NEWS10 Special Report: A place for retired race horses

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. (NEWS10) – As the Saratoga racing season winds down, some wonder what happens to the horses at the end of their career.

Over 1 million people will visit the Saratoga Race Course for the 2015 season. But all of the horses that run don’t come out as champions.

For many, their racing career is an end with little dignity or discussion. But there is a special place being built to help retired race horses called Heading for Home Race Horse Restraining and Adoption Center.

It is not only a place to help horses but also people.

“We’re looking to take horses and provide a temporary place for them where we can work with them and transition them from the racetrack environment to a more adoptable environment,” Heading for Home President Joe Battaglia said.

“The retraining begins with, basically, it’s a big back-to-basics approach where a lot of the horses, the racehorses may even have a limited time at turnout facility, so it’s to get them accustomed to being away from the track,” he continued.

Patience is essential.

“Patience is a key word,” Battaglia said. “We keep the horses for a minimum of three months and even then the horses set the pace. The horse dictates when they’re ready. We evaluate their strengths and their weaknesses and try to match them up with the information we get on the adoption applications.”

Battaglia hopes to see support from the community.

“Our limit is how much support we can get,” he said. “The number of horses that are going to need this kind of help. I think, that’s not going to be the issue. It’s gonna be how many can we bring in and run our business.”

There’s a special bond between people and horses. There’s a place five miles from the track that’s therapeutic for not only the retired racehorse but people as well.

“It’s amazing. It’s amazing,” therapist Erin Christopher-Sisk said. “The beauty of equine-assisted counseling is that sometimes in the office, despite play therapy or other types of therapy that we use, sometimes those only have a limited capacity with a particular child, and so getting them out of the office and into the barn and actually interacting with a horse can allow us to work on those skills we’ve been trying to develop in a different way. We see day to day how effective it is.”

Christopher-Sisk is hopeful a horse from Saratoga will come full circle.

“It is really exciting,” she said. “You know, not only the benefits for humans but to see a horse come off the track, be retrained, and then have a new purpose, and the spark in that horse’s eye whenever you come into the barn, and they know what their job is. They know their time today is going to be working with a child, and they’re very emotionally intuitive beings.”

Occasionally, after a race horse is rescued, it is adopted and becomes part of a family.

“When I moved here, I was looking for a way to give back, and of course, my lens, if you will, would be through working with horses,” Elizabeth Ringlee said. “I discovered Heading for Home because I was looking to adopt some retired racehorses. I was concerned about the plight of racehorses when they retire.”

Heading for Home Race Horse Retraining and Adoption Center is being built in Saratoga to rescue retired horses to save them and also help people.

Ringlee is the marketing director. She says a rescued horse can bring happiness to families.

“The winner’s future is guaranteed,” she said. “The other horses who work equally as hard for their human partners are not always guaranteed the same kind of consideration. If you enjoy the races, if you attend the races, you have the immediate opportunity to give back to local organizations here in Saratoga that are providing transition training for horses.”

It’s all a numbers game. There are too many horses with nowhere to go at the end of their careers.

“There are over 100,000 horses born every year and registered with the jockey club,” Ringlee said. “So you have to say to yourself, where do they go every year? With a life span of 30 years, then there’s a lot of horses out there. That says the onus falls on the owners, the breeders, the trainers that truly enjoy the sport.”

Quick Chips is one of three rescues by Ringlee on her farm, who is a standard bred gelding that won multiple races but was retired because of an injury.

“Right now, it is a subtle waltz as to get the racing industry to embrace the concepts of transition training. They say as well as the jockey club and USTA say they support the premise,” she said. “We are in the development stage, if you will, about how that supports translate to active on the grounds to support for the animals themselves.”

There is a lot of responsibility in owning a horse both financially and with work involved. And with New York winters, proper training is key.

“The schooling that they get as a racehorse, the first lesson is to go very fast, and so the horse that come out of racing and are transitioned have to be retrained to be appropriately integrated into a family,” Ringlee said.

Even if you can’t adopt, there are other ways to help.

“There are a multitude of transitional training centers, sanctuaries, adoption programs in Upstate New York,” Ringlee said. “And if you wanted to work as a volunteer, sponsor a horse, breeder program, you can engage in the process as a visitor all the way up to an adopter.”

Is winning what makes for a successful racehorse? No, because most never do.

The real success for any horse is when he or she can be adopted and live out their lives in a loving home and to be able to help others.

Head to the LINKS page to see a list of rescue organizations and to learn more about Heading for Home Retraining and Adoption Center.

 

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