Thoroughly troubled Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, April 2011:
Saratoga Springs, N.Y.–The Thoroughbred
Retirement Foundation “has been so slow or
delinquent in paying for the upkeep of the more
than 1,000 horses under its care that scores have
wound up starved and neglected, some fatally,”
charged New York Times horse racing writer Joe
Drape on March 18 2011.

Founded by New Jersey advertising
executive Monique Koehler in 1983 to supervise a
retired race horse rehabilitation program at the
Wallkill Correctional Facility in upstate New
York, TRF is headquarted near the Saratoga
Raceway in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., which
annually hosts the Belmont Stakes, the climactic
leg of the horse racing Triple Crown series. TRF
donors and board members include some of the
biggest names in thoroughbred racing, but TRF
has no official connection with the governing
bodies of racing and breeding, and has often
been at odds with much of the horse racing world
over leadership criticisms of speculative
breeding and selling horses to slaughter.
The prison program proved successful,
and was gradually extended to prisons in Florida,
Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, South Carolina, and
Virginia. The prison programs have helped TRF to
place more than 650 rehabilitated thoroughbreds
in adoptive homes–but many retired race horses
are retired because they have suffered injuries
on that preclude use for recreational riding.
Board members and family of board members took in
some of the more problematic horses, but
eventually TRF established an ever-widening
network of private subcontractors to board horses
in greater numbers.
In 2001 the estate of banking magnate
Paul Mellon endowed TRF with $5 million, and
later added another $2 million to the endowment.
The son of former U.S. Treasury Secretary Andrew
W. Mellon, Paul Mellon was one of the leading
art philanthropists in the U.S. throughout his
life (1907-1999), and from 1948 to his death
owned Rokeby Stables, one of the most successful
U.S. thoroughbred breeding operations.
The Mellon endowment enabled TRF to
increase the number of horses in care from 300 in
2001 to more than 1,250 in 2005. At peak TRF
boarded horses at 32 locations. Altogether it
has served more than 3,000 horses.
The rapid expansion brought immediate
results. A decade ago about 6,000 former race
horses per year were sold to slaughter,
according to industry estimates. This has been
reduced, then-TRF executive director Diana
Pikulski told Janet Patton of the Lexington
Herald-Leader in May 2010, to about 1,500 per
year, who “come off the track, need a place to
go, and end up going into a livestock auction.”
Finished Patton, “For them, the next
stop often is a slaughterhouse in Canada or
But by 2007 TRF had become overextended,
recalled racing journalist Ray Paulick, editor
of The Paulick Report.
“A half-dozen or more members of the
TRF’s board of directors quit. One was thrown
off,” wrote Paulick. “Ex-board members were
poisoning the organization through calls to the
news media undermining remaining board members
and management. I reached out to TRF founder
Monique Koehler to see if there was anything I
could do to help. I was elected to the TRF board
of directors,” Paulick acknowledged.
“Most businesses with excessive inventory
would look for ways to reduce that inventory,”
Paulick said, “but while thoroughbreds may be
dispensable to many owners and breeders, they are
not to TRF. Whether it was wise for the TRF
board and management to admit so many horses into
the program, we were and are responsible for
TRF appeared for a time to have
stabilized, with the help of a $500,000 loan
from the Mellon trust. Donations dipped from
$1.7 million in 2007 to $1.65 million in 2008,
but rose to $1.8 million in 2009. Investment
revenue, chiefly from the Mellon endowment,
generated $750,000 in 2007, and $719,000 in
2008. But then the 2008-2009 national economic
collapse cut investment income to just $60,000 in
TRF assets fell from $9.1 million to $7.1
million, of which $7 million was the permanently
restricted Mellon endowment. According to the
terms of the endowment, only 5% of it may be
used in any one year. Program service expense
meanwhile edged up from $2.5 million to $2.6
Pikulski, who is still raising funds for
TRF but stepped down as executive director, was
paid $81,907 in 2007, and $95,000 in 2008. Her
pay was not increased in 2009. The total TRF
administrative payroll was cut by 40%, from
$555,797 in 2008 to just $341,320 in 2009. TRF
nonethelss ran deficits of $432,000 in 2008 and
$2.2 million in 2009.
