On any given day on the backside of tracks across the U.S. you’ll find owners, trainers, jockeys, backstretch workers and, increasingly, volunteers with the Communication Alliance to Network Thoroughbred Ex-Racers (CANTER). Founded in 1997 as a solution to help retiring racehorses find new homes, CANTER’s services have become a welcome resource on the track.
“We’ve got to make it easy,” said Nancy Koch, executive director of CANTER USA. “Owners and trainers make decisions about their horses every day, every hour, every minute; we have to give them an easy solution when those decisions are made.”
CANTER volunteers can be found on the backside of 20 racetracks across the country speaking with owners and trainers about Thoroughbred retirement options available to them. Importantly, many CANTER representatives are horsemen; Koch herself was an exercise rider for trainer Del Carroll and is now an event rider. “Since our focus is on assisting Thoroughbreds currently in race training we need to speak the language and, in fact, most of our volunteers are licensed to be on the backside,” said Koch.
CANTER operates 13 affiliates throughout the country; each organized as its own entity. Each affiliate operates as what is referred to as Phase I or Phase II. Phase I CANTER affiliates operate exclusively as a listing service offering free online postings of Thoroughbreds available for adoption directly from the racetrack(s) within the affiliate’s coverage area. CANTER does not take possession of the listed horses but instead acts as a conduit to connect buyers and sellers. Horses listed via the service must be priced less than the lowest claiming price at the track at which they reside. Currently, CANTER Pennsylvania, Texas, and, the newest affiliate, Washington, are Phase I. Interestingly, CANTER Washington is the first affiliate that was created at the request of a racetrack (Emerald Downs). To date, CANTER’s listing service has resulted in the rehoming of over 20,000 Thoroughbreds.
Phase II CANTER affiliates also operate an online listing service however, additionally, some Thoroughbreds are offered direct rehabilitation, retraining and rehoming services at CANTER’s contracted boarding facilities. Nationwide, an average of 150 Thoroughbreds are cared for by Phase II affiliates. Over the last 17 years, approximately 2,800 Thoroughbreds have been rehomed directly from affiliates. Phase II affiliates are located in Arizona, California, Colorado, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan, the Mid-Atlantic area, Minnesota, New England and Ohio.
Upon arrival at a CANTER facility a Thoroughbred can expect to be evaluated and rehabilitated. The CANTER Midwest chapters work with Michigan State University to help injured horses return to soundness by providing surgical services. Many are given a few months of rest. When they are ready, the horses are entered into a basic retraining program before being offered for adoption. Koch explains that CANTER’s Thoroughbreds residing at private boarding facilities are often a good option for those potential adopters that are not comfortable going to the track.
As the national entity CANTER USA does not manage a listing service or care for horses but rather acts as an overseer for the network of affiliates. In a relationship akin to a franchisor/franchisee, CANTER USA provides new affiliates with a framework for operations including standard operating policies and procedures, suggested governance structure, financial considerations, adoption policies and general organizational guidance. “CANTER USA is here to assist but doesn’t dictate,” shared Koch. Additionally, one board member from CANTER USA is appointed to the board of each new affiliate. The national branch is also tasked with providing web support for all affiliates, as well as offering advisory services for existing affiliates.
Koch is also quick to acknowledge the tremendous amount of work undertaken by the executive directors and representatives of the affiliates stating that “they are the boots to the ground and a key element to success.”
CANTER’s success can be defined by the expanding number of affiliates and the large number of Thoroughbreds rehomed, however, Koch cites one of CANTER’s biggest successes to be the “knocking down of the invisible barrier between the backside and the sport horse world. Thoroughbreds are highly coveted in eventing, specifically, so we need to make them available to people that want them.”
On a personal level, Koch finds great satisfaction in helping not only the horses but the people in racing. “It is rewarding to know that the majority of race owners and trainers truly care about their horses, and when you are able to assist them it is gratifying. I also enjoy the notion of the rehabilitation process – knowing that we have fixed something that may have been perceived as broken. The knowledge you gain from this process makes you a better horsemen and a better person.”
TCA’s grants directly assist with the rehabilitation, retraining and rehoming efforts of the Thoroughbreds in the care of CANTER. According to Koch, “most affiliates have waiting lists and with more funding we will take in more Thoroughbreds. We can always find a stall.”