Retired Racehorse Project’s ASPCA Makeover Marketplace Transitions to Virtual Event

While the in-person horse shopping and adoption experience at the Thoroughbred Makeover and National Symposium may no longer be possible this year with the postponement of the event to 2021, the Retired Racehorse Project (RRP), thanks to a generous grant from the ASPCA, will continue to produce the Makeover Marketplace and promote transitioned Thoroughbreds as premier sport horse prospects online.

Expected to feature dozens of restarted Thoroughbreds, the ASPCA Makeover Marketplace catalog will once again be offered in print as well as digitally. Sign-ups are now open to receive the catalog, which will be printed in the Fall 2020 issue of Off-Track Thoroughbred Magazine, the RRP’s award-winning quarterly publication. The catalog will be printed in color and feature each horse’s Jockey Club name and basic details, price or adoption fee, home location, description and photo, as well as trainer contact information. Each advertisement will also include a QR code that will direct smartphone users to the horse’s full online listing, which may include additional information and video.

“The ASPCA Makeover Marketplace has become one of the country’s premier horse shopping and adoption opportunities for equestrians looking for well-started sport horse prospects,” said Jen Roytz, Executive Director of the RRP. “Traditionally, horse shopping includes extensive travel, often going to multiple farms in different states in order to consider horses, but changing mandates and travel restrictions during the pandemic are limiting those opportunities. The Marketplace lets you browse from the comfort of your couch and peruse dozens of photos, videos and descriptions of equine athletes for adoption or sale who have had the proper care, nutrition and training to make a successful transition to a competitive or recreational career after racing.”

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Dewey Square, 2015 Thoroughbred Makeover Marketplace graduate, now owned by Nicholas D’Amore and in training with Kate Chadderton. Photo by Amy Dragoo

The ASPCA Makeover Marketplace has become an adopter’s or buyer’s trusted source for Thoroughbreds for sport or pleasure. Though the Thoroughbred Makeover competition will not be taking place this year, each horse entered in the Marketplace catalog will have undergone preparation for the event, with emphasis placed on a healthy transition from the track and training for a big show environment. Past ASPCA Makeover Marketplace graduates have gone on to successful careers in eventing, hunter/jumper, field hunter, western performance, pleasure and trail riding.

“Creating opportunities for more equine enthusiasts to find their Right Horse is a vital component of our work,” said Dr. Emily Weiss, Vice President of ASPCA Equine Welfare. “The RRP continues to support us in shifting the perspective of who a retired racehorse is and showcasing the incredible potential they will bring to their next homes. While we will miss seeing all the event-goers and talented competitors this year, we celebrate this innovative virtual Marketplace experience that will help transition more great horses to their next chapter.”

The digital catalog will be released at tbmakeover.org the week of August 10, and individual horses will be featured on the RRP’s social media. Watch the RRP’s Facebook page for additional virtual spotlights of Marketplace horses this fall.

Sign up now for the print catalog at tbmakeover.org/catalog. Catalogs will be printed and mailed in mid-September.

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RRP logo

The Retired Racehorse Project (RRP) is a 501(c)3 charitable organization working to increase demand for off-track Thoroughbreds in the equestrian world. In addition to putting on the Thoroughbred Makeover and National Symposium, the organization also publishes Off-Track Thoroughbred Magazine, hosts off-track Thoroughbred retraining clinics and programming at major horse expos and events around the country, and maintains the online Thoroughbred Sport Tracker (the internet’s only user-driven database tracking second career talent and accomplishments of registered Thoroughbreds). Visit the RRP online at RetiredRacehorseProject.org.

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Founded in 1866, the ASPCA® (The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals®) is the first animal welfare organization in North America and serves as the nation’s leading voice for animals. More than two million supporters strong, the ASPCA’s mission is to provide effective means for the prevention of cruelty to animals throughout the United States. As a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit corporation, the ASPCA is a national leader in the areas of anti-cruelty, community outreach and animal health services. For more information, please visit www.ASPCA.org, and be sure to follow the ASPCA on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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Retired Racehorse Project Postpones 2020 Thoroughbred Makeover

After extensive information gathering, research and consideration, the board of the Retired Racehorse Project (RRP) has made the difficult but unanimous decision to postpone the 2020 Thoroughbred Makeover and National Symposium, presented by Thoroughbred Charities of America (TCA), until 2021. The RRP plans to host an expanded Thoroughbred Makeover on October 12-17, 2021 that will offer separate classes in all ten disciplines for both 2020 and 2021 entries.

GENERAL

Click here to watch a video message from the RRP.

