BY TONY PODLASKI | WINNER’S CIRCLE
The cost of a Thoroughbred horse in training can be expensive with the cost of feed, stalls, stable help, and especially veterinarians, but some of that cost can be offset when the horse runs for purse money.
However, it can be difficult to cover those veterinarian costs once the racehorse has been retired. General examinations, teeth care, x-rays, and other services can easily reach hundreds – and even thousands – of dollars. At the same time, there are gaps in that horse’s medical history.
That has been one of the challenges for the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation each time a retired racehorse is brought to the Heading for Home barn for adoption. From there, a thorough evaluation by a veterinarian is helpful to determine the horse’s capabilities before adoption.
One of Capital Region veterinary groups is assisting in that area by donating their services: the Equine Clinic at Oakencroft in Ravena, co-owned by Dr. Steve Naile and Dr. Ryan Penno. Kim Weir, Director of Major Gifts and Planned Giving for the TRF, believes the accredited service is significant, especially for the future of the horse.
“When the horses stop racing, no one is spending money to figure out what happened to them or what’s wrong with them. All we hear is that they won’t run anymore,” Weir said. “This allows us to provide a better future for each horse. It is improving our ability to make sure each horse has the happiest and healthiest long life with us in sanctuary.”
About once a week, Dr. Suzanne Jaynes of Ballston Spa and two of her veterinarian interns – Dr. Ali Catalino and Dr. Chris White – come from Oakencroft to visit the TRF and Heading for Home adoption barn on 683 Lake Ave. for five horses: recently-adopted Dusk to Dawn, Blown Save, Cogs My Man, Son of a Gun, and Bold Mon, whose career ended at Saratoga with a second-place finish in claiming race in August 2007.
One person who has helped bring the Oakencroft and TRF partnership together is Director of Communications and Development Jennifer Stevens, who already had a good relationship with Jaynes as the veterinarian for her horse Saving Grace and as a board member for Heading for Home.
“I trust her with the horses,” Stevens said. “I told her about our situation. She came and saw what we were up against. The horses retired a few years ago and they needed a new look over, and that is really costly. Because of Suzanne’s demeanor, she is practical with her veterinarian advice and treatment. I thought it was a perfect match for our horses.”
The work that Jaynes, Catalino and White do goes beyond routine exams, which typically costs $75. There are lameness workups that cost as much as $250. Dental costs can range from $105-$130. Plus, there are diagnostics that include nerve blocks, x-rays and ultrasounds, as well as emergency care.
These exams and treatments can add upequickly, which could easily impact horse owner’s budget. While the trio of veterinarians are not there to correct injuries that ended the horse’s racing career, they are there to provide a medical history for the horse.
“Once you start adding up those diagnostics, the cost can go up to $1,000 easily,” Jaynes said. “Initially, we would come as needed. We usually spend about 4-5 hours. If it was a normal appointment, it wouldn’t take that long, but we like to go over the horses thoroughly and look at every body part.”
“The goal is not to fix these horses,” she added. “Our job is to determine if they are suitable for trail riding, pasture peddling, or another athletic career.”
This has not been the first time Jaynes has worked with Thoroughbreds in the Saratoga Springs region. After graduating from the University College Dublin School of Veterinary Medicine in Ireland in 2005, Jaynes came to the area as an intern for Dr. Harold Barnes at Saratoga Equine Veterinarian Services.
Through her knowledge and previous experiences of working with Thoroughbreds, Jaynes is now mentoring both Catalino and White, who are recent graduates of the Atlantic Veterinary School at the University of Prince Edward Island, while providing services to these retired racehorses. Jaynes believes everyone is benefitting from this experience without any external pressures.
“It is a good learning experience for our first-year veterinarians,” Jaynes said. “They can do the work underneath the supervision of a senior clinician. This gives us a chance to go over the horse thoroughly without the pressure of an owner being there and do what’s best for the horse. It’s a nice symbiotic relationship between the TRF and us.”
A Baldwinsville native who was part of the Geneseo Equestrian Team at the 2014 Intercollegiate Horse Show Championships, Catalino believes working with retired racehorses is going to help her path of continuing her work in equine sports medicine with the emphasis on lameness, imaging and cardiology.
“Since we are new vets and these horses need homes, we are out here to refine our skills with the horses and giving them some routine work they need,” Catalino said. “We also want to make them a profile so they can be adopted and what they can do once they are adopted.”
Competing in barrel races throughout Maine prior to moving to Canada for college, White knows this experience is significant coming out of college as he plans to work with horses who experience lameness, dental concerns, eye issues, or geriatric care.
“You are not going to know everything when you come out [of college],” White said. “If you have a comfortable place to learn, that’s the most important part.”
With the success of Oakencoft, Weir is hoping this partnership can eventually be a model for other TRF Second Chances farms and facilities throughout the country.
“In these horse industry towns with big operations, there must be other Oakencrofts out there,” she said. “There must be veterinarians who have this vision. We need to celebrate and inspire this. This would help all of us across the board.”