By Louisa Barton
Much of the Thoroughbred industry is made up of horse owners who have modest incomes, and even with the best of intentions, only some can afford to support and care for a Thoroughbred once it has completed a career at the racetrack.
The Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation (TRF) had its first retired racehorse two years after its founding in 1983. The TRF’s mission is clear and simply stated: To save Thoroughbred horses no longer able to compete on the racetrack from possible neglect, abuse and slaughter. That first horse was Promised Road, a 9-year-old who ended his career in a claiming race. Today, the TRF is the oldest and largest equine sanctuary like this in the world.
One of the ways TRF has helped save retired racehorses has also helped people in need. Founder and Eclipse Award winner Monique S. Koehler negotiated an agreement with the Department of Corrections in New York to staff and maintain a vocational training program in equine care and management for the inmates at the Walkill Facility. Upon the completion of their sentences, many former inmates who had worked with the horses credited the TRF program for their life successes after their release. There are certainly emotional benefits derived from programs like this and equine therapeutic programs seem to always be physically, emotionally and psychologically beneficial to children and adults from all walks of life. There is just something about caring for and loving a horse and it loving you back! The TRF program has been replicated at correctional facilities in eight states since its inception.
Most horses under TRF care suffered injuries on the track making them ideal candidates for pasture retirement. However, many TRF horses have successfully been retrained and adopted out to homes where they have begun new lives as competition horses, members of mounted units, therapy programs or as well-loved pasture pets.
In 2001, TRF opened at the Lowell Correctional Institution here in the “Horse Capital of the World” and is home to more than 50 horses and is the only women’s program in the country. This program is great for character building for the inmates and offers a haven for ex- racehorses. Caring for these horses changes the mindset of many inmates, often teaching them great life skills to use after release while also improving their self-esteem.
For those of us who own horses, we know the hard work, dedication and intense work ethic required to do all that is necessary to care for them, but we also know that the reward of the relationship, trust and love of a horse is priceless.
The TRF is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit tax-exempt organization entirely dependent on public contributions. One hundred percent of its budget comes from generous individuals, businesses, and foundations which support its network of farms across the country. The local Lowell program is funded by Florida Thoroughbred Charities’ local fundraisers via the Florida Thoroughbred Breeders’ and Owners’ Association. How great it is that Ocala, Marion County is home to wonderful organizations like this doing double duty, helping the horses and the inmates by providing a second chance and a hopeful future.