Put on each year by the RRP, a 501c3 nonprofit organization, the Thoroughbred Makeover typically draws hundreds of competitors from 40+ states and multiple Canadian provinces, each of whom has taken on the challenge of bringing along a Thoroughbred in his or her first year of retraining post-racing. In a normal year, the event also includes the ASPCA Makeover Marketplace (a large-scale horse shopping experience), a vendor fair with more than 70 on-site retailers and other equine businesses, seminars, the Thoroughbred Aftercare Summit and various social and networking events.

To comply with COVID-19 pandemic event guidelines as recommended by US Equestrian and the Kentucky Horse Park, many of these aspects, which monetize a significant portion of the event, would have to be eliminated or heavily modified.

“This was a decision that was not entered into lightly,” said the RRP’s executive director Jen Roytz. “We went to great lengths to look at the feasibility of putting on the event from various perspectives, including preparedness of our competitors, current sponsorship commitments, the cost and steps necessary to implement COVID-19 risk management protocols for an event like ours, and what changes we would need to make to the event to comply with state and venue regulations. We also explored various ‘what if’ scenarios with our legal counsel, insurance company, and board, and what their impacts could be on not only the event, but our organization as a whole.”

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With the Thoroughbred Makeover being a competition for horses in their first year of training after racing, the organization sent out two surveys to its competitors, one in April and one in June, to better understand how the pandemic was affecting its competitors’ ability to prepare their horses. Questions in the survey also aimed to gauge how their competitors would feel about the changes to the event that would have to be made in 2020 in order to put it on.

Trainers expressed concern through these surveys about having their horses adequately prepared for the show environment, as well as financial concerns due to lost income during shutdowns. In some cases, horses could not receive necessary maintenance care or undergo elective veterinary or therapy procedures. Furthermore, every state’s pandemic guidelines were different which had, and continues to have, an impact on competitors.

“We worked hard to identify what the best course of action would be, not only for our constituents and horses, but for the long-term viability and stability of our organization,” continued Roytz. “Our competitor survey responses showed us not only that a significant percentage of our competitors were behind on their training due to a variety of factors, but also that if we were to implement the changes that the pandemic would force us to make, it would not only put our organization in a precarious position financially but would negatively impact our competitors’ enjoyment of the event.”

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A critical aspect of the Thoroughbred Makeover on the part of participating trainers is having recently retired racehorses, all of which are relatively green in terms of their show career, adequately prepared for a big show environment at the Kentucky Horse Park. Typically, this is achieved by trainers exposing their horses to various competitive environments in the ten-month training period prior to the Makeover.

“The Thoroughbred Makeover at its core is designed to serve the mission of the RRP as a showcase of the versatility and trainability of the breed,” said Managing Director and Event Organizer, Kirsten Green. “Much of the feedback we’ve received, as well as the results of our surveys, tell us that the majority of our competitors are not feeling as confident as they typically would about their ability to showcase their horses as well as they otherwise would have. Furthermore, the Makeover typically draws entries from more than 40 states, as well as a significant Canadian contingent, and we’re still contending with a continually changing landscape over the coming months. We don’t yet know when the Canadian border will reopen, we’re seeing states re-implementing quarantine mandates for travelers, trainers having their income impacted, and more. That is only compounded by the financial challenges we and other nonprofits have faced in recent months and changes we would have to make in order to move forward with the event. By postponing the competition until next year and expanding the Marketplace virtually for this year, we felt it was the best way to create the most opportunities for all involved, while also doing what is in the best interest of the horses and our organization.”

Western Competitors at Makeover

Several aspects of the 2020 TCA Thoroughbred Makeover will be run virtually this year in October, including a virtual vendor fair, webinars in place of seminars, and the ASPCA Makeover Marketplace. The Marketplace will transition into an expanded online showcase of transitioned Thoroughbreds who were intended to compete in October and be offered for sale or adoption at the Makeover.

“I know I speak on behalf of the entire RRP board and staff when I say this was an incredibly difficult decision, but we feel it’s the right one,” said RRP board president Carolyn Karlson. “The challenges presented by the pandemic are unprecedented. The RRP expanded its online educational offerings this year to better support those retraining horses amid all of the travel and shelter-in-place restrictions, like our Five-Minute Clinic series and webinars, and we have several more exciting initiatives to roll out as the year goes on. We are steadfast to our commitment to our competitors, sponsors, vendors, volunteers, supporters and, most importantly, the horses we and they serve.”

