Collapse of Ontario’s horse racing industry could lead to mass-slaughter of horses

Members of the horse racing industry gathered earlier this summer to protest the Ontario government's proposal …
The collapse of the Ontario horse racing industry will be devastating for the individuals who dedicate themselves to the breeding, care and maintenance of the regal animals who provide their livelihood.

But loss of income is little compared to the loss of life. Because according to the Toronto Star, that's what could happen to anywhere between 7,500 and 13,000 thousands horses next year if the province's troubled industry collapses.

"The question is: If (a horse's) value is zero, how do you justify feeding them when you have no way to make a living anymore because the tracks you need to be in existence are gone?" thoroughbred owner and trainer Ian Howard told the paper. "That's when it gets ugly."

The trouble began in March, when the Ontario government announced it would be terminating its $75 million slots revenue sharing program (SARP) with the province's racetracks.

Instead, the funds will be funneled into other provincial programs like education and healthcare.

[ Related: Tory MPP calls for audit of racetrack slots decision ]

Though a Transition Panel, along with $50 million in earmarked funds, has been set up to aid the industry during its time of crisis, the prognosis is not looking good.

An auction to sell off top yearlings this week, for instance, has had a disappointingly slow start.

Of the 387 horses for sale at Toronto's Woodbine Racetrack since Monday, CTV News reports that only 36 per cent of the contenders were sold as of the auction's first night.

Sales from the auction can account for up to 75 per cent of a breeder's annual income.

But many racing professionals have expressed fear over investing in more animals, pending an uncertain outcome for the future of the industry.

Costs for purchasing and keeping the horses can easily run toward six-figures sums and that's an impossible task right now for family-owned stables without a corporate safety net.

A dismal response to the Panel's Aug. 24 report — which suggested that reinstating the SARP program would be a bad idea — has further unsettled breeders.

That leaves the problem of what to do with thousands of horses when the money runs out.

Though a percentage can find new vocations as companion or saddle animals at farms, there aren't enough spots to accommodate the sheer volume of homeless horses that may appear by 2013.

It's a problem that has triggered enormous concern within the ranks.

"We've been so cautious not to talk about (mass euthanasia) in the industry because first of all, we're all animal lovers and god forbid anything like that would happen," Glenn Sikura, president the Canadian Thoroughbred Horse Society's Ontario division, told the Star.

"I would hope I could find each and every one of my horses a home. But could I? Realistically? I don't know."

The good news, at least for now, is that no definitive decisions to euthanize the horses have been made.

Panelist and former Ontario cabinet minister John Snobelen told the Star he has faith that the industry will survive, and suggested that the destruction of 13,000 horses was just a necessary point to bring up during panel discussions to avoid any "unintended consequences from any government action in Ontario."

[ Related: Southwest Ontario racing industry looks to Leamington ]

Until then, those words may be small comfort for breeders — and particularly for their glossy-maned charges.