The thrill of the horse race track! The sounds of the horses hooves thundering across the track to the finish line, jockeys willing their horse forward, on-lookers cheering on their favorite horse to win–and money changing hands at the end. Ah, the glamor of the horse racing industry.
What happens to those horses when they can no longer race or receive career ending injuries? So often, these horses who are no longer “darlings” of the track, face neglect, abuse or end up at the slaughter house. What a sad, sad ending to a once glamourous life.
The Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation (TRF) is a registered non-profit organization that provides safe and humane facilities for these dignified and elegant horses to Iive out their days with comfort and care. The TRF is the largest equine sanctuary in the world that is devoted to the rescue, retirement, rehabilitation and re-training of Thoroughbred racehorses that are no longer able to compete on the racetrack.
“He (Stopwatch) came to Blackburn with bowed tendons in both front legs. I spend a lot of time taking care of his legs…when I walk out in the paddock and whistle he’ll come running up to me because he knows I’ll have a peppermint for him.”
The goal and mission of the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation is to retrain these racehorses to become simply riding horses and companion horses. And much of this retraining is done by inmates incarcerated at several correctional facilities around the country.
Along with working at correctional facilities throughout the country, the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation has begun a program working with correctional agencies to implement an educational program called Groom Elite. This program, which consists of six months of classroom instruction as well as daily hands-on experience, will teach the student/inmates all aspects of equine care. Upon completion, the students will earn a Groom Elite certificate that will help them further their career in equine care upon release from the correctional facility. The program can also help released inmates find employment at horse farms, training camps etc.
In 1999, the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation opened a farm at the Blackburn Correctional Complex in Lexington, Kentucky. Blackburn is Kentucky’s largest minimum security prison and on the property is an old dairy barn that has been converted to accommodate 80 horses that are living out their retirement on 100 acres of good old Kentucky bluegrass. The inmates help care for these aging horses and in turn learn skills of responsibility, compassion and caring.
Second Chance Farms is located in the state of Maryland and began working with the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation in 2009 and the Department of Public Safety & Correctional Services to help re-train the horses and help with inmates social and learning skills as well as compassion for another living creature.
The James River Work Center in Virginia also houses ex-racehorses that the carefully selected inmates work with. Pen work, mucking out stalls, grooming, feeding and other daily hands-on horse care. Volunteers in the horse industry help to supervise and provide training.
Other correctional facilities that provide inmate/equine care with the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation are the Lowell Correctional Institute in Ocala, FL; Plymouth County Sheriff’s Farm and Suffolk Downs in MA; Putnamville Correctional Facility in Indiana; Wallkill Correctional Facility in upstate NY and the Wateree River Correctional Facility in South Carolina. Plans to expand to other facilities are in the works.