Beyond the Homestretch, Beyond the Track: Racehorses After Retirement

This long stretch of cold winter weather, coupled with the short days and dark evenings, has found me seeking the warm indoors of home and a comfortable spot on the couch these past few weeks. And while there I've tackled a few of the books that had started to form a precarious tower on my nightstand. A recent article on sister site TheHorse.com inspired me to start with several Thoroughbred rescue/retirement/retraining/rehoming books and articles I've acquired. Here's a general review of the best reads. If you received a gift card or some spending cash as a gift during the holidays, I have a couple of book recommendations to help you spend it!

First up is Beyond the Track: Retraining the Thoroughbred from Racecourse to Riding Horse, a great overview of the off-track Thoroughbred's amazing ability to excel at diverse second careers, from dressage and eventing to hunting, trail riding, and barrel racing. Anna Morgan Ford and Amber Heintzberger offer insights on finding the right OTTB for your purposes and re-training him both physically and mentally. The book provides a roadmap of training goals and techniques that I found helpful -- I picked up several tips I can't wait to use. (You know a book is great reference when it has 50 Post-It flags indexing your favorite ideas, and I sure decorated my copy of Beyond the Track with at least that many.) And I happily would recommend this book not only to experienced horsemen who are planning to reschool their own new mount, but also to more novice riders who simply wish to better understand the mindset of their already-retrained schoolhorse.

My next read was a book that I had put on my Christmas wish list immediately after reading about it on one of my favorite blogs.  Beyond the Homestretch: What I've Learned from Saving Racehorses is an immensely readable story by Lonestar Outreach to Place Ex-racehorses (L.O.P.E.) founder Lynn Reardon.  From the first page I was hooked -- Reardon's writing style is gripping, colorful -- and makes for a compelling read. She describes in detail a couple of veterinary procedures on her organization's residents, and shares interactions she has had with horsemen, trainers, boarding barn managers, and a bunch of horse crazies. This isn't a book that imparts specific techniques for rehoming and retraining retired racers, but instead a feel-good story that will inspire readers to pursue their dreams. Reardon is living proof that hard work -- lots of hard work -- and perseverance are  all it takes to accomplish great things. When you're about halfway through Beyond the Homestretch, you'll find yourself daydreaming about cutting free from your current life and embarking on a new plan to create a horsey utopia for racing's castoffs. Kudos to Lynn Reardon for her success with L.O.P.E., and I urge you to track down a copy of her fascinating tale.

Oh, and I mentioned my original inspiration came from an online article run by TheHorse.com. It was an announcement about a new handbook put out by the Unwanted Horse Coalition called Best Practices: How Your Organization Can Help Unwanted Horses. Since then, BloodHorse.com news editor Tom LaMarra has posted a similar story on this site.  The booklet is a free PDF download that outlines several practices that will reduce the problem of equine overpopulation in order to make every horse truly "wanted."  The free booklet offers commonsense ideas about horse adoption, rescue organization fundraising, breeding control and euthanasia, creating a rehabilitation facility, and continuing education about unwanted horses.

So, your feedback, please. Who's read any of the above? What were your thoughts? Have you encountered any other horse retirement/retraining books recently that you'd recommend to fellow readers?

26 Comments

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farrier

Yes! "Beyond the Track" is on my nightstand as well. I fell in love with an injured runner when I was called to pull his race plates. A couple of weeks later when it was decided he would not return to the track he came to my place. This is the first horse I have had that came to me right off the track so I went in search of help. Hence the book. He stood in the field for 18 mos healing and then we went to work. A year later and he is a delight! I have referred to the book weekly and alway find help in its pages. I recommend it highly. This horse is the most willing and generous partner I have ever had. Because of his injury he should not jump so we are exploring dressage and he loves it. I see people watching him as we go by. The dressage world is full of warmbloods but my elegant TB, who moves like a big cat, makes those folks turn their heads! Thanks to the authors for all their help!

13 Jan 2010 12:03 PM
brimur

 Farrier

Sounds like a wonderful horse and enjoyed your story. Would like to hear more about it.

13 Jan 2010 1:20 PM
Rebecca MacDonald

I LOVED Lynn Reardon's book, Beyond the Homestretch. Her writing style is so engaging, she tells the horses' stories from their point of view, and has a wonderful self-deprecating take on her on being a "newbie" in the horse industry. It didn't take me even until halfway through the book to think how fun it would be to have her life!

