Rescuing Retired Racehorses

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.

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22 thoughts on “Rescuing Retired Racehorses”

  1. Oh, Cheryl, those pictures are worth a thousand words. I know it’s a cliche, but it fits…
    Thanks for sharing,

  2. Horses are so much more expensive to keep than many other rescue animals. The need room and the feed prices are going out of sight. Animals give us their all and deserve not to be discarded once we can’t get any monetary gain from them. Our local animal shelter sees too many purebred dogs brought on once they can not be used for breeding. They are still wonderful animals but not an income. Our daughter has a stallion that is about 28 and hasn’t been ridden in many years. It is expensive to keep him, but it is what he deserves. It was never a business for them, but he threw beautiful babies.

    You are lucky to have such great “neigh”bors.

  3. Hi Patricia! Had to smile at your “neigh”bors pun! And what a wonderful thing for your daughter to take care of that old stallion. The local horse rescue organizations have ways for people to sponsor horses, or make smaller donations. Definitely expensive . . . I’m glad there are people willing and able to help.

  4. Hey Vic!
    THis paragraph:
    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.

    Substitute the word WRITER for HORSE:

    I didn’t realize it until we moved here, but there’s a sad side to the world of WRITING. When a writer says goodbye to HER glory days, where does SHE go? Not all of them are big winners and famous like NORA ROBERTS. Some are mid-listers. They have some success but not enough to guarantee a plush retirement.

    Eek! I may need a retirement home for writers at some point. Keep an extra bedroom handy, Vicki–or maybe I can stay in the pasture behind your house, whatever!

  5. Hi Mary! Yep, that line about horses, authors and mid-listers was in my first draft…We’re not all Nora Roberts for sure! So now I’m picturing a retirement farm for authors . . LOL!

  6. great post!
    i have adopted retired standardbred’s here in the midwest after their harness racing career is over
    they have such great dispositions and so much training and experience under their belt they make great mounts even for beginners
    and the price is right 🙂
    thanks for bringing attention to these forgotten athletes!

  7. Hi Tabitha! The horses next to our house are just beautiful. We met the lady who runs the rescue at the fence one day. It was fun to hear some of the back story, though she warned us about an old gray mare who’s a bit bossy. They all like the carrots 🙂

  8. Vicki,
    This is so interesting, and thought provoking. I share a lot of those “rescue” pictures on FB. I wanted to do something and time and physical help is something I might not be able to do, but chipping in with paypal for a donation of $5 or $10 bucks for vetting and/or transportation IS something I can do. About a month ago, I had three friends in different parts fo the country adopt animals I had shared in their neck of the woods! BOY, that made me feel great, and showed that something as resharing a picture and link on FB actually CAN save lives of these animals. Awareness is the first step, and I thank you for this post, because I had no idea there was such an organization. BTW, I have a friend, Carol Huff, who lives in Georgia. I met her when she contacted me after we both were published in Chicken Soup and we have become really good friends. She is living my dream. She has her own small rescue. She mainly rescues horses and donkeys and keeps them on her farm, but also has several dogs and cats and a bird or two. She gets no funding from the government, and all her “babies” are cared for out of her pocket until someone comes and adopts them, or they pass on. There are a lot of good people out there in the world, and I think this organization you posted about is really fantastic. Wonder how many other places there are out there run by people who care and are able to try to physically do something for these animals? I always wish I could do more, but I’m so glad to know that just re-sharing on FB, posting blogs like yours and so on is a great way of helping, too. Thanks so much for this post–I had no idea!

  9. I meant to also say to NEECY, thanks so much for your comment–don’t know why it didn’t appear on my post instead of Vicki’s. LOL Rick is a super nice guy and has a ton of beautiful pictures that he is glad to share with everyone. Can’t say enough good about him, and his wonderful talent.

  10. Hi Cheryl, I’ve seen many of your rescue pics of dogs on fb. They always tug at the heartstrings. Our little rescue dog is such a joy. He was a little strange at first and is still . . . odd . . . but we love him!

  11. One of the reasons I love this blog. I learn so much. Never thought about the horses after racing. Just figured their owners allowed them to live out their days in comfort. Thank you for sharing.

    I am not a writer but would love to live out my days living in a home for retired writers…..perhaps I should find out what it would take:) But wait…do writers ever quit telling tales?

  12. Vicki,

    I love horses….I want to one day own a place so I can have horses….I would love to own a place to protect and take care of horses…

    Thank you for sharing this wonderful info….


  13. I think this is so wonderful what you do for these retired Racehorse. We are a big Horse Racing fans and it is music to our hears to hear there is someone to help this magnificent anmimals..
    We donated to a such a fondation here in Canada when my father passes away… He would have loved that to a sport he loved so much. We called the racetrack his second home…

  14. Hello Melinda! We have the best of both worlds–horses for neighbors but none of the work. A very old one came to the fence today. She was alone, which is unusual. She got more than her share of carrots.

  15. Hello Hildie, It really is a wonderful thing to do — to take care of an animal that needs help. We’ve enjoyed learning about the program.

    Hi Estella! It’s always good to see you at P&P!

  16. Hi Kathleen, The organizations that care for the animals do a wonderful job. A lot of volunteers and donors make it possible. Your dad must have been a special man–and fun too!

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