Tuesday, February 2, 2010

A Mare's Worth

The auctioneer quickly said " $ 1,000, $1,000" over and over again and over and over again I would look up at the large plasma TV screens at the Barrett's January sale and see $ 900 posted as the opening price. $ 900 meant no sale, another pregnant mare that didn't meet the minimum price. Another mare (two actually went through the ring with their foals born just days earlier), with a foal inside of her unwanted. Both born and unborn, deemed not worth the $ 1,000. needed to conclude a sale. Now I know that is probably harsh to say but that was my impression attending my first sale of mares and yearlings.
I had been told to avoid this sale. "It will break your heart Sharla", said my friend Teresa who in years past had come home with some of them, she knew no one would want. The economy has certainly dictated the price of reproduction. The breeders are feeling it, the market is feeling it and California in particular seems to be losing out.
But my thought as I sat on the rail for hour and hour was "what will happen tomorrow to these girls?" Who will care what happens to them? Do they go back to the consignor to find them a home or are they off to another sale? Is an offer outside of the minimum going to come, or will someone come up after hours and offer to take them for free?. The peril that they can find themselves in, stayed with me for several days.
I was contacted by two owners and a consignor to find homes for a yearling and five mares (three were in foal) while on the premises. Within half an hour, I had spoken to my foster in Valley Center that also breeds race horses and asked if she would take the yearling colt in for me. The answer to my surprise was "yes, sure the more the merrier". But by the time I had called back the owner, he said he had just signed the release for him. On one hand I was happy, I really wasn't in the position to take him on, but at the same time, wondered who had taken him. What would happen to him?. He is only a hip number, his name hasn't been registered with the Jockey Club, there is no way to track him that I am aware of. And more importantly, why does that matter so much to me?.
The mares too all found homes before the sun had set on Tuesday. I was surprised and a bit dumbfounded that the mares were placed so quickly, when no one offered even $ 1,000 for them in the ring. I don't want to believe that anything untoward would happen to them. I know one the consignors personally, and know how much they care and how hard they work to track their own breeding/racing stock. I heard her wistfully say " I hope I found them good homes". Time isn't on the side of these mares during the aftermath of a poor sale. At least that was the feeling I left with. In fact I left early because I sensed that I would be burdened with finding even more homes. In fact a prominent trainer said "Hey Sharla, how many horses have you been given"?
I went home that night and realized that in this economy there is an under served market in rescue/retirement for broodmares. I am aware of Our Mims in Ohio, and one in California that is trying to re-open, but pretty much beyond those two that came to mind, who takes in these mares as their mission statement?
While at the sale I heard the people giving their opinions on the different mares being offered; "I won't buy a mare that hasn't earned $ 100,000 on track", " I won't buy a mare after her third or fourth foal-- the womb isn't as strong", " I wouldn't buy a mare from that line ever", " It never makes sense to buy a mare who is going to deliver late in Spring, means I don't have time to cover her and she would be open for a year". On and On....I know it's a business, and I understand pre-conceived ideas in purchasing your mares, but it seemed that many where already off the radar hearing the comments around me before entering the ring.
The yearlings fair somewhat better, those that do not sell. An owner, farm or consignor can take them back, turn them out in the paddock allow them to continue to grow and develop and try again. But the mares, the dear mares, the ones that like all women everywhere are needed to perpetuate "the race", are tossed aside, devalued and left alone. So sad.
The Second Race will find a way to help some of these mares out next year and every year hereafter. I will have a trailer, stalls and future homes for the mares and yearlings that I know will become available before I arrive. It's the only way I know of to help those that won't meet the reserves, won't measure up and won't be wanted after the auctioneer says "$ 1,000"?


  1. This is so timely, and so tough right now.

    I've always been thankful for the minimum bid at Thoroughbred sales, because it keeps the riff-raff out - I think. I've bought mares at minimum bid before. Some I've turned into riding horses, some I've kept as broodmares. We thought of going to OBS January just to take in the sale, but we were afraid we'd end up taking something home for minimum bid or, worse, buying something off the no-bid list (yes, I have been known to do that too.)

    We were recently discussing what our broodmare band would look like in five years. The most important point we decided upon is that no one - no one! - will get the usual treatment: get them in foal and send them through the sale. We'll keep them retired with as long as is practical - you have to use the term "practical" when you're running a business - and give them a peaceful end. I am proud and excited when my babies are sold and go on to their careers. But my mares - oh no.

    Frankly, I wish more people would consider euthanasia for the older or unsound broodmares that they do not want/cannot keep. They can't all be turned into riding horses. And then, for less than the cost of the sale, in many cases, you wouldn't have that worry about the road you sent your mare down. Or feel any guilt at all - just that you did your best and gave her a good life.

  2. Older retired broodmares really break my heart. It took us forever to find a home for one that came into our program - late teens, had had eight foals plus an unsuccessful pregnancy. She had been part of the broodmare band at one of the larger and more successful race farms in the state before being purchased by the person who eventually donated her.

    Sweetest thing on four legs, but not the easiest to ride. She was as green as the typical four year old but with the creaky body of the older broodmare.

    She got extremely lucky and we found the most amazing home for her (she probably lives better than I do now! heated stall and twice daily grooming!!!!) but it made me sad about the overall picture for the rest of the broodmares. So many are in the same position - those who would like an older horse are typically looking for something well trained, but many broodmares only have limited riding training. The people with the ability to do the training or ride such horses are looking for something younger, typically.

    It's definitely cemented in my mind that if I ever have the opportunity to have my own place I would like to give a home to a broodmare.

    In the meantime, I agree with rrhb, more people need to be aware of the old broodmare's prospects and at least accord her some dignity. Even a low level broodmare may have contributed six figures to the racing industry between offspring sales prices and winnings - they deserve to be given some respect and a fair, peaceful end if they can't find homes.


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