Hey all you Derby survivors! Wasn’t that an amazing race on Saturday? If you, like me, enjoy watching the paddock preparations and the post parade even more than the actual race, you’ve probably also pondered what happens to all those beautiful Thoroughbreds once they’re finished racing. After all, out of that field of 20 there had to be some that went home to a decision that they didn’t have quite the “right stuff” to go forward with a racing career. So what then? And not just from the Kentucky Derby, but from races of all types and locations all across the nation, there are countless good horses that finish their racing careers (one way or another) with plenty of wonderful years and great heart left in them.
Well, I’ll tell you what happened to one such fella who hit the horsie jackpot by being adopted by my friend, Gail. Their story is featured in Chapter 3 of The Smart Woman’s Guide to Midlife Horses, but it’s well worth repeating here as the Equine Network’s “A Home for Every Horse” rescue initiative crosses paths with this month’s theme of racing!
So Gail grew up in the “horse country” of Virginia, learned how to ride on a retired Pony Club show pony and became well-schooled herself in Pony Club tradition. Her first horse was a Thoroughbred named Richard (who names a horse Richard?) purchased for her by her dad, who meant well but didn’t ride. Richard, a “big, forward-moving strapping horse,” was hard to handle and Gail could never completely relax on him, but the experience didn’t sour her on Thoroughbreds. Quite the contrary. In college, Gail worked at various Thoroughbred training facilities, here and abroad, and had some amazing experiences galloping young race horses. (Can you imagine having that in your bank of memories?)
Fast forward a few decades, some pivotal life experiences, and seemingly out of nowhere (but we know better; the horse bug may go dormant, but it never really goes away, now does it?) Gail began to explore the LOPE (LoneStar Outreach to Place Ex-racers) website, searching for an off-the-track Thoroughbred in need of adoption.
Enter Jamaica Bet, a handsome, sweet-faced bay who stole her heart despite his bowed tendon (Gail’s previous work taught her how to care for and rehab bowed tendons.) A vet check concurred with her plans for caring for the tendon, and $1000 later, Gail and Jamaica were an inseparable pair. “He’s an affectionate and social horse and nothing much bothers him,” she says of Jamaica. “I trust him and I think he trusts me.” (As someone who spent the afternoon watching–and photographing—the two of them together, I can tell you first-hand that this trust and mutual affection shows.
Gail’s story–and so many others like it–just goes to confirm what we all feel when we watch the post parade: each and every one of those horses is special and deserves a home that honors them and their legacy. Or, as the folks at LOPE like to say, “We believe ex-racehorses are winners even after their racing careers end. They have so much heart, athleticism and intelligence—all they need is a chance to find that second career and new life after the finish line.”
With a mission “To provide Texas ex-racehorses (of all breeds) with opportunities for new jobs after their racing days end, LOPE is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that partners with the Texas racing industry to help find racehorses new homes. Since 2003, LOPE has helped transition more than 800 ex-racers to new homes and new vocations through their adoption ranch facility. (You can read some other great LOPE success stories on their blog). Lynn Reardon, LOPE’s Executive Director, has also written a book about the LOPE horses: Beyond the Homestretch:What Saving Racehorses Taught Me About Starting Over, Facing Fear and Finding My Inner Cowgirl. Lynn’s book not only promotes the value, versatility and heart of ex-racehorses, but proceeds from the book will help fund LOPE.
How do you find such an agency if you’re too far from Texas? Google OTTB adoption and OTTB rescue and your state, and you’ll be delighted to find not only tons of info about this special breed of equine rescue and adoption (and many shows on RFD-TV and training DVDs devoted to the subject), but you’ll most likely find an OTTB rescue nearer than you imagine. Or you could always just come to Texas . . . Jamaica has plenty of friends still at LOPE, just waiting for their Gail to appear.
Happy Trails — and Cheers to Gail and Jamaica!