“The horse industry is an industry without waste management.”
“Research and development within the horse industry is woefully insufficient.”
“Benevolent donations cannot keep pace with the needs of the health and welfare of horses.”
These statements, which say a lot about the equine industry, have been made by some of the industry’s most respected constituents, including Dwayne Marcum, D.V.M., president of the newly formed Equine Health and Welfare Alliance. In fact, these and similar statements are reiterated whenever the dilemmas facing the equine industry are discussed.
The reality of the situation is that horses often become burdens as soon as their ability to generate income no longer exists. Because they lack the ability to speak for themselves, their future is bleak. While one might expect these horses to be moved to qualified rescue or retirement farms, the number of such establishments is insufficient to handle the number of horses whose careers have ended.
The current system of financing the health and welfare of these horses depends on the benevolent contributions from comparatively few horse owners, racing fans and organizations that are aligned to horses. These contributions are not sufficient to keep pace with the needs of the horse and are being further stressed by a growing population of unwanted horses. Although these horses often are the subject of numerous articles, the reality of the situation is that relatively little is done for them. As Herb Moelis, the retired head of Thoroughbred Charities of America, wrote in a trade journal in April 2010, the predicament of insufficient charitable donations is not proportional to our obligations to the horse.
Horses are not a tax eligible species when it comes to their health or welfare. Since the late 1930s, the horse had been removed as a U.S. Department of Agriculture species and largely been ignored, as they are considered companion animals like dogs and cats. As a result, their health and welfare is reliant on the support of benevolent contributions, even though dogs and cats do garner limited support from our tax system through jurisdictions providing humane shelters. Dogs and cats also benefit from the huge national public advertising through television and mailings. Horses do not have a community shelter to go to with the exception of relatively few private farms and organizations that act in this capacity and remain totally dependent upon private support.
The qualified retirement and rescue farms are short in number, saturated, and most often are hand-to-mouth independent efforts lacking consistent financing. Suffolk Downs and Oklahoma racing officials have recognized these needs for triage to retirement and rehabilitation farms and have become proactive. Without certification and accreditation of these farms, it is difficult to single out the legitimate recipients of monies obtained and to be distributed by organizations such as the newly formed Equine Health and Welfare Alliance, Inc.
Comparatively, the health of horses is only directly supported through research, and a consistent fiscal health system for research exists only in part. The “big 3” foundations that fund research on equine health are the Grayson-Jockey Club, American Quarter Horse Association, and the Morris Animal Foundation. Cumulatively, along with small individual grants available at universities across the country, an estimated $3.5- to 5-million is allocated to equine research each year in the US. While these foundations and universities are to be commended, the amount available is woefully small, especially when one realizes that the USDA’s 2009 research budget was $2.3-billion for plant and animal research, and the National Institute of Health’s (NIH) budget for human research in the same year exceeded $30-billion. If there is a silver lining to this huge economic disparity, it lies in the fact that equine researchers can apply to the USDA and NIH for projects that involve comparisons across species. Unfortunately, the funding rate for such projects is incredibly low at both federal agencies, with fewer than 10% of all grant proposals being funded.
Organizations such as California’s Oak Tree Racing Association are undergoing shrinkage and threatened elimination. Still another disparity exists in fund raising as our racetracks, horses shows, and public relations efforts are used to raise monies and awareness of human disorders without much thought for the horse. Certainly, we need to do something to improve the health and well being of horses as we increase horse racing as meeting a humane obligation while decreasing an image of exploitation. These efforts should give the “humaneiacs” lessening concerns and may even develop new fans from the ranks of skeptics.
Sustained funding can be met by means of automatic perpetual funding. The only foresight funding was provided by the Racetrack Levy Board for the Animal Health Trust in Newmarket. This demand for Animal Health Trust funding has suffered the same inability to meet the growing need. Indirect taxation for equine health and welfare potentially comes from efforts such as “a piece” or small percentage of expanded gaming. Of all the states providing expanded gaming, very few give a percentage of the huge “takes” to the horses.
Louisiana is an exception with a portion of its expanded gaming income going to Louisiana State University for equine research. Canada provides proceeds from its uncashed wagers for research. Currently, Texas is poised as potentially obtaining expanded gaming with the opportunity to incorporate a percentage of the profits for the health and welfare of horses. To the best of our knowledge, none of the other states support equine health research through their pari-mutuel and expanded gaming enterprises. Furthermore, our major racetracks and other major horse events do not generate significant health and welfare support to the horses, if any.
The phrase “research and development,” or R&D, implies research that will advance knowledge and development that applies the new knowledge for commercial gain. As a national multi-billion dollar enterprise, the horse industry’s R&D is confined to special interests and is woefully anemic. If ample funds were applied through sustained funding to improve horses’ health and well being, they should increase the number and quality of jobs along with new opportunities within the horse industry.
If we allow our imaginations free reign, one way to create sustainable funding for equine health and welfare programs that are non-tax in origin would be through turn-style income from equine venues throughout the nation, horse-show entry fees, club fees, starting gate/jockey/trainer fees, registration fees, percentages of commercial promotions, and so on. So who wants more fees? Certainly there are already plenty within the horse industry, but not for the horses.
Income from sustained funding needs to be painless, allowing millions of individual dollars to accumulate to provide the funding needed to really make a difference in the lives of horses. But it will take commitment and tenacity to get this done. It will take foresight leadership and planning, with the horse industry leading a national effort on behalf of the animal. It may take legislation to overcome state facilities that recognize their obligation to their “bread and butter” equine charges. If legislation for funding occurs, it will have to be mandatory as optional efforts have failed to generate adequate donations. If greed exists, it will have to be eliminated.
There is a sharp distinction and often disconnect between the horse industry and the horses. Dollars generated from expanded gaming may help the horse industry while still leaving benevolence to the discretion of the owners and racetracks. While current financial times are tough, the horse industry did not meet its obligations to the horse when the industry was fiscally healthy. Even though “welfare” of horses is now a buzzword, we still do not keep pace with the needs of our enlarging numbers of horses.
Automatic or sustained funding could eliminate the obligatory fiscal gap and allow benevolent dollars to support the special needs of horses while sustenance is ongoing. Benevolent dollars should be invested for the short term in developing sustained funding for the long term. Putting dollars back into the horse’s health and welfare will benefit us all through new and renewed jobs, pride in our industry, and demonstrating imaginative solutions to the equine problems we all share in the form of a responsibility. Provisions to generate small numbers of dollars painlessly that accumulate to meet the needs of the horses would be a win-win situation, and one that that would need a national clearing house for the distribution of funds. This clearing house should be:
* Administered as privatized and not emerge from an existing perennial parent organization;
* Administration must not be governmental unless optionalized;
* Administered transparently and accountable to the health and welfare of all equids, including donkeys and mules;
* Research distribution of funds should include existing organizations and not initiate a new granting institution; and
* The clearing house should have national and international scope.
Government participation will hopefully be confined to new statutes and available taxation benefits. Optimistically, new leaders will emerge to develop the level of sustenance needed for a positive future for our industry through the horses. The amounts of money could be huge and the overall impact will need disciplined leadership. We need to step up and organize, for if the horses disappear we are all gone.
Doug Byars, D.V.M., is co-founder of Equine Health and Welfare Alliance Inc. and a former head of the Kentucky-based Hagyard-Davidson-McGee veterinary firm’s Medicine Unit in Lexington, specializing in veterinary reproductivity.