Trainers who entered this year’s Thoroughbred Makeover will have the opportunity to retain their registered 2020 horses to compete in a special 2020 division at the 2021 Thoroughbred Makeover. They also have the option to withdraw their 2020 horses and roll their entry fee to the 2021 competition with a new 2021-eligible horse. In some cases, some 2020-entered horses will be able to retain their eligibility for the 2021 division as long as they do not exceed the maximum of 15 retraining rides before December 1, 2020.

“It’s been a priority for us to make sure that we found a solution that was flexible for our trainers and their horses and give them options to suit whatever their goals might be,” said Green. “We look forward to working with everyone to offer content and activities to honor the Makeover this October, and to welcome everyone back to the Bluegrass for a knockout event in 2021.”

Remember Gizmo

Added Roytz, “We are incredibly grateful to the TCA, ASPCA and our other major sponsors and donors for being exceedingly understanding and supportive of this decision. Many of them have also been affected by this pandemic and anticipate feeling the effects well into the coming year, but were eager to help us find ways to support both this year’s and next year’s classes of Makeover competitors in meaningful ways.”

For more information and updates about the Thoroughbred Makeover, please visit tbmakeover.org. More announcements about virtual activities and events will be released throughout the summer and early fall. Sign up to receive the ASPCA Makeover Marketplace catalog at tbmakeover.org/catalogsignup.

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RRP logo

The Retired Racehorse Project (RRP) is a 501(c)3 charitable organization working to increase demand for off-track Thoroughbreds in the equestrian world. In addition to putting on the Thoroughbred Makeover and National Symposium, the world’s largest retraining competition for recently retired racehorses, the organization also publishes Off-Track Thoroughbred Magazine, hosts off-track Thoroughbred retraining clinics around the country, maintains the Thoroughbred Sport Tracker(the internet’s only user-driven database tracking second career talent and accomplishments of registered Thoroughbreds) and presents programing at major horse expos across the country. Visit RRP online at retiredracehorseproject.org.

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April Showers Bring May Flowers…And Rain Rot, Dew Poisoning and Abscesses

By Jen Roytz

They say April showers bring May flowers, but that’s not the only thing they bring. Rain rot, dew poisoning and abscesses are some of the less enjoyable products of spring’s rainy days and muddy pastures. While some horses seem to simply be more prone to wet weather-related ailments than others, there are a number of things horsemen can do to minimize the severity of ailments such as rain rot, or avoid them all together.

Though often mistaken as a fungal disease, rain rot (or rain scald) is a common bacterial infection of the skin (also known as Dermatophilosis). Dermatophilus congolensis, the bacteria that causes the infection, lives dormant in the outer layer of the skin. When the skin is exposed to prolonged moisture (high humidity, rain, sweat), the bacteria infects the compromised skin, resulting in crusty, puss-filled scabs between the living and dead layer of skin.

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Horse Health: You Can Lead a Horse to Water…

By Jen Roytz

We’ve all heard the saying “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make them drink.” Horses have to be thirsty in order to consume water, and the lynchpin in that scenario is salt. Dehydration in horses–or any animal–can quickly escalate from mild to catastrophic. Their internal environment is water-based, and salt is the driving force behind the regulation and distribution of water in and out of cells.

“Salt is 39% sodium and 61% chloride. When consumed, salt will split in the body into the separate minerals to be used independently (as electrolytes),” said Dr. Kathleen Crandell, PhD, a nutritionist with Kentucky Equine Research (KER). “Both these minerals have independent roles in the body, but mainly they work together balancing fluid movement in and out of the cells and acid-base balance, as well as electrical impulse conduction in nerves and muscles. Further, sodium is needed for transport of substances across cell membranes, like glucose.”

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Horse Health: Alert – Baby on the way!

By Jen Roytz

As we embark on a new year full of hope and promise, ’tis the season for early mornings, sleepless nights and seemingly endless anticipation for those in the breeding industry. Those tasked with helping the next generation of equine athletes enter this world go to great lengths to be on-hand when each foal is born and do everything they can to ensure a successful delivery, or to call a veterinarian if any problems arise.

The foaling process is broken down into three stages. Stage 1 being early signs of labor; stage 2 is when the water breaks and the actual delivery of the foal; and stage 3 is the expulsion of the placenta.

Once a mare progresses to stage 2, it is imperative the foal be delivered within 30 minutes or less to avoid hypoxia (oxygen deprivation), which can lead to brain damage or death of the foal. While regularly checking mares throughout the day and night is recommended as they near their due date, it is often a game of minutes versus hours.

Horses have evolved from foaling in the wild and needing to deliver a foal and stand in quick succession to protect themselves and their newborn. By nature, stage 2 of equine labor (water breaks and foal is delivered) happens rapidly and can be explosive. That explosive nature also means that when things go wrong, they go wrong quickly.

