My husband and I live in Lexington, Kentucky–the Thoroughbred Capital of the World. You can’t drive down the street without seeing horses grazing in the bluegrass, or noticing a statue of a horse posed on a street corner. We’re particularly blessed to live next to a farm for retired thoroughbreds. These beautiful animals routinely come to our back fence for carrots and peppermints–an event that sends are little dog into raptures of joy.
I didn’t realize it until we moved here, but there’s a sad side to the world of horseracing. When a horse says goodbye to its glory days, where does it go? Not all of them are big winners and famous like Secretariat. Some are mid-listers. They have some success but not enough to guarantee a plush retirement.
Then there’s the story of Ferdinand, the winner of the 1986 Kentucky Derby. By all rights, Ferdinand was a success. He won close to $4 million and was the 1987 Eclipse Horse of the Year. He was retired to stud in 1989, sold to a breeding farm in Japan in 1994 and sadly met his end in a slaughterhouse in 2002. Not a very noble end for a horse with the heart of a champion, but Ferdinand’s demise led to the formation of Old Friends, a thoroughbred rescue program started in 2002.
Old Friends is in Georgetown, Kentucky and just up the road from where I live. It’s the only thoroughbred rescue operation that accepts stallions, and it’s supported solely by donations. The rescue farm behind my house belongs to a different organization, the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation, but the principles are the same. These amazing athletes are retired with dignity. Some live out their days peacefully; others (though not many because of injuries) are retrained and adopted out to new owners.
I often see dog adoptions on facebook, and they always tug on the old heartstrings. Our little dog is a “rescue,” and I sometimes wonder if that’s why he goes so crazy for the horses. It’s like he’s saying, “Home! Home! We have homes!” He might also be saying, “Hey, I’ll get my mom. She has carrots in the fridge.”
These thoroughbreds have truly inspired me. In “Josie’s Wedding Dress”, my novella in the Brides of the West anthology, Ty Donner comes home to from prison to discover Josie Bright still owns Smoke, his beloved mustang stallion. In one of the final scenes, Ty and Smoke ride like the wind in a race for their lives. As I wrote that scene, I had my next door neighbors clearly in mind.