DEL MAR — It’s nice to imagine that after its glory days on the track, a racehorse is retired, spending the rest of its days grazing in an impossibly green meadow. But, that’s not the reality for many former racehorses.
Many owners decide they are not worth the trouble and expense of keeping them, so they are severely neglected or even slaughtered for their meat.
Dawn Mellen is a horse owner herself (her own Weemissfrankie came in third in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile fillies race last year in Kentucky.)
So involved in horses and racing, she couldn’t bear to see what was happening to the gorgeous creatures. She later founded After the Finish Line, a foundation that raises money for distribution to various horse rescue organizations that are sometimes bidding against those looking to purchase a horse for its meat.
“They meet their end in Mexico or Canada,” Mellen said. “Horse meat is still food in Europe and Asia.”
Mellen said she has nothing against racing, but until about 10 years ago, it never occurred to her what happens to horses after they retire from the track.
“We go to the track, have a fun day, see the beautiful horses in the paddock or racetrack, but have never considered what happens to those horses when they are no longer able to race,” she said.
She was one of those people, up until 1995.
“I was at the race track and saw an article in one of the racing papers about a horse rescue organization,” she said. “I said ‘why do horses need to be rescued?’ It just never clicked. When I got home and got on the website, I learned.”
“I never put two and two together about what happens to these magnificent animals when they are done racing,” she said.
Mellen, a Rancho Santa Fe resident, contacted the organization and began volunteering with them in 1995.
In 2007, she founded After The Finish Line, which has been growing ever since.
“In 2011 we provided funding to 70 rescue organizations in 16 states, helping approximately 300 horses,” she said.
They raise money by doing fundraisers, from corporate and individual donations and grants.
“It is our goal that as we grow, we can help more horses. It is our goal to help more rescue organizations and increase donations to our organization,” she said.
Mellen said all proceeds go to After The Finish Line and that event-goers should know that no one at the organization takes a salary.
All are volunteers including the five members and the about 20 other hard-working core members of the group.
Though social media, she stays in contact with like-minded people all over the country.
“There is a huge group of people helping horses they have never met. They just want to help these horses that cannot speak for themselves,” Mellen said.
The horseracing season at Del Mar began this week.
“It’s not just here in California, it happens all over the country.”
“There are about 50 days of horseracing five days a week. We are not against racing. We just want to make sure that the welfare of the horse is top-of-mind for people,” she said.
Mellen said that she wants to point out that not all racehorse owners treat their horses badly.
She said many owners are becoming more aware and are trying to treat their horses with more respect and provide funding for them for transition into another career.
“If you own a horse, you train a horse and the horse wins you hundreds of thousands of dollars, why not give back to the horse that did everything you asked of it. Let me help you transition into a second career.”
Horses are just like people who reinvent themselves.
“It’s just like humans. Think of the different careers you or your friends have gone through in a lifetime,” she said.
She said the new careers for horses can range from being a therapy horse, to a family pet, to a polo horse or in career in competition like a jumper or hunter.
“They need to learn how to be with other horses, everything is new to them. They can heal from any injuries they have coming off the racetrack,” she said. “They have to go on a different feed program. They learn they do not have to work every day.”
After The Finish Line is hosting a fundraiser July 26, from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. at the Del Mar Hilton. There will be live and silent auctions, speakers such as Laffit Pincay Jr., a Hall of Fame jockey and his son Laffit Pincay III, a sports host for NBC.
Dan Cohen, KFMB news anchor will serve as Master of ceremonies. The cost is $135. There is still time to plan to go to the benefit.
Call Mellen at (858) 945-1371 or email Dawn at [email protected].