13 Jan 2010 4:17 PM
Michelle

Thank you so very much for the book recommendations.  I plan on purchasing and reading all three of them.  

Three years ago(it will be four in April this year) I adopted an OTTB through the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation.  Although I was a beginner adult rider they found a horse perfect for me.  

He is a big beautiful 16.2 hand chestnut gelding who raced 111 times over a span of 10 years.  Now he lives a life of liesure with me and my other two horses and I ride him hunt seat for pleasure only.  

13 Jan 2010 6:06 PM
GayleP

"Beyond the Homestretch" by Lynn Reardon is a must read for all horse lovers! Don't hesitate to order your copy right away.  I just finished my copy and loved every chapter.  Lynn is a great writer with a fabulous sense of humor mixed in with compassion and love of the ex-racers.  Her work has been a God-send to Texas Horseman. I shudder to think where Texas racehorses would be without Lynn and LOPE.

13 Jan 2010 6:54 PM
Danielle

I had been looking for books on retraining the ex-racehorse for a while before I came upon "Beyond the Track".  This book is an absolute must have for anyone who is interested in retraining an OTTB.  I am planning on rescuing and retraining my own within the next few years, so I will be referring to the information in the book a lot.  For those who are not planning on retraining, it does definitely help riders (or anyone) better understand their OTTB partners.  I know that my two older retrained OTTB are benefiting from the advice in this book.

13 Jan 2010 7:02 PM
Larrythejumpguy

Not too long ago TBs ruled the show ring, sport and pleasure.  But that was back when riders knew how to ride learning from the ground up. Now a days they just want to show up at the barn and have a trainer hand them a made horse already tacked up. The allure of buying an exotic (warmblood,  a deluded TB)  in Europe took hold and TBs got a bad name.  Too hot to handle.  I would really like to see the industry turn this myth around. A nicely funded PR campaign would be a good start and I am not talking a lot money.  Truth is, it is not difficult to re-school most off the track race horses.  And most, unfortunately not all, can be done in a matter of months to a year.  Probably more would make it if they were broken with the idea if they do not make it on the track they can be made into pleasure horses. Yes, this take a bit more schooling and a better rider/trainer but in the end you will have a better minded race horse to start with. Any good horsemen will tell you; A horse with a good mind and moderate ability will beat a bullet working morning glory every time in the afternoon.  Our race horse partnership agreement states that after the horse is retired from the track the partners are responsible to pay a one time payment equal to one years board at $20 a day for re-schooling. Plus any vet bills that may come up in that year. Most do not have a problem with it, some, and I am talking people with recognizable names complain and refuse to pay. Their reason is that we are going to make money on the up swing. Yes, on the odd one we may make a bit more then the time and work we have in them but for the most part I work for free with these horses. But as a breeder and owner I feel it is my responsibility to find them a good home.  The following is an excerpt from one of many emails from someone we sold an ex-racer turned fox hunter to. Joe had no ability nor interest in being a racehorse.  He was sour as the day is long when we bought him, pined his ears every time you went in the stall, not mean, just sour. But he was a good moving horse but he took a lot longer to come around then I had hoped, a lot longer. The lady who bought him was a competent rider but nothing special. She told me she just lost her horse of 28 years who died at 32! And she hunted him until 28. She told me how no other horse will live in his stall. Guess where Joe is..

Hi Larry,

The hunt loves Joe.  someone keeps trying to buy him, but he is MINE!  Five minutes into the ride, one MFH boasted about a newly built 3' coup.  Thank God for the domino effect.  Joe locked onto the fence and sailed over it.  I could feel his launch and bascule beneath me.  I love this guy!

Yes, on face value we got OK money in this economy but we lost money big time and it is what we do for a living. But letters like this more then make up for it. Scott, if you ever have any questions or in need of a tip or two feel free to email. In the mean time I am going to pick up a copy of Beyond the Track. No matter how much one knows there is always a new tip or two to be learned.