“I’d say 80 to 85% of deliveries go routinely, but those 10 to 15% that don’t are why it’s so important for someone knowledgeable to be present.” said Dr. Bob Schwartz, a veterinarian with Midland Acres in Bloomingburg, Ohio. Schwartz and his team foal out more than 200 mares a year. “An experienced attendant will know issues they can deal with themselves, when they need to call a vet and when it’s bad enough that a mare needs to go immediately to the clinic.”

While there are numerous brands and makers of foal alarms on the market today, they can generally be organized into two main categories: externally worn sensors and perineal monitoring systems.

Systems with Externally Worn Sensors

There are several devices on the market that utilize sensors affixed to the head or body of a mare to react to classic presentations in a mare that typically signal birth.

EquiFone/EquiPage, Birth Alarm and Breeders Alert systems, for example, utilize a device affixed to a mare’s halter or to a monitor connected to a girth strap that senses when the mare is in the prone position (i.e. lying flat out on her side–the typical position for labor). The device transmits a signal to either a phone or a pager to alert the person(s) on call that the mare is in foaling position.

Michele Graves of Hickory Hill Farm Thoroughbreds in Fort Edward, New York near Saratoga Springs uses the EquiPage system for her farm, which foals out 25 to 35 mares each year.

“With the EquiPage [system], we know the mare is going into labor before the water breaks [due to being alerted to her movements]. We also use it on the mares in the weeks after they give birth because so much can go wrong then as well,” said Graves. “We use it for other scenarios too, such as horses that have just shipped long distances or those that showed signs of colic during the day because they offer the same presentations when they are colicking that a mare would–the looking at their belly, getting up and down, yawning. You do get some false alarms, but those are worth it to know when a horse is in distress.”

Nightwatch takes this one step further, monitoring a horse’s vital signs and behaviors via sensors embedded in the padded leather crown piece of the halter. Real-time data can be accessed via a Smartphone, tablet or computer and an alert is sent when the system signals a horse in distress due to foaling, colic or being cast.

Perineal Monitoring Systems

Another group of foaling alert systems involve affixing the sensor to the mare’s perineal area or within the vagina.

One popular model is Foalert, in which a transmitter containing a magnet is sutured into the vulva lips one to two weeks prior to a mare’s due date. When the vulva lips are opened due to the foal’s front hooves protruding as delivery begins, the magnet dislodges from the transmitter, activating a signal to alert foaling attendants, either via telephone/pager or by sounding an alarm within close proximity to the transmitter.

“I’ve used the Foalert for years, both on my own mares and on client mares, and I find them very reliable. You don’t get the false alarms you can get with some other system that attach to the halter or girth area when a mare lays down or turns to itch,” said Dr. Joan Tennant, DVM, an equine practitioner based in Ocala, Florida. “I find the alarm goes off when the amniotic fluid bubble is expelled, so you get the alert even in the case of a dystocia that prevents the foal from protruding.”

The Birth Alert system uses a tampon-like sponge that is inserted into the mare’s vagina in the weeks leading up to her due date. When the mare’s water breaks, the device is expelled and the change in temperature activates the device to send a signal to the foaling attendant that the mare is in labor.

The only disadvantage, according to Schwartz, is the possibility of the sponge and sensor being dispelled unintentionally and offering a false-positive.

“I think these systems have a lot of merit for those who don’t have full time attendants through the night,” said Schwartz. “There is less chance of false alarms with these types of systems, but if the foal is breech or otherwise malpositioned, you may not get an alarm.”

For these and similarly invasive systems, a sterile application is key. It is recommended that a veterinarian apply/insert the device to prevent infection or irritation.

Video Monitoring

Closed-circuit video feeds can also play an important role in monitoring mares as they near their due date, especially when used on conjunction with foaling alert systems.

“We’ve used NightWatch for the last six years or so and we also have cameras on all of the mares. The key for us is the audio that goes along with it,” said Braxton Lynch of Royal Oak Farm in Paris, Kentucky. “In my opinion, you can’t beat eyes and ears on a mare prior to foaling.”

There are also smartphone apps available, such as Foal App, which allow users to monitor your mare via video and movement and will alert those whose phones are connected to the app if the mare lays down for a prolonged period.

While technology has afforded the luxury of many types of birth alarms, no device is 100% effective. All birth alarms should be used in conjunction with good horsemanship and monitoring practices, including regularly checking each mare every 30 to 60 minutes when foaling is imminent.

