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The Retired Racehorse Project: Creating a Demand

In 2010, Steuart Pittman and a small group of Thoroughbred enthusiasts formed the Retired Racehorse Project (RRP) to meet the growing demand for Thoroughbred advocates and educators. Their mission is to facilitate the placement of Thoroughbreds in second careers by increasing demand in the marketplace and serving the farms, organizations, and trainers who care for them.

The Retired Racehorse Project is unique. Pittman describes, “The thing that distinguishes us from most aftercare organizations is that we serve not only the nonprofit organizations doing this work but also the private farms and trainers that provide the education that make these horses wanted.” Instead of working with one area of Thoroughbred aftercare, RRP seeks to connect all parts of the complex system. Its Resource Directory offers advice to racing owners who want to place or sell horses and buyers shopping for Thoroughbreds. It describes the services offered by 300 farms and organizations.

Although the Retired Racehorse Project has hefty goals, it has already made significant strides towards them. Pittman shares their strategy: “We showcase the training process to educate people on how to do it well with competitions, sessions at major horse expos, online articles and videos.” The launch of Off-Track Thoroughbred Magazine this fall puts that education out in a form that, in Pittman’s words, “Is sexy, accessible, and coveted.” The magazine is being published by Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association’s The Horse Media Group.

The intended audience for RRP is horse owners in America who will be buying a horse in the next few years. The focus of the organization is education and promotion. RRP has effectively reached every sector of the riding horse industry through its media partnerships, social media, web services, and events. Pittman says, “The breed organizations for Thoroughbreds focus on racing; there hasn’t been an organization to promote Thoroughbreds in other sports. That’s why we do this.”

As RRP continues to grow, funding is a limiting factor. Pittman elaborates, “Most funders want their money to directly subsidize the care of horses. Our funds are used to promote a market-based solution that looks more like economic development and job creation than social welfare. Most of us agree that both are needed.”

From the beginning, however, TCA has played an integral role in the success of the Retired Racehorse Project. Pittman declares, “Without your help, we wouldn’t have gotten off the ground.” RRP appreciates the dedication and knowledge of TCA’s board and staff. “To me the wonderful thing about TCA is that its board is made up of people who understand this industry, and they are on the cutting edge of new ways to serve horses. They know what works.”

This October, RRP is organizing the TCA Thoroughbred Makeover. 200 Thoroughbreds will be competing in 10 riding disciplines for $100,000 in prize money. At the beginning of this year, these horses only knew how to race. Now, due to the hard work of their professional, amateur, and junior trainers, their futures are secure. Pittman says, “This event is for everyone, whether they train for second careers, own racehorses, are shopping for a horse, or just love Thoroughbreds. The ten seminars, the ten competitions, the 70 vendors, the demos, and especially the Sunday afternoon finale will blow you away. This will be both entertainment and inspiration.”

The intent behind the TCA Thoroughbred Makeover and other RRP events is to show how versatile and trainable retired Thoroughbreds are. The organization wants to promote a positive public image for the racing industry. Pittman explains that RRP is trying to promote Thoroughbreds as sound, trained athletes instead of rescues in need of saving. He says, “People who read our articles and attend our expos learn that horse racing is probably the place in the world where horses are best taken care of.”

The work that RRP does is paying off. “People are seeing how much fun it is to train an ex-racehorse for a second career through the makeover.” Pittman believes that off-track Thoroughbreds are excellent horses for people wanting to get into the training business; they are sensitive and intelligent animals with good basic training from racing.

Today, over 118,000 people follow the Retired Racehorse Project on Facebook, and thousands come into contact with RRP at events such as the TCA Makeover. Pittman is proud of this network and says, “The best measure of our success is the numbers of people reached by our message. Shifting thinking within the equestrian world is a numbers game. It takes the right story being told to the right number of people.”

Going forward, the Retired Racehorse Project will continue to grow. Specifically, RRP plans to continue educating at major horse expos, build the membership base that receives its new magazine, distribute its Resource Directory throughout the racing and riding worlds, maintain its online educational products, and make the TCA Thoroughbred Makeover an annual event at Kentucky Horse Park,. Pittman says, “We think that after six years of listening and experimentation we’ve found the right formula with the Makeover. Check in the day after the event, but we believe that the level of enthusiasm for this work and for off-track Thoroughbreds will be through the roof.”