Of all the former race horses
at Zac March and Robin Hursts Out
2 Pasture farm near Jamestown, Twoey, an 11-year-old
chocolate brown thoroughbred, is the oldest and one of the more remarkable.
Two years ago Two Links Back,
as the horse is formally called, was winning money at racetracks in
New York and New Jersey. A photo from the time shows Twoeys owner,
beaming with pride, posing with the horse in the winners circle.
A week after the photo was taken tragedy struck.
March and Robin Hurst care for the leg of a retired thoroughbred
race horse on their farm near Jamestown. The two University of Missouri
professors have joined a national network of thoroughbred rescue
The horse broke his knee.
His long racing career was over. But rather than a bucolic retirement,
Twoey was headed to a killer sale where injured, worn out
and washed up racehorses are sold.
On the smaller tracks
theres a killer truck, Robin says. A horse breaks
down and someone comes up to you and says, Ill give you
$600 for your horse and take him off your hands today.
Incredible as it is to Americans,
Robin says many of these horses end up on the dinner tables of Europeans.
But that was not Twoeys fate.
Thanks to the efforts of
the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation,
the largest racehorse rescue in the United States, the regal horse received
a reprieve. Buyers from the TRF outbid the kill truck and one month
later Twoey was in Missouri, on Zac and Robins farm, with a companion
goat in tow.
Neither Zac nor Robin has
any background in racehorses or with thoroughbreds. Instead, she teaches
biology at the University of Missouri-Columbia. He is a professor at
the universitys College of Veterinary Medicine where he specializes
in computers and medical technology. But during their 18-year marriage
both have shared a habit of taking in animals in need.
We have chickens that
people dont want, guinea pigs. We have a pot-bellied pig from
the big pot-bellied pig boom. Theres just one of them left but
at one time we had 10, Robin says.
and Zac care for 24 former race horses on their Out 2 Pasture farm.
When the Co-Mo Electric Cooperative
members learned of the plight of racehorses they decided to join the
effort. Although Robin owned horses, Zac didnt ride and says he
didnt much care for horses. Still, they thought saving thoroughbreds
was a good use of their time, skills and 100-acre farm.
We would never make
it as cattle farmers and thats what the farm is set up for,
Zac says. This allows us to use our land appropriately and gives
these guys a good home.
During the past 20 years
the thoroughbred racing community has embraced the horse rescue concept.
Owners who lack sufficient land to retire horses are increasingly turning
to non-profit retirement organizations such as the TRF, ReRun, Cantor
and others as an alternative to killer sales.
We wish there was a
lot more out there, says Dan Metzger, president of the Kentucky-based
Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association. They are a wonderful
part of the solution.
Metzger says about 35,000
thoroughbreds are foaled in North America each year. While some of these
are raised on large farms, others have no place to go once their careers
Theres a large,
large number of owners who dont own farms, Metzger says.
They race horses. They love the horses. They love the sport. They
love the thrill of ownership and the excitement. But when it comes time
to retire the horse they need to find a home for them.
After a yearlong application
and inspection process, Zac and Robin were finally approved as a RTF
satellite farm in December 1999. Three days later their first shipment
of 16 horses arrived. Some came from concerned owners who wanted a good
home for their horses but lacked the necessary pasture. Others were
simply unwanted or abandoned.
hugs one of her horses.
Walking among the 24 thoroughbreds
on their farm during evening chores, Robin and Zac are quick to point
out horses who came from caring owners. They tell of owners who donated
horses and paid for transportation to Missouri. They recall another
who won big at the track and purchased two horses destined for the killer
sale. Another woman sends a monthly check for the care of a beloved
horse. But all too often the stories are those of neglect and abuse.
We see the dark side
of horse racing. Its very difficult to look at, Zac says.
What disturbs us is we see horses that won $100,000 or $200,000
last year and his owner sold him for $600. The horse can make their
owner a lot of money and yet they have no emotional attachment to him.
Some of the Robin and Zacs
horses come from impeccable bloodlines including one offspring
of Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew and another from Kentucky Derby
and Preakness champion Spectacular Bid. But breeding and past performance
do not assure a horse a long life in retirement especially not
for geldings or mares with injuries that prevent them from carrying
For an owner, hes
a liability, an expense, Zac says. Its sad to say
but thats how it works out.
Most of the horses the couple
adopted have been young thoroughbreds, most less than 3 years old, which
have been injured or gone lame. Were the gimp farm of the
TRF, Zac says, explaining that the foundation sends them injured
animals due to his connections with the MU Vet School.
from the University of Missouri's College of Veterinary Medicine
discuss Robin and Zac's newest adoption during a lameness examination
at the farm.
Much of the care for these
animals falls to the Veterinary Colleges Equine
Ambulatory Practice which makes stable calls for horse owners in
Mid-Missouri. The costs for this care are borne by the foundation, sponsors,
private donations and by Zac and Robin themselves. As a faculty member
Zac once qualified for reduced rates on treatment but university budget
cuts eliminated this perk.
Zac did manage to secure
a grant to fund a joint project between the farm and the college. Students
were videotaped examining horses and determining the cause of their
lameness. Students will study the tapes to hone their examination techniques
before venturing into the stable.
Dr. Amy Rucker, the veterinarian
in charge of the Equine Ambulatory Practice, says Robin and Zacs
farm offers a tremendous teaching opportunity. We dont have
any tracks in Missouri so these horses have injuries we dont see
much of at school, she says.
Besides damaged joints many
of the horses suffer from psychological injuries as well. In fact, Zac
says, even putting them out to pasture is a slow process.
Dr. Amy Rucker and Dr. Nicole Scotty examine the teeth of a thoroughbred.
Accustomed to spending their lives in stalls many race horses "crib"
or chew on their stalls out of boredom.
When they come here
and they have all this land they dont know what to do, he
says. Theyll stand by the barn and shake for days or weeks
sometimes. Its kind of like someone whos been in jail.
Because of their injuries
and training as racehorses, most of these thoroughbreds will never be
anything but pasture pets. For that reason, these horses are unlikely
candidates for adoption. Instead, most will live out their lives at
Out 2 Pasture.
Thats our mission
to give these guys a retirement, Zac says. This is
their last stop. They will die on this place if theyre not adopted.
And they will have
the best care until they do, adds Robin. They deserve this
Zac and Robin are on the
Internet at www.out2pasture.com.
To contact the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation write to 450 Shrewsbury
Plaza, Shrewsbury, NJ 07702; phone (732) 957-0182 or visit the organizations
Web site at www.trfinc.org.