The Louisiana Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association supports state legislation that would make changes to its aftercare program the organization believes will lead to greater participation.
Lawmakers are considering changes after stories and social media posts showed Thoroughbreds who had raced at Delta Downs in kill pens. Industry groups also are rallying to put additional safety nets in place.
The issues in Louisiana proved a timely topic for a panel on aftercare at the National Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association convention March 15 in New Orleans.
Louisiana HBPA president Benard Chatters said his organization supports the proposed legislation, which would have all horsemen participate in a program of financial support for aftercare that could be based on a per-start basis or a commitment from purse earnings. Chatters said the current Louisiana HBPA program allows horsemen to opt in to support aftercare, but he believes moving to a system where horsemen are in the program unless they opt out will see improved participation.
“If they’re already in the program, a lot of them won’t make the effort to opt out,” Chatters said, noting that there may not be full awareness of the current opt-in program.
Patrick Richmond, president of Louisiana Horse Rescue Association, said similar legislation has been proposed before, but he thinks the recent effort has a better chance of passing because of support from the Louisiana HBPA; Delta Downs and Evangeline Downs owner Boyd Gaming; state Quarter Horse breeders; and the racing commission. They expect support from the state’s other two track owners, Churchill Downs Inc. and Harrah’s.
Richmond said aftercare groups would like to see a commitment of $5 a start. Chatters said Louisiana HBPA might be more receptive to a plan that makes a commitment from purse earnings after a horse has won. Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance operations consultant Stacie Clark, who moderated the panel, said either type of approach can work.
Michele Rodriguez, founder and president of Elite Thoroughbreds and a board member of the Louisiana Horse Rescue Association, said Boyd will commit to matching funds by horsemen, and she’s certain CDI also will get on board.
Chatters noted, with the emergence of social media, a small percentage of horsemen not acting properly can endanger the sport.
“The largest percentage of trainers and owners are responsible,” Chatters said. “It only takes one person, or one horse. … Something happens in some remote corner of the state, and all of a sudden it’s all over the nation because of social media.”
Panel participants and National HBPA CEO Eric Hamelback said that something as simple as improved communication between horsemen and aftercare facilities can make the difference for a horse.
“We have to make that connection and keep them together,” Hamelback said. “Aftercare needs to become part of your business plan.”
Jessica Hammond, program administrator of Maryland’s Beyond the Wire—a state aftercare initiative of the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, the Maryland Jockey Club, the Maryland Horse Breeders Association, and Maryland jockeys—encouraged horsemen from states without similar aftercare programs to take the initiative.
She said owners are contributing $11 a start, and it’s enjoyed about “99% participation.” She said jockeys will contribute about $60,000 this year. The program works with six TAA-accredited facilities.
“Just jump in. … You kind of just have to get the idea on how you want your program to run and just start it,” Hammond said. “You’re not going to have everything perfect from the get-go. You’re going to have to tweak things along the way, and that’s OK. There’s no reason for not starting.”
Hamelback emphasized that the stakes are high, and not having an aftercare plan in place is no longer acceptable.
“We have to educate people that there is a second chance after racing. We have to stop these horses from getting to the pen,” Hamelback said. “We need racetracks’ help, but we also need horsemen’s help when it comes to education.”