“As a result,” Drape alleged, TRF “has
not reliably paid the 25 farms it [now] contracts
with. For example, at the 4-H Farm in Oklahoma,
inspectors last month could find only 47 of the
63 retired horses that had been assigned to it.
Many were starving. The rest had died, probably
of neglect, inspectors concluded. At a Kentucky
farm that is also supposed to receive money from
the foundation, 34 horses were found in ‘poor’
or ’emaciated’ condition. One horse had to be
euthanized because of malnutrition.”
Funder investigated
Hearing complaints from some of the horse
caretakers, the Mellon estate in December 2010
hired veterinarian Stacey Huntington, of
Springfield, Missouri, to evaluate the TRF
herd. By mid-March 2011, Drape wrote,
Huntington, “along with a local veterinarian in
each location,” had examined “more than 700
horses.” Huntington’s findings, Drape said,
“moved the estate’s trustees to send the farms
money for things as basic as food. She found
that some 25% of the horses have required some
kind of urgent care, which the Mellon estate has
provided, costing it ‘tens of thousands’ of
dollars,” according to Mellon trustee Ted Terry.
“Inability to pay the agreed costs for
the care of horses severed a number of
relationships with farms,” Drape continued,
“including Claybank Farm in Lexington, Kentucky,
which cared for up to 80 horses. Interviews with
farm owners, as well as e-mail correspondence
they provided, showed the foundation was aware
of its deepening financial straits–occasionally
taking horses from farms where they had been well
cared for and placing them elsewhere on the
In September 2010, Drape charged, “TRF
owed Out2Pasture Farms in Jamestown, Missouri
more than $43,000.” When owners Zachary and
Robin Hurst-March pressed for payment, Draper
said, “TRF eventually removed 13 horses.” When
Gayle England, of Stroud, Oklahoma “complained
not only of the chronic slow pay but about the
general lack of regard for the farms and the
horses,” Drape said, “26 TRF horses were taken
from her.
“Last month some of the horses in the
worst shape were taken from other foundation
farms,” Drape added, “and were returned to the
Hurst-Marsh farm and Ms. England.
“Beam Us Up, bred by Richard Santulli,
the former chief executive of NetJets, was
recently removed from one of the contract farms
because of neglect. Santulli’s wife Peggy, is on
the TRF board,” Drape continued.
“At the 4-H Farm in Okmulgee, Oklahoma,”
Drape wrote, “owners Alan and Janice Hudgins
would not let Huntington onto their property to
inspect the TRF horses until the foundation gave
them $20,000, a partial payment of what was owed
them for taking care of 63 horses since 2005.
They also forced the foundation to sign a pledge
not to prosecute them for the condition of the
horses. When the horses were released, the 47
survivors were in such poor condition that
Huntington filed a report with the Okmulgee
County sheriff’s office. Her report included
photographs of the malnourished horses, three of
them considered starving. Nearly all of them
needed urgent care.”
Responded TRF board chair Tom Ludt,
“T.J. Loafman, who is an independent
veterinarian, supervised the load and unload of
the 4-H Farm herd and disputes the allegations in
the story.”
Added TRF board member Patty Hogan, DVM,
in support of Ludt, “TRF had been trying to gain
access to that ranch for weeks and was
continuously denied–even showing up and the
gates being locked. The reason why an ‘intent
not to prosecute’ was signed was to allow us to
have the cooperation of the ranch owner and get
onto the premises as soon as possible. If we
went through legal avenues at a snail’s pace, we
would have wasted precious time and resources,
rather than having the chance to immediately
retrieve our horses and move them to another
location. This also allowed us to send in a team
of horsemen and a veterinarian to the ranch after
we removed our horses, in order to personally
inspect all 4,000 acres and be sure there were no
horses left behind or unaccounted for. We were
advised by the sheriff’s department to proceed in
this manner.”
Ludt said TRF took Huntington’s
allegations, “very seriously,” but “TRF told its
farms to prohibit Huntington or any other
unauthorized veterinarian from inspecting its
horses unless the veterinarian is a farm’s
regular veterinarian,” Drape reported a day
after his first exposé appeared.
“There were serious questions about her
objectivity,” TRF president George Grayson said.
