Horse racing fans rejoiced when Justify clinched the American Triple Crown, becoming only the 13th Thoroughbred in history to do so. One of the most prestigious titles in sports, it is also one of the most difficult to achieve, and at this writing, the talented 3-year-old remains undefeated.
But what about the average American racehorse? Those for whom all the stars align—the ones who bring home the big checks and are pampered like celebrities—are rare indeed. Seldom heard about are the countless runners who don't win major races, get injured or face uncertain futures after their careers at the track are over. An all-too-common byproduct of the racing industry, "Thoroughbred throwaways" often end up starving, neglected and/or sent to auction.
Just ask veteran hunter/jumper trainer Collette Duddy, founder, owner and executive director of Second Chance Thoroughbreds, Inc. A rescue organization based in Spencer, New York, it is the subject of several videos scheduled for release this month on the "A Home For Every Horse" (AHFEH) website (https://ahomeforeveryhorse.com).
Duddy has worked with Thoroughbreds for years and has always admired the breed's athleticism and heart. But she experienced an epiphany during a September, 2011 visit to Finger Lakes Race Track in Farmington, New York. "It really opened my eyes about the number and quality of horses ready to retire from racing and needing immediate homes," she recalled. Recognizing the need for aftercare, she changed the focus of her lesson and training operation to include rehabilitating and retraining ex-racehorses for new careers, giving them the best chance of finding "forever homes." The result, in 2012, was the 501(c)(3) nonprofit charitable organization Second Chance Thoroughbreds, Inc.
Nowadays, Duddy and her seven regular volunteers—including two equine professionals—have about nine to 15 rescues in their care at any given time. Some are donated (along with sponsorship money) by owners seeking to retire their horses responsibly. Others are owner surrenders, sometimes several years removed from the track, while still others are horses listed for sale at the Finger Lakes Race Track for less than $500. "We do have a small budget for purchasing horses when stall space allows," Duddy noted. The rescue also maintains a small budget to help local horse owners with veterinary bills for gelding procedures or end-of-life services.
Approximately 90 horses have been rehomed through Second Chance Thoroughbreds since 2012. "We allow potential adopters to come and ride the horse to ensure it is a fit," Duddy said. "We also stress, both verbally and through our contract, that we will always take our horses back; there should never be a reason to send the horse to an auction." (The rescue's adoption contracts include no-racing and no-breeding stipulations, as well.)
Educational outreach is another component of Duddy's mission. "It was a natural extension to include riding lessons and our very successful summer horsemanship program in our services," she said. That means instruction for adults and children in English riding, dressage and horse management―but with an emphasis on Thoroughbred aftercare. "We often use our rescued Thoroughbreds in both programs (until the horses get adopted), and the students get to know the horses and their stories," she said.
To support its programs, Second Chance Thoroughbreds relies on fundraisers like its annual benefit horse show, grants from organizations like the Thoroughbred Charities of America and the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance, and assistance from the AHFEH program.
"A Home For Every Horse has been instrumental in providing not only media coverage, but also educational seminars and sponsorships with companies such as WeatherBeeta blankets for adopted horses and Purina feed coupons, " Duddy affirmed. "The free advertising on Equine.com has been extremely beneficial; we have been very successful getting horses adopted because of the advertising."
The feed coupons are also particularly helpful, she added. "Purchasing top quality feed for our horses is the largest expense we face every year," she explained. "Thoroughbreds are not always easy keepers, but they seem to thrive on the Purina Senior (not just for seniors)... when we have a new rescue horse, the Purina Senior is great for helping an emaciated horse slowly put back on the weight."
As Duddy noted, Thoroughbreds are making a comeback in hunter/jumper circles, thanks in part to the Retired Racehorse Project, the TAKE 2 program and the Jockey Club's Thoroughbred Incentive Program. "These programs have been great for increasing the prices of Thoroughbreds retiring directly from the track, and that is great for the sound, healthy, big horses that are sought after for sport.
"As a Thoroughbred rescue, we take part in both the TIP program and the RRP to show that horses with injuries, blemishes and/or many races can go on to a successful second career, too," she said.
For more information about Second Chance Thoroughbreds, Inc., visit http://secondchancethoroughbreds.org. Photos are available upon request.
About A Home For Every Horse
A Home For Every Horse was created in 2011 as the result of a partnership between the Active Interest Media Equine Network, the nation’s leading publisher of equine-related content, and the American Horse Council’s Unwanted Horse Coalition.
The A Home For Every Horse program helps connect homeless horses in over 600 501(c)(3) rescue facilities across the United States with people looking for horses. To help make the connection, rescue organizations can list their horses for free on Equine.com, the world’s largest horse marketplace, where they can be seen by 300,000 visitors each month.
Rescue organizations involved with A Home For Every Horse are also provided with many great benefits from the sponsors involved with the program. A Home For Every Horse specifically works with sponsors to help provide much-needed assistance to rescues around the country. In recent years, Purina has donated a half ton of feed to eligible rescues through A Home For Every Horse. Zoetis, WeatherBeeta and Tractor Supply provide many donations, as well.