It’s like trying to remove sand that slides back into the hole after being piled at the edge. Sometimes it’s even worse, like trying to bail out a boat that is filling with water faster than it can be removed.
The effort we speak of here belongs to Dr. Dick Bowman, whose pastures sometimes fill with retired racehorses at his North Dakota equine orphanage faster than he can find new homes for them. Dr. Bowman has a ranch in Bowman, (no relation) N.D., on which he currently has 59 thoroughbreds that once raced at Canterbury Park.
Find a nice spot for one and another one retires. Find nice homes for two, and three retire.
Sort of like walking on a treadmill. Lots of effort and hard work without gaining any actual ground.
“The most I’ve ever had is 80-some last fall,” he said. Up until three years ago I was able to clean out a year’s supply within a year and then start over. Last year I wasn’t able to do that. Then I took another 42 out there and moved another eight or 10 back here. We really worked at finding homes for them this winter.”
Sort of like borrowing from Peter to pay Paul sometimes.
Yet that’s the nature of the racehorse business as the good doctor well knows.
He was mulling over what he would say to a gathering of potential horse owners the other day and carrying on another conversation at the same time.
The two subjects were related nonetheless.
Both had to do with horses naturally. Both had to do with making a decision once a horse’s racing days were done.
That might be five years after buying the animal, six years, maybe even seven or eight. It might also be no longer than six months, as he’s witnessed on more than once occasion.
“I don’t know what I’m going to say,” he said.”We’ll see what I can come up with. Sometimes my mind just rambles.”
Bowman was scheduled to speak to the group and intended to inform these future owners about the responsibilities of owning racehorses not only when they are on the racetrack but after their racing days are over.
Bowman had to conduct a balancing act with whatever he said. After all he was speaking at the request of the Minnesota HBPA and TOBA whose intentions were to convince people that owning racehorses is a pleasurable and entertaining pursuit.
“I’ll be talking to people about what their options are,” he said.”I usually speak off the cuff. I ramble.”
Nonetheless, he knew his bullet points.
“I’ll tell them what to expect with a thoroughbred when it retires,” he said. “What the options are at my place. Other things they should be looking at as prospective thoroughbred owners, what they’re going to do with the horses when they’re done racing.”
Many people haven’t given those topics much thought.
“They haven’t thought about what they’re going to do if a horse cracks a sesamoid,” he said. “Some owners have the wherewithal to keep a horse on their farm when he’s done racing, but most don’t. These are living, breathing creatures that we need to take care of, not a used tissue that you simply throw away.”
Bowman and Dr. Lynn Hovda, the Minnesota Racing Commission’s chief veterinarian, are constantly on the lookout for good homes for the retired thoroughbreds they come across. It is another matter with quarter horses when they retire.
For one thing, at Canterbury Park anyway, there are fewer quarter horses than thoroughbreds, but the Qs, as they’re known in the press box and beyond, are in short supply nonetheless. “There seems to be a big market for speed horses,” said Bowman.”The barrel racers and rodeo people are always looking for them. There’s an active market. You can’t hardly find them.”
Bowman and Hovda have placed hundreds of horses with good homes in the past. As they continue to point out, it’s an ongoing, never finished task.
Bowman has given plenty of talks before, but the one he gave on Saturday was a first. “Most of my talks have been about what vets do on the backside,” he said. “This is the first time I’ve spoken directly to this issue. I’ll tell them what they can do. We want to instill in them a thought process about the horse when he goes out of the racing business.”
There is some relief developing in the operation of Bowman’s massive undertaking that goes far beyond merely taking a horse from Canterbury to the western reaches of North Dakota. It costs anywhere from $200 to $300 for each horse he ships, and as we’ve seen some are shipped to North Dakota and then back again when homes are located in the Twin Cities area.
Bowman also just returned from Bowman to Shakopee after putting in a couple of weeks haying for the upcoming feed requirements as well as vaccinating and worming the horses on his ranch.
Now, a group has developed and will soon have a website available to assist in finding homes for his horses.
“This group of ladies has gotten real good at ferreting out people who are looking for horses,” Bowman said.
“They’ve moved seven for me this spring already.” The group comprises a number of Bowman’s clients for whom he does dental work on their animals and is calling itself the “Bowman Second Chance Thoroughbred Adoption.”
Thoroughbreds looking for a second chance are plentiful. Adoptive parents are not.
This blog was written by Canterbury Staff Writer Jim Wells. Wells was a longtime sportswriter at the Pioneer Press and is a member of the Canterbury Park Hall of Fame.