Horses First

Horses First

The thrill of the race, the excitement of placing a winning bet, the taste of your first mint julep—there’s nothing like the lifestyle that surrounds one of the oldest, most enduring sports in America. There are a million things to love about horse racing, but it all starts with the animals that make this sport so great. We’re immensely passionate about the well-being and enduring care provided to these athletes as they go from foal to champion to so much more.
“It’s been said that ‘A horse doesn’t care how much you know... until he knows how much you care.’”
Pat Parelli, American Horse Trainer
“Foal” refers to a young horse up to 1 year old. Male foals are also referred to as “colts,” while females are called “fillies.”
Whether they achieve Triple Crown glory or never set hoof on a track, every racehorse begins life as a foal at the farm. These farms represent the best of the best in foal care, with proven methodologies for raising the strongest and healthiest athletes possible.
What is a foal?
Once foaled, these curious little ones are up and walking within an hour and within a week are ready to begin stretching their legs with their dams (mothers) and other foals in monitored paddocks and pastures. As these horses grow, their time outdoors increases, as does their socialization with other horses in controlled environments to optimize health and safety during critical developmental months.
True or False? It is ideal to train Thoroughbreds at 2 years old.
Actually, it’s true!
Peer-reviewed research has shown that training and racing 2-year-old Thoroughbreds results in longer racing careers and less chance for injury.
At the end of the day, is there anything better than a happy, healthy baby horse? It’s hard not to fall in love!

Once a Thoroughbred begins its racing career, the level of monitoring and care continues to grow. These are majestic, 1,100-pound athletes we’re talking about, and as with any professional athlete, their success as a racehorse is predicated on ability, training, and care.

Some of these horses don’t just grow to become champions, but to become legends. Get a firsthand look at the place that trained hero American Pharoah:

The training can be rigorous, but great effort is taken to ensure the mental and physical soundness of each animal. Races are monitored, injuries are documented, and protective practices are developed to mitigate the potential risks. The health and safety of the horse is foremost. New technologies such as positron emission topography and magnetic resonance imaging, in addition to other cutting-edge imaging modalities, are frequently employed to assist veterinary professionals to better understand and get to the root of any medical issues that arise.
Technology isn’t the only area of racing that’s seeing big changes. Waves of reform are sweeping across the industry — the biggest being the Horseracing Integrity Act. The legislation implemented in 2022 will create a uniform national standard for drug testing and enforcement in racing to ensure the horses are safe and the sport is fair. It’s a horse-first bill that puts the equine athletes right where they should be — first.
“It’s all about the horse. People who work around these horses, they have to have a love and passion for the horse.”
Steve Norman, Farrier, To I Am Horse Racing
Though Thoroughbreds often retire from racing at a young age, their careers are far from over! These talented animals are prime candidates for work as leisure riding horses, show horses, police horses, polo horses, therapy horses, and loving companions. Transitioning horses from racing to retirement or to second careers is the mission of several outstanding organizations in the industry, such as those described below. Other aftercare organizations include the Retired Racehorse Project, Thoroughbred Charities of America, and the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation.
The Jockey Club Thoroughbred Incentive Program (T.I.P.), which was created to encourage the retraining of Thoroughbreds into other disciplines upon completion of careers in racing or breeding, provides incentives for competition horses, recreational horses, young riders, and Thoroughbreds in non-competitive second careers as well as championship horse shows. Since T.I.P.’s inception in 2012, more than 45,000 Thoroughbreds have competed in thousands of shows in almost every state and Canadian province as part of this exciting program.
The Maker’s Mark Secretariat Center (MMSC) is located at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Kentucky, the “Horse Capital of the World.” One of the most recognizable re-schooling and adoption facilities for retired racehorses in the country, MMSC works tirelessly to “prepare off-track Thoroughbreds for happy, healthy, and successful post-track careers by giving them a broad-based foundation of skills to ensure a harmonious match with their adopters.”
Likewise, New Vocations, the largest racehorse adoption program in the country, works to provide “a safety net for [retired] horses by matching them with qualified individuals and following up on their rehabilitation and vocational training to ensure a successful transition.” The organization retrains and rehomes hundreds of Thoroughbred racehorses each year, placing more than 7,000 in qualified homes to date. Take a peek inside their massive operation:
At the heart of it all is the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance, an umbrella organization that accredits and financially supports farms and facilities that provide aftercare to Thoroughbreds once their careers on the racetrack have ended. More than 70 Thoroughbred aftercare organizations accredited by the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance work tirelessly to transition Thoroughbreds from racetracks to second careers.
Want to get involved?
“If you want someone to fall in love with the sport, let a horse breathe on them.”
Alice Chandler, Mill Ridge Farm

We can’t say enough about how much we love horses, but you shouldn’t just take our word for it, because nothing compares to encountering one of these extraordinary animals firsthand. And where better to get to know them than Horse Country itself.

Horse Country is a not-for-profit organization that was formed by the farms, clinics, and even feed mills in Kentucky with the goal of providing authentic, engaging experiences that connect guests to the horses, land, and people that inspire love of the animal and Kentucky. So what are you waiting for? Book a trip and get ready to touch, smell, and taste all that Horse Country has to offer.

Want to learn more? Check out the ABCs of horse racing, see beginner’s guides to the sport, and so much more.

Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation is the nation's leading source of equine research funding. The projects it supports enhance the health and safety of horses of all breeds. Additional information about the foundation is available at

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