“What works for a large farm probably wouldn’t work well for a small one and vice versa. If a farm with a large number of mares had monitors on each, they’d be getting false positives constantly, but they can afford to have staff on-hand around the clock,” said Graves. “For a smaller operation that can’t afford night staff, foaling alarms are a good solution.”

Added Schwartz, “You can’t watch them 24 hours a day–you have to sleep too–so for smaller operations, foaling alerts can be an important tool to help keep mares and newborn foals out of trouble.”

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Pregnancy Problems: How to Increase Your Chances of Delivering a Healthy Foal

By Jen Roytz

What could be that difficult about breeding? You select a stallion that suits the mare and your goals, breed your mare, then keep her fed and watered for 11 months until you’re rewarded with a healthy foal.

If only it were that simple.

There are many reasons a mare can prove difficult to get into foal, or to stay in foal. It could be as simple function of age. It could be results from a complicated delivery. Or, it could be a multitude of other reasons.

Regardless, now is the time breeders should be paying special attention to preparing their breeding stock for the upcoming season, and for those with known issues there are added safeguards and steps breeders can take she gave themselves and their horses the best chance at a successful pregnancy.

Issues that Can Impact Conception

There are many reasons a horse may have issues getting impregnated, the most basic of which are her age, not breeding her at the appropriate time during her cycle, or poor reproductive health of the mare or stallion.

A typical mare’s ovum, or egg, begins to lose viability within just five to six hours post-ovulation, and typically loses all viability within 24 hours. While a stallion’s semen typically remains viable for 48 hours, a reduced number and quality of a stallion’s semen can limit its viability to just a few hours. Age can negatively impact these timeframes for both sexes.

The mare’s body condition can also play into her chances of becoming pregnant. Most veterinarians recommend mares to rank around a 5 or a 6 on the Henneke Body Condition Score (BCS). When a mare’s weight and overall health decline, so too does their reproductive efficiency.

Outside of age and general health-related issues, endometritis is the most common reason for infertility in mares. This condition, which is an infection or inflammation of the lining of the uterus caused by foreign contaminants such as bacteria or spermatozoa, can either be acute as a result of breeding (both artificial and natural), reproductive examination or as a result of poor conformation.

“There are simple, but important steps one can take to improve the chances of conception, including a physical examination of both the mare and the stallion, a careful and thorough reproductive exam of the mare prior to the breeding season and during the estrous cycle during which breeding is to occur and to optimize the overall health of the horse,” said Kristina Lu, VMD, an equine reproductive specialist with Hagyard Equine Medical Institute.

Early vs. Late Term Pregnancy Loss

Just as there are a number of reasons a mare can be difficult to impregnate, the same can hold true for keeping her in foal. Most pregnancy losses occur in the initial weeks and months of pregnancy.

Again, age can play a role. As mares age, they may experience uterine fibrosis, which can lead to a placenta that is less-efficient in getting nutrition to the growing fetus.

Other causes for early-term pregnancy loss can be unavoidable complications, such as genetic defects or embryonic abnormalities. They can also be due to uterine infections that may have been low-grade and undetectable at the time of breeding/conception but proliferate in the subsequent weeks and months.

Late-term losses can have their own set of culprits.

“Placentitis, umbilical cord torsion, systemic illness can all cause late, and in some cases mid-term abortion in mares,” said Lu. “Diseases such as leptospirosis, equine herpesvirus 1 or 4 and equine viral arteritis are threats to a healthy gestation as well, some of which can spread quickly through a herd and may not generate obvious clinical signs other than abortion.”

Then there are also those mares that have little trouble carrying a foal to term, only to be prone to dystocias (difficulty giving birth), which can be caused by congenital abnormalities, such as contracted limbs that prevent the foal from properly fitting through the birth canal. This, in turn, can lead to oxygen deprivation in foals.

Safeguards to Protect Both Mare and Foal

While some complications are simply unavoidable, there are safeguards and protocols that can be implemented to support the gestation and delivery of a healthy foal.

“Some simple things horsemen and women can do to protect their mares and future foals are to maintain good general health of a mare, conduct thorough reproductive examinations, monitor the mare’s reproductive tract before and after breeding, ensure regular core vaccinations, consider screening for placentitis if the mare has a previous history and consider vaccinating for herpes or leptospirosis if appropriate,” said Lu. “Breeding as close to ovulation as possible can also be of benefit. On the other hand, repeated breeding during an estrous cycle (average 21 days) may increase opportunity for endometritis in some mares.”

Above all else, staying in regular communication with your veterinarian is one of the best forms of protection one can afford their mares.

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