Watching the Wheels: Supporting Aftercare

by Mike Tanner, USTA Executive Vice President and CEO

USTA directors overwhelmingly vote for fee increase to fund Standardbred Transition Alliance

You would be forgiven if you were of the impression that the only thing discussed at the USTA Board of Directors meeting in March was whether to make freeze brands mandatory or to keep them as an option. An active, well publicized online campaign advocating for the former seemed to catch the interest of anyone who was paying attention to the sport, and the subsequent debate was engaging and spirited.

As Hoof Beats reported in its April edition, the board elected to stand pat, and many breeding farms and trainers subsequently contacted the association to make sure that their horses would, indeed, receive the additional form of identification.

Flying under the radar, however, was another policy enacted by the board that will make an immediate and profound impact upon Standardbred aftercare. In a vote overwhelmingly approved by the directors, it was decided that the fee on all transfers would be raised by $5, with that additional amount per transfer earmarked to support the efforts of the Standardbred Transition Alliance (STA). Last year, the USTA processed 23,313 transfers, which would have converted to $116,565 in funding for the STA.

Led by President David Reid and Administrator Jennifer Daniels, the STA is dedicated to raising money for the care, retraining and rehoming of racehorses once they leave the racetrack, and then disbursing those funds to inspected and accredited 501(c)(3) Standardbred aftercare organizations. That last part is crucial, because in a field that is largely unregulated, it is imperative that donors have confidence that their money is being put to its highest and best purpose.

To that end, the accreditation process is deliberately comprehensive and demanding. Each organization requesting support from the STA must submit to a third-party audit to ascertain that the group has met or exceeded the highest requirements in the following areas:

  • financial stability and operational transparency;
  • qualified and experienced horsepersons to attend to each horse’s needs;
  • well developed screening policies to ensure proper placement of horses;
  • a lifelong safety net for every horse should further transitioning be needed; and
  • the consistently professional and positive representation of themselves and the harness racing industry.

From a donor’s standpoint, the STA provides peace of mind that contributions are being securely distributed and have an active follow-up in place. This provides a level of grant management that the ordinary donor would not have on their own.

So far this year, five aftercare organizations have received and accepted an offer of accreditation: New Vocations Racehorse Adoption Program, Sunshine Horses (New York), Future For Standardbreds (Maine), Purple Haze Standardbred Adoption Program (New York) and This Old Horse (Minnesota).

The STA and the organizations it accredits are deserving of your support, and, if you transfer a horse at any point in the coming years, you will be doing just that.

I would be remiss if I did not reiterate the USTA’s active support on Capitol Hill of the SAFE Act, which would—and I’ll quote directly from the proposed legislation here—“amend the Horse Protection Act to prohibit the shipping, transporting, moving, delivering, receiving, possessing, purchasing, selling, or donation of horses and other equines to be slaughtered for human consumption.” I’ve taken dozens of meetings in the past few months with Congressional offices to let them know of the USTA’s position and why we think the bill should become law.

Horse slaughter in the United States effectively was ended in 2017 when the U.S. Department of Agriculture removed the funding for inspectors needed to keep the slaughterhouses open. Unfortunately, this didn’t end the practice, and led to horses being loaded into trailers, often in deplorable and inhumane conditions, for transport across the border into Canada or Mexico, where the practice is not illegal. It also led to the rise of a cottage industry of “kill buyers” who buy distressed horses at auction for bargain prices, then contact previous owners and offer these horses back to them, often at markups that approach 200-300 percent under the threat that if these prices are not met, the horses will be sent to processing plants.

I could write an entire column about how wrong this cottage industry of “kill buyers” is on both emotional and financial levels, and maybe at some point I will, but suffice it to say that there’s a strong case to be made that this practice hurts more horses than it helps. And even knowing that, I also would pay the price in a heartbeat if I was ever contacted in that manner regarding a horse I once owned. That still doesn’t make it right.

The SAFE Act isn’t perfect. Its wording is overly broad and specifies no enforcement or penalty details. But it’s a big step forward from where we are and is the right thing to do.

We’ll keep beating the drum in Washington, D.C.

Mike Tanner

The views contained in this column are those of the author alone, and do not necessarily represent the opinions or views of the United States Trotting Association. To comment on this column, email us at


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