A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Former racehorses get a new lease on life through New Vocations adoption program


A superstar Standardbred at the track while pulling a sulky, Special Report has become a reliable riding horse and is an ambassador for the New Vocations retraining and adoption program (Photo courtesy of Shelley Johnson)

A superstar Standardbred at the track while pulling a sulky, Special Report has become a reliable riding horse and is an ambassador for the New Vocations retraining and adoption program. (Photo courtesy of Shelley Johnson)


 

By Liane Crossley
Kyforward correspondent
 

Although they were born to run, racehorses can do much more — all they need is retraining and placement with a suitable owner.
 

The nonprofit New Vocations Racehorse Adoption Program has been fulfilling that mission since 1992 and has rehomed about 5,000 Thoroughbreds and Standardbreds.
 

What started as something of a hobby for lifelong horsewoman Dot Morgan has evolved into the nation’s largest organizations of its kind, with Morgan’s daughters — Anna Ford and Winnie Nemeth — now overseeing much of the program.
 

Considered too slow to continue racing, Christmas Trippi has excelled as show horse after being adopted through New Vocations (Photo courtesy of New Vocations)

Considered too slow to continue racing, Christmas Trippi has excelled as show horse after being adopted through New Vocations (Photo courtesy of New Vocations)

Originally launched in Ohio, New Vocations has branched into several facilities including 80-acre West Wind Farm in eastern Fayette County. The farm is used as a schooling center where former racers are taught basic skills that will enhance their value as pleasure mounts.
 

“I have a saying that ‘all roads lead to Lexington in the racing world,’ at least for the eastern states,” said Ford, director of the Thoroughbred program. “There are so many Thoroughbreds in Lexington that it made sense for us to open a facility to better service the area.  The [commercial] shipping companies have vans coming into Lexington from everywhere from Florida to Louisiana to New York, which makes it very easy for donors to get their horses to us.” 
 

New Vocations accepts only candidates with potential as riding horses. The animals are thoroughly evaluated before receiving basic schooling designed as a transition from life at the track to a more relaxed lifestyle where going slow is a virtue. Horses generally are trained for two months before being offered for adoption.
 

Potential adopters must fill out a detailed application that includes a request for references and contractual agreement that the horse does not change hands for at least a year. Adopters must provide three written updates within that year so New Vocations can provide the previous owner of the horse’s progress. The information also is posted on the New Vocations website as inspiration for riders to consider former runners for their next horse.
 

New Vocations Racehorse Adoption Program retrains Thoroughbreds for careers other than racing at several locations including a facility in Lexington.(Photo courtesy of New Vocations)

New Vocations Racehorse Adoption Program retrains Thoroughbreds for careers other than racing at several locations including a facility in Lexington.(Photo courtesy of New Vocations)

Ford emphasizes that Thoroughbreds — prized for speed and athleticism — are not ideal for every rider. She and the New Vocations team carefully screen applicants while serving as matchmakers between human and animal.
 

“We work hard to help each adopter figure out what they really want to do, which then helps us better match them with the best horse,” Ford said.
 

Harness horses as riding horses
 

Standardbreds by nature are more docile than sensitive Thoroughbreds. Thoroughbreds are designed with a focus on fast while Standardbreds originally evolved from carriage horses that were required to be gentle enough for all family members and durable enough to go long distances.
 

Stereotyped as cart horses, Standardbreds, in fact, are ideal for riding and nimble enough for jumping, barrel racing and other fine-tuned endeavors.
 

“Standardbreds are very forgiving of riders’ faults and also very solid under saddle, so overall they make excellent riding horses once the proper time and training has been put into them,” said Winnie Nemeth, New Vocations Standardbred program director. “The advantages of owning a Standardbred is that you generally are getting a  horse with thousands of hours of training and driving experience. What comes with being in this type of program is a professional athlete who has seen it all. Tractors, crowds, trucks, loud noises, etc. do not bother these horses as they have trained around and through these elements their entire time at the track.”
 

These experiences blended with their even temperament make Standardbreds ideal for pleasure riding.
 

Ira’s Sunny Boy raced more than 200 times as a harness horse and now is a dependable mount for leisurely trail rides after being channeled through New Vocations .(Photo courtesy of New Vocations)

Ira’s Sunny Boy raced more than 200 times as a harness horse and now is a dependable mount for leisurely trail rides after being channeled through New Vocations .(Photo courtesy of New Vocations)

“They do not bolt and are generally not spooky,” Nemeth said. “They are tolerant, durable, confident, have great minds and willing attitudes and are extremely obedient again due to the many years of professional training in harness.” 
 

The epitome of the Standardbred is Special Report, who earned more than $1 million at the track in 188 races. Now 14, the gelding is excelling in his new activities including as a show horse under a 10-year-old rider and as a New Vocations ambassador.
 

For love of horses
 

When Dot Morgan began placing retired racehorses with caring owners more than two decades ago, she never envisioned her thoughtfulness would expand into New Vocations. At the time, she felt she merely was filling a gap between families seeking affordable horses and former racers needing a purpose.
 

Morgan’s parents bred Standardbreds and she is married to a fifth-generation driver and trainer. Her life always has revolved around horses including ten years as an equine adviser for 4-H.
 

“I was content finding homes for 40 retiring racehorses a year,” she said. “It was very rewarding to give a horse to a family that couldn’t justify spending $2,000 to buy a horse and watch it bloom under their care.”
 

In 1998 a Thoroughbred owner provided Morgan with seed money to transform her mission into a 501 c 3 charity and encouraged her to expand the project and eventually open the Lexington division. Her daughters embraced the challenge.
 

“From there, fueled with the energy and vision of youth, New Vocations has grown one facility at a time,” she said.
In addition to the Lexington division, New Vocations has outlets in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Michigan.
 

“The Lexington facility brings a lot more visibility to our program as the majority of our supporters and donors make it to Lexington sometime during the year,” Anna Ford said. “It gives us a great chance to show them firsthand what we do.”
 

For more information visit horseadoption.com


Related Posts

Leave a Comment