By Robyn Moore
“Aaaaand they’re off …”
There is nothing like that first moment when the Thoroughbreds bolt out of the starting gate. It is a moment pregnant with possibility and anticipation.
That moment is not just for the spectators — who wait with bated breath for their favourites to cross the finish line — but for the horses, who put their heart and soul into every stride.
This is what they were bred for. For hundreds of years, people have been studying pedigrees and selectively breeding to create the elite athlete that can be seen on racetracks today. They were born to run — and love doing it.
But what happens to them after their racing days are finished? It happens to every athlete, human or equine; there comes a day when an injury happens or old age sinks in.
Some horses are retired to the breeding shed, to continue their bloodlines. Other horses may end up at auction, where anything can happen.
In steps New Stride Thoroughbred Adoption Society in Surrey, BC. Founded in 2002, New Stride has successfully adopted over 120 “off the track” Thoroughbred horses.
“New Stride gives owners, breeders and trainers a valuable option for finding second careers or retirement for horses no longer racing,” says Carmen Kramer, program coordinator and member of the board. “We are also a voice for the horse industry, speaking to the public that racing is not the only career for these magnificent animals.”
New Stride is run by a board of directors and a staff of volunteers. They recognize that it takes time to transition the elite Thoroughbred athlete straight off the track into the versatile Thoroughbred horse that many people enjoy riding. When horses are accepted into New Stride, they are taken to the main intake farm, which has full facilities and plenty of acres.
“A lot of the Thoroughbreds off the track, you just can’t turn out,” says Carmen. “They can’t handle it. So, they hang out in a stall with a buddy next door and they are transitioned from there,” she explains. “That’s part of the process of starting to prepare the horses for re-sale. Because when they are accustomed to being kept in a stall, it doesn’t work for them to go to a home (right away) that might work for them a year down the road.”
Every Thoroughbred spends at least a few months with New Stride while volunteers assess personality, temperament, address potential injuries and begin training under saddle again. After they are fully assessed, then New Stride welcomes adoption applications. Potential owners must come out and visit and ride the horse.
“The horses that come through our program are still young, healthy horses; rather than simply being retired, they can be transitioned into new homes where they can go on to lead productive second careers,” says boards member, Kim Inglis.
There are some horses in New Stride’s care, however, that cannot be adopted out due to injuries.
“There are horses that we have that are not really adoptable,” says Carmen. “They are basically pasture pets that can’t be ridden. And not a lot of people want to adopt those. So, we have a sponsorship program where people can put in money to take care of that particular horse.”
That money goes to board, feed, farrier and veterinary care. These expenses can add up to thousands each year.
Jose is one of the horses on the sponsorship program.
“The main fellow that we have ‘How Bout Jose’, he’s our poster boy,” says Carmen. “He raced until he was 10 and the owner-trainer obviously had a connection him.
“The reason New Stride came about in the first place is because people care. And after a racing career, owners think ‘What do we do with this horse now? He’s given us so much, now we need to take care of him.’ So Jose now lives his life in a 20-acre pasture with about four to six other boys and runs the roost. He gets really good care. The volunteers come and groom him and primp him and fluff him and give him treats and he loves it.”
“The Thoroughbred industry across North America has embraced the need for aftercare and the transitioning of retired racehorses to new careers as a key issue in the sustainability of our sport,” says Marcy Emery, past president of New Stride.
The process worked for Sarah Clark, who adopted Willie Katchem from New Stride in March 2012. She had outgrown her old horse and was looking for a new one when she was introduced to New Stride by a friend.
“Willie was six at the time and had been raced till he was five, gotten a year off and then was restarted under saddle,” says Sarah. “I three-day event him, so he does dressage and jumps. Teaching him to jump was quite an adventure; he had no clue what to do with poles on the ground. He went to his first event in September of 2012 and was an absolute super star taking everything in stride. He’s jumping 2’9”-3′ courses and doing training level dressage.”