13 Jan 2010 7:51 PM
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13 Jan 2010 7:58 PM
Patricia Bewley

The one major flaw in the retirement of racehorses is the total lack of enforcement of no slaughter policies and funding programs from the HBPA's and the racetrack oweners who get all the benefits from the horses , yet expect  " other " people to take the horses when they cannot run anymore. Why is it a valuable animal born and raised to run for money is de valued when a owner wants rid of it and feels no responsibility for it's life then? It is always get rid of them as fast as possibe  be it sending them to auciton, or brokers who sends them to slaughter. Out of site out of mind. The Thoroughbred industry has the money in the purses to give the horses a percentage of every purse for racehorse retirement . Done , funding, retraining, new careers . But no, the more money they run for the less they get. It is a travesty that the horse do not get even a thought and are pawned off on anyone who will take them or sent to slaughter.

14 Jan 2010 7:27 AM
Grand Prix Show Jumper

Larry is right, horse show people need to be aware of TBs being successful to increase their appeal.  The economy today definitely is an opportunity that should be taken advantage of for thoroughbreds done racing.  People may be more open minded when they see they can buy and pay a professional to retrain a nice thoroughbred for less than they would spend to import (not to buy the horse, just to import him) a decent warmblood. Without the PR, people won't realize that a lot of time a thoroughbred who's raced and stayed sound is a much sounder, "hard knocking" horse than a horse that has not had much stress at all (physical or mental) other than being prepped for sale in a sales yard in Europe.

We've brought a number of thoroughbreds to the Grand Prix level in show jumping.  Granted, mainly the ones that want to jump that big and are careful enough not to touch the jumps are not as quiet on average as the warmbloods, but there are tons of nice easy ones out there and almost any sound thoroughbred can jump 3' to 3'6" (the height of most of the classes, even at the big shows) easily.  

BUT unless there's some national PR so that you can sell them into the higher end market and get paid a little for your time and the risk, the people like us who know how to retrain these horses to get good jobs can't take the risk on horses that might just be nice horses.  Right now, we can only buy thoroughbreds we think migh have a shot at the "big ring", which is a very small number of horses.  I'd love to be able to feel I can take the risk to do 5 or 6 at a time, instead of one or two.

Two things to keep in mind:

1) If people want to race young horses and not care about what happens to the horse after he's say, 5 years old, they are basically stealing from the horse.  Really Bad Karma at the least...

2) Any horse's best protection in life is the ability to do a job.  Whether it's a trail horse, lesson horse, or show horse, if they know a job they are much more likely to be SAFE.

14 Jan 2010 8:37 AM
CANTER New England

On the CANTER New England blog (www.canterne.org/blog) I am actually writing a series called "Myth Busting 101" to address some of the very negative perceptions out there in the horse world..."They're all lame"..."They're all crazy"..."It takes forever to retrain them"...

It is very sad to think that so many horse lovers will miss out on so many incredible horses because they are "scared off" by these generalizations.

If OTTB lovers do NOTHING else to support Thoroughbred retirement, let them at least chip away at negative stereotypes by relating what are so many wonderful stories about horses being successful in many walks of life, post-racing!

14 Jan 2010 9:26 AM
Angela

We train our babies from day one with the intent of life after the track.  Every horse we have raised, trained and run went on to another career.  Heck, we have several TB's that have made as much or more as roping horses as they did on the track.  I also have a friend who took an OTTB to the National level in the cutting arena.  I firmly believe a TB can do ANYTHING any other breed can and EXCEL at it.  We have been actively out of the industry for several years now, concentrating on cattle.  I am currently looking for several OTTB's for re-schooling but am not willing to pay racehorse prices/adoption fees for them.    

14 Jan 2010 10:16 AM
dakota

on and on and on.....I hear wonderful stories of race horses being re trained for other purposes ! YAY ! I have 4 of my own.... 2 retired TB's and 2 retired Running Quarters.

14 Jan 2010 1:15 PM
Aftonhalters

For more info and it's free, please look at Leightonfarm.com . So full of information on WHAT your horse is used to doing and how they are USED to being treated!! A must know if you are bringing down a Tb. ESPECIALY if they have lived their whole life on flat surface, no herd exposure ect.. this woman is a blessing in a business that can be real hard on horses. I got me a guy named Nami. 9 years racing 1 year ponying. Such a smart fellow. He's 13 now and it has taken all of 3 years to get him to a happy place. But WELL worth the effort

14 Jan 2010 1:42 PM
Grand Prix Show Jumper

I understand where one of the posters above is coming from.  I'd love to get nice prospects for free.  But as a general model, a decent price/adoption fee should be asked for these horses.

