Photos by Training Racehorses Off The Track.
A lifelong racing fan, Bonnie Adams was shocked when she found out that many racehorses didn’t have a place to go after retirement.
This inspired her to start Training Racehorses Off The Track (TROTT) in 2009 to give horses a place to go after their racing careers.
Located in Laguna Niguel, Calif., TROTT’s main goal is to prevent horses from falling into bad positions, both physically and mentally.
“I believe that taking the horse before he gets into a bad situation and has mental issues will obviously make him easier to train for a new discipline. I also believe that giving him new job skills gives him a new value — and thereby a safe future. Put simply, I prefer to focus on preventing the abuse that happens when they leave the track in the wrong hands,“ said Adams, now TROTT’s director.
Since its inception in 2009, TROTT has placed about 100 horses. Most TROTT horses aren’t placed in new homes until they are trained under saddle, with the horses getting a solid foundation before moving on to a new home. After a lay-up period, horses go through about six months of training so TROTT knows what discipline the horse best fits. Because of the training process, no horse in rehabilitation from an injury is placed in a new home until they are completely sound.
TROTT takes back any horse it has adopted out, if necessary, so the program tries to make the right match the first time. Because of this, potential adopters go through a screening process before TROTT matches them with horses in the program that may fit their needs.
A TROTT GRADUATE AND HIS NEW OWNER
If a horse is a good fit for the adopter, the adoption process is finalized as soon as the adopter is able.
“The buyers must agree to our limited, lifetime bill of sale, which basically says we always have first right of refusal should they want to transfer ownership,” Adams said. “We hope we don’t ever need to take a horse back, but we are their safety net should they need us. The adopter must agree to help us never lose track of their TROTT horse. A TROTT adopter shares our commitment to the horse.”
Since starting TROTT, Adams has seen a resurgence of Thoroughbred popularity as the show world moves back to the breed. She credits all Thoroughbred classes and incentive programs as one reason the market is again strong for Thoroughbreds.
“Many sport horse trainers and riders are again appreciating the athleticism of Thoroughbreds, and are looking for their own [off-the-track Thoroughbred] partner. Years ago, [Thoroughbreds] were the main breed in many disciplines, but then Warmbloods came into favor and OTTBs found themselves with fewer job options. These days those same sport-horse disciplines once again appreciate the versatility, heart, and talents of OTTBs. At TROTT we like to say ‘OTTBs are retro cool,’ ” she said.
For those wanting to buy a retired racehorse, it is a recommended that they go through an aftercare program. Adams believes that only professionals and those with professional help should adopt a horse straight from the track. Inexperienced owners can fail to understand that Thoroughbreds sometimes need more time and flexibility than another breed, creating a bad situation for both the horse and owner. She also believes that people should research how horses live at the track in order to have a better understanding of what the horse does and does not know.
For newer owners who want to buy a horse straight off the track, Adams recommends that the person find a trainer who has experience with Thoroughbreds and that the buyer makes sure the horse has a period to relax and transition to his or her new life.
“Thoroughbreds are more sensitive than many other breeds, and often are labeled as difficult horses simply because inexperienced owners don’t understand they require time, patience, and understanding. They should never be rushed and need to be communicated with kindly so they understand what is being asked of them. Their willing attitude makes them want to please, but it takes the experienced trainer to know how to communicate with them and how to be their leader — in a kind and fair way. OTTBs appreciate fairness and clear, confident communication,” she said.
Adams also cautions that just because a retired racehorse seems to be progressing fast doesn’t mean that the horse should be pushed too soon.
“Just because you could take a racehorse from the track to the jumping ring in 30 days doesn’t mean that is doing the best for the horse. If longevity and a solid partner are your goals, you need to invest the time to get there.”
TROTT’s goal is to promote retired racehorses as talented athletes that shouldn’t be overlooked just because they are less expensive than other breeds. Adams believes that the sport is making big strides in aftercare by forming the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance (TAA).
“The racing industry has come together to form the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance to help ensure industry-wide funding for accredited organizations that care for Thoroughbreds at the conclusion of their race career. This is wonderful
news for OTTBs and shows the fans, as well as the general public, that OTTBs are valuable and deserving of respect and a safe future beyond the track,” she said.
TROTT was one of the first programs to be accredited by the TAA, a certification it was very proud to receive. Adams believes the TAA’s certification program will help the public when deciding which program to support with donations as all TAA programs are held to high standards.
“The Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance certification program is one of the best things to happen to date,” she said. “Fans and supporters can now choose to donate to aftercare groups that have been thoroughly vetted out. Donors will know their tax-deductible donation is being used as they intended. All grants and donations to TROTT are used for the direct care of the horses.”
In addition to donating to TROTT, those who want to support the program can volunteer in several different positions. From barn chores to marketing, the program has many positions for a person’s talents.
For more information on TROTT and its horses, you can visit www.trottusa.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.