetracks and donated advertisements in racing publications. It's one of about a half-dozen racehorse-adoption agencies.

        The U.S. Department of Agriculture said that last year, about 50,000 horses were slaughtered nationwide. Morgan figures that about 10 percent were racehorses.

        Horse meat processors consider themselves an alternative to adoption rather than a competitor.

        “Some people would rather get as much value as they can,” said Jim Weems, a Texas meat broker and industry spokesman.

        Horse meat “is certainly something that a lot of people don't like just as an instinctive reaction,” Weems added. “In other parts of the world, it's looked at as just another protein source.”

        A bill introduced in Congress would make dealing in horse meat illegal.


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