Photos courtesy of Beyond The Roses Equine Rescue and Retirement.
After nearly 30 years in the horse industry, including working with another Thoroughbred aftercare organization for nine years, Gail Hirt decided that she was ready to start her own aftercare program.
In 2011, she opened Beyond The Roses Equine Rescue and Retirement in Emmett, Mich. with two friends. A few months later, in February 2012, the program earned its 501(c)3 status.
Since that February, Beyond The Roses has found new homes for 37 of its own horses and seven outside horses. All horses that enter the program receive some down time before heading to the program’s trainer, so Beyond The Roses can get a better feel of what the horse wants to do in his or her second career.
“When a Thoroughbred comes to us, many have not seen a farm or paddock for many years after being kept at the track,” Hirt said. “When they come to us, we give them some ‘down’ time to acclimate to being a horse. We allow them time to be outside with other horses and [get used to] being handled. When they are ready, we send them to our trainer, Martha Denver, of Whispering Point Farm, where they are ridden and trained. After some time, we determine what disciplines they will be suited for and start marketing them for an appropriate home.”
Beyond The Roses takes in many different types of racehorses but it likes to focus on racing’s war horses – those who have won more than $500,000 in their careers and are now running for claiming prices of $5,000 or less.
The program keeps a list of horses who qualify, known as “Project Monzante Horses” and attempts to retire them in conjunction with other rescues who also monitor the list.
“One of the most prominent horses that we helped is Twisted Wit, aka Twister, who is by Distorted Humor,” Hirt said. “Twister began his racing career at Woodbine Race Track in Canada as a 2-year-old and … competed at Woodbine for five years and started dropping down the ranks and ended up in claiming races. He was claimed in 2008 and brought to the states where he was claimed nine times over the next two years. We found him at Calder Race Course in Florida where he was not racing sound. Many people were following this horse and felt he needed to be retired. Funds were raised on the internet to claim him for retirement.”
After being stall bound for two years due to multiple issues, Twister was finally able to move to a paddock with some of Beyond the Roses’ other war horses, including Top Bunk, who has lifetime earnings of $554,284, and Nyuk Nyuk Nyuk, a multiple stakes winner.
“Recently, we were able to retire Fuhrever Dancing, with the help of Thoroughbred owner Maggi Moss. Fuhrever Dancing is a multiple stakes winner by Langfuhr that ran 51 of his 99 races at Woodbine with Twisted Wit and Nyuk Nyuk Nyuk and had lifetime earnings of $695,148,” Hirt said.
NYUK NYUK NYUK
Beyond The Roses other success stories include Native Kitten, a daughter of Kitten’s Joy who won two races in 28 starts before coming to Beyond The Roses. Native Kitten was adopted by a first-time horse owner, who trained the horse with Hirt overseeing the progress for the first year.
“To my amazement, Ally boarded her at a farm that practiced the Parelli Natural Horsemanship method,” Hirt said. “This is the method Ally used to train Kitten, who she renamed Annabelle. It has been two years since she adopted Annabelle, and recently they both moved to Colorado to be closer to the Parelli people. Annabelle is working on her Level 4 and Ally is a first star trainer for the Parelli method. We are so proud of them.”
Most adopters don’t need to have their training overseen by Beyond The Roses and many are approved for adoption only one to two days after filling out an application with reference information.
Since many of Beyond The Roses’ horses come directly from the track, those who are adopted before going to Beyond The Roses’ trainer need someone who can teach them basic pleasure riding skills. Many of the horses who are adopted from Beyond The Roses also need to be reintroduced to spending time in paddocks, so the program makes sure the fencing where the horses are kept is up to a certain standard.
Hirt recommends that anyone who buys a Thoroughbred straight from the track gives them time off and has the patience to go slow with the horse. Hirt also recommends that riders work with a qualified trainer in addition to having the horse thoroughly evaluated by a veterinarian before planning for the horse’s second career.
“Don't be in a hurry with them. Give them time to become a horse again. Don't rush them with training. Don't push them to do something that they are not capable of doing mentally. Let them bond with you and you will find they will do anything for you,” she said.
NATIVE KITTEN AND ALLY
Beyond The Roses has seen the Thoroughbred gain popularity as more people realize how versatile the breed is. However, the stereotype that Thoroughbreds are hot-blooded horses remains a common perception. Hirt has a different opinion.
“Thoroughbreds, I think, have gotten a bum rap over the years. Many think that they hot-blooded horses, which isn't usually true after they have been off of the track for a few months. I have seen most of the horses we help come ‘down’ after a couple months of being off the track. Most of these horses quiet down very nicely and are very easy to ride and work with. They are very intelligent horses and pick up training very quickly,” she said.
Hirt has learned a lot from running an aftercare program. She says that all those thinking about starting their own program need to be prepared for lots of hard work in many different areas.
While it is important to have horse experience, it is also important to be able to get support both at the care and monetary levels so that the program can take care of the horses that are donated to it.
Finally, an understanding of paperwork is needed as there are different forms that need to be filled out at the state and national level to become a 501(c)3 charity.
Volunteering at a well-established aftercare facility will provide a learning opportunity to anyone interested in opening their own program, including seeing the highs and lows of working with a rescue-type program.
Beyond The Roses is always looking for good volunteers who have horse experience in addition to always needing supplies and monetary donations. The program has expanded its facilities in the past year and hopes to add more to its properties in 2014.
“This past year we were able to make some improvements to house more horses,” Hirt said. “This coming year we have on our wish list two round pens to put up at two of our farms, so we may have a confined area to work with the horses. Our rescue completely exists on donations from supporters and grants. Without their help, we would not be able to help the horses we help into new careers after racing.”
For those interested in learning more about Beyond The Roses Equine Rescue & Retirement, you can visit its website at http://www.beyondtherosesequine.org.
If you know of a Thoroughbred Aftercare program that you think should be covered in America’s Best Racing’s Aftercare Program Spotlight, email Melissa Bauer-Herzog (firstname.lastname@example.org) with the program’s name and website.