A Horse Racing Family’s Perspective on “Breakdown”

A former professional female jockey from a horse racing family responds to The New York Times BREAKDOWN series. 

Raina and her ex-racehorse, Bahamut / ©Edgar Paucar

The recent articles in The New York Times series: BREAKDOWN Death and disarray at America’s racetracks is highly disturbing to many people who have read them.

I will be the first to say there are many topics of concern within the horse racing industry and that the industry is in need of serious reform and regulation. What is missing from BREAKDOWN series is what lies beneath–– the perspective of an insider whose living depends on Thoroughbred horse racing. There are countless individuals who work on the track and depend on racing for their livelihood; hot walkers, grooms, exercise riders and others who work on the backside.

As someone who loves horses and is also active in the business of Thoroughbred horse racing, I have an insider’s view on the issues affecting the industry, but don’t necessarily have the power to enact change through regulations.

My intention in writing this is let people know that there are good people in Thoroughbred horse racing who care about horses and helping others. Unfortunately, there are people, like people that were written about in The New York Times article, who are the worst of the lot. They don’t deserve to be called horsemen.

The Horse Racing Family’s Perspective

I’m a retired professional Thoroughbred jockey and my husband is also a jockey who currently races in Ohio. Our finances are tied into the racing industry. Much of what happens in terms of rules and regulations within the industry is never decided by us. Even though we may not agree with or want to protest an issue, it’s not really an option.

I have seen so many comments in regards to, “Why don’t they (jockeys, trainers, owners) stand together and protest.” Well, the truth is not everyone is unified. Even so, if a rider decides to “sit-out” for a few races in protest, another jockey, one who might be struggling to support his or her family, will take your place without hesitation. And in Ohio the purses are threadbare to begin with.

There is another repercussion; severe punishment in terms of fines or being ‘ruled off,’ by racing officials for unionizing and refusing to ride in races.

My life is in limbo right now, as are the lives of many other horsemen. Our home track is moving in the near future, for the development of a possible racino. Of course, horsemen are the last to know about the decisions and development of the racetrack. So we have to wait and rely on publications to find information on what the plans are for the racetrack. We have family here and a mortgage. As most of you are aware, the housing market is sluggish. So, we have to wait to figure out what our next move will be.

Some Necessary Horse Racing Regulations & Changes

Do we really need to race Thoroughbreds at 2-years-old? Why? Most horses aren’t finished developing until they are 5-years-old. I’m not saying owners and trainers should wait that long, but why not wait until they are at least 3-years-old?

Another issue that should be regulated is breeding. Although according to The Jockey Club statistics the numbers are down from last year, this issue needs more attention.

There are many organizations out there trying to support these unwanted ex-racehorses. Many are on the brink of financial ruin. It’s true that there are more breeders, trainers and owners showing financial support, but not enough.

The current economy has stagnant wages for the average worker, if they can even find suitable employment, and the cost of living continues to rise. People are having a difficult time feeding themselves, and many can’t afford the added expense of a horse.

Some trainers are having difficulty feeding their horses. With feed and hay costs rising and purses remaining the same or reduced even further, it’s no wonder horses and trainers live in dire straights, especially at the bottom claiming levels.

My question to the big corporations that run these very profitable racetracks that make many millions of dollars is–– why aren’t you increasing purses or offering more support to the horsemen who are floundering within your establishment?

So where do these horses that can’t be placed end up? Slaughter houses. Here is some research on how many U.S. horses go to slaughter. Please note, these are not entirely ex-racehorses.

Medications and drugs need serious and immediate reform. I don’t even understand why this is an issue. Stop drugging horses. Certain medications are necessary, but not when it teeters on the finite line of abuse.

Jockey Edgar Paucar with his OTTB (off-the-track-Thoroughbred), Bahamut / ©Raina Paucar

The Future of Horse Racing

Those are some of my opinions of topics warranting change. These are highly controversial subjects within the horse racing industry and now outside of the industry as well. Maybe this New York Times series is necessary for some real intervention to happen within the horse racing industry.

I’d like more owners and breeders to contribute to benefitting the horses well-being during their racing career and most importantly providing more options for care after their racing careers end. These horses were bred to run, and they all do to the best of their ability. Some will have profitable careers, but far more will continue to fall in class until they are out of condition or break down.

Instead of making horse racing about as appealing as grime under dirty fingernails, why not approach those in the industry who want to make it better? There so many beautiful stories within horse racing, too.

Many horse racing publications only feature top news from top tracks. In other words, only top horses, jockeys, trainers and owners. They are a small percentage compared to horse racing in its entirety. More could be done to include everyone from the industry and not just the elite. It would prove beneficial to everyone involved.

My husband and I are doing our part. We have our own ex-racehorse that we adopted. We couldn’t be happier to have added him to our family. I currently write about ex-racehorse adoption to encourage more people to consider adopting an OTTB (off-the-track-Thoroughbred).

Of course, the bottom line to all of this is profit, making money. What’s missing is compassion and integrity for horses and the backside employees of the racetrack.

If the focus were on the enjoyment of the “Sport of Kings” and less about profits and how soon can we retire and breed this Graded Stakes winner, horse racing wouldn’t have the reputation it now carries.

As everyone continues to read, hear and see more about the horse racing industry, please keep in mind the working families. I am doing what I can to help ex-racehorses, and I am a part of the horse racing business. We are doing what we love and risking our lives for a sport we love so much. Changes are needed. I hope they come soon.

Here are some sites for further reading:

The New York Times Horse Racing Blog


The Atlantic

USA Today

The Chaplain of Beulah Park

About the Author: Raina Paucar is an adventure loving equestrian and retired female jockey. She likes to ride and compete in many disciplines, explore new places, read great books, gadget hoard, play games, take pictures and write. She currently exercises racehorses and works with her own off-the-track-Thoroughbred (OTTB). Her career in media focuses on equestrian lifestyle. You can add her to your Google+ circles, subscribe on Facebook and follow on Twitter.