1) You want to attract people who can really afford a horse, even if it's "just a horse".

2) You do not want to attract people who may be fronts for bad people.  I know some horror stories from people who gave horses and ponies to "really nice people" and then the horses ended up (in a matter of days) at bad auctions.

3) The rescue adoption fees are not really the 'price' for the horse, the money goes to support the rescue operations and if they can get a little more for a good looking sound horse they can save more horses.  Also, most of the rescues don't really cover expenses, there are awesome people who plug the financial holes but we can't expect them to go on forever.  Look at Charity Navigator to see what I mean and please don't let that stop you from helping.

4)  I spend a ton of time scouting prospects.  Granted, I'm looking for a very specific type of athlete, but I'm willing to claim one I've done a lot of research on (just did) or pay a pretty good amount of money for one right off the track from one of a small number of dealers around the country that know what I'm looking for and have a lot of contacts. I think of it as a 'finders fee' and it's well worth it.

If we don't allow the charities to get in some funds or some people to find the right horse for you and get some money for doing it, the process can't multiply itself and might even die off.  Let's support those people and rescues and get someone to help with Larry's "PR" idea so the next people in the chain (like me) can take more risk, and maybe this retraining thing can go "viral" and really be "working" as the BH print edition says this week that it is (?!).

14 Jan 2010 5:40 PM
LCM

i wish the people posting here bought the horses I bred.  I've only bred 4 horses and each and every one has been at peril.  The first horse I bred (sold the mare carrying him in utero) went on to earn over 330,000 and raced until 10.  He was just rescued from Mountaineer where the trainer was going to sell him for $225.  I contacted the trainer who had him 2 years ago imploring him to retire him and he wouldn't.  Everytime I tried to reach him after, no response nothing...Luckily for the horse people on Alex Brown's website found out and rescued him.  He is now the first  horse at Old Friends in NY.  The 2nd horse i bred was sold as a weanling and ended up in England.  He had multiple setbacks and injuries and was pushed to make it to the races where they ran him 3 times in less than 4 weeks.  He was "eased" in his last start and subsequently dumped in the Tattersalls July sale.  Luckily for him, he has a sucker for a breeder and I got him back...spent $11,000 to ship his broken down body and spirit back home.  He's doing great physically, but has serious emotional issues from the abuse he endured.   Now the worst...I just found out yesterday that the 3rd horse i bred is also in "peril".  He was with a trainer at Penn National and the owner, a prominent 2yo pinhooker no longer wanted to put money into him after he bowed during last workout in November.  She "gave him away to some guy who is going to rehab him". Yeah right..."rehab"...they mean break him down to the point of ruin.  The worst part is I REPEATEDLY told the owner to contact me if this horse EVER needed a home.  She said she would.  I have the email...and did she?  NO....NOT EVEN THE DECENCY TO SEE IF I WOULD TAKE HIM....THERE IS NO COMPASSION FOR THESE ANIMALS.  All I can think about is the fact that a horse I love is hurting somewhere...and is probably not in the best situation...So for anyone thinking that it's a minority of tbrds facing slaughter or tragedy...think again...A full 100% of the horses I've bred have met a potentially tragic fate, if not for me....THINK ABOUT THE REST THAT HAVE NOBODY LOOKING OUT FOR THEM....

14 Jan 2010 7:22 PM
Rudolph.A.Furtado

Living close to the "Mahalaxmi Race-course" in Mumbai made me interested in horses and horse-racing since attaining maturity at age 18 ,although none of my family members including my late parents ever indulged in any form of gambolling least of all "Horse-racing".Its been 31 years since i have been an "Onn/Off" regular at the "Mahalaxmi Race-course" and honestly, although i have never "PROFITED"  from the sport financially it did help me from recovering from deep social and psychological depression during the worst years of my life. In India, unlike in some country's, retired race-horses are never slaughtered, but, since the production of yearlings exceeds the demand, most horses are retired quickly and i always wondered as to their life after the racing career.A few might wind up in "riding clubs' or trained as show-jumpers but i still feel that the majority of retired race-horses lead a miserable life, post retirement.

