As Kentucky Derby 138 approaches, attention is focused on the 3-year-old crop of young thoroughbreds vying to win the sport's most prestigious race. They run their hearts out for our amusement.
But do you ever wonder what happens to these and other thoroughbred racehorses once their racing or breeding careers are over?
With the growing popularity of big box office horse movies such as Seabiscuit, Dreamer, Secretariat, and War Horse, comes the heightened awareness of the welfare of these beautiful and versatile thoroughbreds (to say nothing of HBO's short-lived series Luck, canceled after three horses died during production).
Many of these horses are still young and have their long lives ahead of them, with much to still contribute after they are retired from racing careers. Thoroughbreds have been successfully retrained in many disciplines including dressage, eventing, hunter-jumpers, barrel racing, pole bending, polo and trail riding. After it became known that Exceller, a champion thoroughbred, was sent to a slaughterhouse in Sweden in 1997 and 2002 Kentucky Derby winner Ferdinand’s death at slaughter in Japan after his breeding career was over, there was a glaring focus on the plight of many retired racehorses. Endings like theirs, however, do not have to happen.
Thanks to Kentucky-based thoroughbred racehorse adoption and retirement facilities, many of Kentucky’s off-the-track thoroughbreds are getting their second chances at new careers or enjoying a safe and dignified retirement at facilities dedicated to their well being.
My daughters and I made the trip down to Lexington on a gorgeous April spring day to visit two of these facilities—The Makers Mark Secretariat Center located in the Kentucky Horse Park and Old Friends Equine, a Thoroughbred retirement facility, located in Georgetown. Both facilities also educate the public about the thoroughbred horse’s incredible attributes.