“We want the vet inspections to continue, and
we are putting together a list of the many
qualified vets available.” Grayson reportedly
ascended from the TRF board to the presidency in
January 2011, after the previous president
“While we cannot comment on potential or
ongoing matters before our office, we take these
complaints seriously and will review them,” the
New York Charities Bureau spokesperson Lauren
Passalacqua told Drape.
Ludt argued that TRF had already taken
appropriate measures “in advance of publication
of the New York Times article,” he posted to the
TRF web site. Ludt cited “daily communications
with staff by TRF officers, and, at minimum,
weekly executive committee meetings.” Ludt also
promised “more aggressive oversight by the herd
management committee, chaired by prominent New
York [horse] owner John Moore,” one of three TRF
board members who have loaned TRF a total of at
least $345,000 to help make ends meet.
TRF board veterinary member Hogan now
chairs a newly created veterinary liaison
committee, Ludt said, “working to get
commitments from regional veterinary clinics for
free or discounted services to all horse
retirement organizations.” Ludt also mentioned
“improved financial reporting and controls,
which have been in effect for more than a year,”
he said, “and have led to a more stable
financial outlook for TRF.”
But, wrote Paulick in The Paulick
Report, “In recent months, the executors of the
Mellon endowment have refused to meet with the
TRF executive committee to discuss financial
issues, have withheld funds from TRF, and
directed the TRF board to make decisions that
went beyond what I understood the realm of their
authority to be, including personnel matters. It
was confounding to me, and I came to the
conclusion that the Mellon trustees seemed to
have a death wish for the TRF. So almost exactly
four years after the TRF’s internal problems came
to my attention, the organization faces exactly
the same challenges: too many horses, not
enough money, and not enough people willing to
act on behalf of retired racehorses.”

ASPCA funding

Meanwhile, TRF “was told last week that
it was losing funding from the American SPCA,”
reported Drape on March 20, 2011.
In March 2010 the ASPCA granted $175,000
to TRF as part of the Million Dollar Rescuing
Racers Initiative-“a major initiative made
possible by a generous donor,” the ASPCA
announced, “that will aid in the rescue of
retired racehorses from neglect, abuse, and
slaughter. Six equine rescues and sanctuaries
across the country were selected to take up the
challenge of saving more thoroughbreds than ever
Wrote Drape, “Jacque Schultz, senior
director of the ASPCA Equine Fund, said the
foundation was told that to be considered for
another $175,000, it had to obtain accreditation
from the Global Federation of Animal
Sanctuaries.” TRF requested GFAS application
materials, ANIMAL PEOPLE learned, but never
followed up.
TRF continues to receive $100,000 a year
from the Jockey Club, from a voluntary checkoff
donation to race horse retirement made by
breeders when they register thoroughbred foals.
The Jockey Club checkoff fund also gives $100,000
a year to Thoroughbred Charities of America, a
similar but unrelated project based in
Middletown, Delaware. The TCA web site
acknowledges that it “is the charitable arm of
the Thoroughbred Owners & Breeders Association.”
Despite the stresses of recent years,
and philosophical conflicts with some
thoroughbred owners and breeders, TRF has
enjoyed a stellar reputation in elite racing
Jan du Pont, whose thoroughbred Kelso
was a five-time Horse of the Year, dispersed her
Hexonia racing stable and founded the Greener
Pastures sanctuary in Maryland in 1991 to
affiliate with TRF.
The New York Racing Association in
partnership with TRF created the Ferdinand Fee,
a program to support race horse retirement, in
memory of the 1986 Kentucky Derby winner
Ferdinand, who in 2002 was slaughtered in Japan.
Employees of Churchill Downs Inc., owner
of seven race tracks, raised $240,000 for TRF in
2002-2005, according to James R. Carroll of the
Louisville Courier-Journal.
In 2009 TRF took in nine of 177 horses
who were seized from breeder Ernie Paragallo,
52, who was in March 2010 convicted of 33 counts
of neglecting horses at his farm in Coxsackie,
New York.
Drape praised TRF in August 2009 for
rescuing Tour of the Cat, 11, who earned more
than $1.1 million over a nine-year racing
career,” but finished next-to-last in his 79th
start, running on a bad ankle.

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