14 Jan 2010 10:36 PM
jmewill

It is really a shame that horseracing has lost it's "sport" and become a business!  The ones who suffer the most are the horses.  I have four OTTB's in my backyard right now and I am getting ready to foster another one, TB's are some of God's most perfect creatures, until we tried to make them faster and better, now they can't stand up to the "business" of racing and unfortunately get tossed aside like yesterday's trash...Anyone that has an OTTB will tell you it is the best horse they have ever had, I love mine dearly.  And it is true as someone else pointed out, these horses would have a much better chance if they didn't have 60 or 90 days thrown on them and sent to the track, and the ones that have a basic foundation on them are often in demand after racing.  Anyone considering an OTTB, look at it this way, you are getting a baby in a grown horse body, so the best thing to do is go back to ground zero, and work from there, you will end up with a nicer mount and a great friend! I do alot of walking, jogging and turning, very slow work and when they finally get it that you don't want to go fast and they can slow down and relax, the biggest part is done!

15 Jan 2010 12:11 AM
SJK

I adopted two OTTB's from Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation. They are the joy of my life! Though their old injuries keep them from being ridden, they are very happy and spend their days babysitting our other horses.

I wish I could let everyone know how gentle they are, not the nervous high-strung creatures they may have been at  the racetrack.

15 Jan 2010 7:42 AM
CONCERNED

LCM's letter is hearbreaking and confirms my worst fears and suspicions.  Since this week's print edition of the Blood Horse says this part of racing is "working"... please LCM send your post as a letter to the editor.  There have been a few lately highlighting this but none as clear as yours.  Thanks LCM, and Thanks Scot for taking your time on this topic.

15 Jan 2010 8:22 AM
Karen in Indiana

I agree with Grand Prix Show Jumper that there should be a fee. People need to be invested in their horse and then they have more incentive to take good care of it. When I used to raise dogs, if someone came to look at a puppy and I thought they might not take the best care of it, I would jack the price up to either scare them off or make sure they were seriously invested in the welfare of the dog. If people receive a horse for free, there is a risk they will not value it. I know there are many exceptions to this and that's great, but in general, people will place value on something according to what it costs them whether it is time or money.

15 Jan 2010 9:05 AM
LCM

Concerned,

I managed to get in touch with the "guy" who has my horse.  It's not good.  It seems he was lied to about the extent of the horses injuries and believes he has the "next Secretariat".  He wouldn't even consider any kind of offer to sell him and is going to continue trying to run him with a torn tendon, ankle issues and god knows what else!  I will be contacting the pinhooker who DUMPED him.  I have emails stating she would contact me...and she never did...WHY?  WHAT DID SHE GAIN FROM THIS?  When and if this horse is beyond repair I will be reaching out to every media outlet known to man...and some of the names involved here are BIG NAMES....who have reputations they should worry about protecting.  This horse will not be sacrificed without somebody paying a price!

15 Jan 2010 12:36 PM
sgillies

TheHorse.com has an article about the Unwanted Horse Coalition's online poll: View here!

15 Jan 2010 1:02 PM
RGGC

Thank you for this article. I am an unemployed fan of horseracing who has limited experience with horses although I worked as a hotwalker as a youth and as a equine massage therapist for a short while.  I cannot get a steady job because of family obligations, but I would like to volunteer for a horse rescue in my area. I live in Colts Neck NJ and I have sent in an application to a local rescue two weeks ago. I haven't heard anything back as of yet, but I assume they are busy. There are others to try, including a Standardbred Rescue, I am a fan of thoroughbreds, but rescuing any horse would make the effort worthwhile.  If I don't hear from the thoroughbred organizations, I will try the Standardbreds.  In the meanwhile, I have down loaded the booklet and will now try and get the other books mentioned. When I am contacted, I will have alot of information already in place thanks to this blog. Thanks again and everyone please keep up the good work. They race for our enjoyment, we must provide for them afterwards.

20 Jan 2010 11:23 AM
Joyce

Have you read Saving Lesley Jones?

29 Mar 2010 2:14 PM
Cindi

Thanks for this article, my goal is to have a couple of ex-racehorses as my own and there is inspiration in what many have said.

I am also with LCM that the ill-fate of the majority of thoroughbreds is likely what hurts the entire industry the most.  When I learned of the dark underbelly I nearly walked away as a fan until I realized that the only way to make a difference is to remain a fan of horse racing. Slaughtering an animal that is bred and trained to trust us is about as ugly as human character can get.  It is the embodiment of evil in my opinion.

02 May 2010 3:05 PM

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