A racehorse owner can easily lose track of where the animal goes after it is claimed or sold. As a result, he or she may find out too late that the horse went to a slaughterhouse.

Classic stakes winners Exceller and Ferdinand would undoubtedly have been saved from such a ghastly destiny had someone who cared known what was planned for them. Likewise, some and perhaps many appreciative former owners of the lowest-level claiming horses would also retrieve their charges under similar circumstances.

Inexpensive identification and tracking technology, coupled with economic incentives, now offers a small step forward in addressing the slaughter albatross.

Animal shelters across the United States are successfully using radio-frequency identification–or RFID. A Florida man recently was reunited with his dog two years after it had been stolen. Animal control officers brought the dog into the St. Lucie County Humane Society, which routinely scanned the canine’s microchip and identified the owner and his contact information. This particular humane society charges $25 for implanting a chip under a dog or cat’s skin between the shoulder blades.

The Jockey Club is offering microchips to racehorse owners for $10. This technology has the potential to make recovering horses at the end of their racing careers more feasible than ever. To illustrate, The Jockey Club could expand this nascent identification technique beyond its primary purpose by inexpensively establishing a rescue database for current or former owners, or anyone else, to register horses. A horse’s identification information (the electronic data as well as the lip tattoo number) would be open for all to see online—rescue organizations, animal shelters, and most of all the individuals and institutions in the slaughterhouse supply chain—and would be readily searchable.

Besides a transparent and accessible registration system, the other necessary component for a viable rescue modus operandi is an economic incentive to search the registry. A mercenary about to sell a horse for slaughter is not going to cooperate unless there is a compelling monetary enticement to do so. A racehorse rescue registry would need to widely publicize the following kind of standing offer: A person who has listed a horse with the registry offers to pay the prevailing slaughterhouse price for the animal, plus, say, $200. This proposition means that slaughterhouse buyers will always be outbid. Once a killer-dealer contacts the registry or the horse’s benefactor to accept, the benefactor would arrange for the animal to be retrieved or, if necessary, humanely euthanized by a veterinarian.

No single initiative is by itself sufficient to dramatically reduce the incidence of racehorse slaughter. The proposed registry would not be a huge source of relief, at least not initially, and it would take time to get the system up and running, as well as properly publicized. The concept would have a chance at working in practice only if enough owners registered their animals, agreed to tender a life-saving bounty, and stuck with their pledge.

Copyright © 2011 Horse Racing Business

Originally published in the Blood-Horse. Used with permission.