Don’t know about you, but I am asked to work with a number of worthwhile causes each year—human and horse. I’ve gotten better over the years at saying no, just because if you get involved in too many things, you can’t do a good job at any of them. That doesn’t mean the ones that get a no are not worthy of time and effort, just that I’m not the right person for that particular project.

However, I’ve been asked to join a new, but not-so-new, group here in Kentucky that could help hundreds, maybe thousands, of horses in the ensuing years. It’s a project that has a solid background, a successful track record, able volunteers, and an extreme need.

The Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation (TRF) and the Kentucky Department of Corrections have worked out a deal that will create Blackburn TRF. This will be a program like the one at Wallkill in New York or the Charles H. Hickey School TRF in Maryland. At those institutions, imprisoned men or youth are given the opportunity to work with retired racehorses which are being rehabilitated and retrained. The inmates learn the skills of horse handling and care, and the horses get a good home. The inmates develop self-esteem as they become the caretakers either long-term or short-term for Thoroughbreds whose careers on the racetrack are over, and the horses have a “jumping-off point” for the next phase of their lives.

I am not opposed to equine slaughter as an industry (“there are worse fates than a quick, painless death at a federally inspected slaughter house”). However, I would much prefer retraining competitive horses for a new career, even if that career is babysitting a bunch of yearlings or being a pasture ornament. As long as the horses are well-cared for in their new lives.

The Blackburn TRF will do just that. And horses could be housed on the facility starting as soon as this summer.

Working with a group called Re-Run, which finds new homes for racehorses whose careers are over, the Kentucky TRF will be able to house and manage (at maturity) up to 70 horses at the 96-acre Blackburn facility. These horses probably will be about 20-30% lifers (horses which are so physically disabled that they will stay at the property until their quality of life demands euthanasia), and the rest will be horses waiting for new homes.

Background checks will be done on all potential new owners, and veterinary inspections will be done in the first year of adoption at the new owner’s property. The Commonwealth of Kentucky will provide a manager for the farm who will oversee the inmates, utilize the TRF program to teach inmates how to work around horses, and donate the land for use of the TRF program, as well as offer other incentives. The industry will assist in maintaining (paying for) renovation and upkeep of the facilities, and pay for equine supplies, feed, and veterinary and farrier care. Industry leaders also will provide educational assistance to teach inmates about horses.

The TRF is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, so all donations of money or equipment are tax-deductible.

It is estimated that each horse at Blackburn TRF can be maintained for $2-$3 per day. (Yes, that’s $2-$3 per day for housing, feed, and care. Everything.) The Blackburn TRF is seeking companies and individuals to sponsor a horse for a year at that rate. The foundation also is seeking corporate sponsorship for the renovation of the buildings, as well as donations of goods from equine companies and services from veterinary and farrier professionals.

The racetracks in Kentucky stepped up and offered their help immediately. Individual Kentuckians such as John Stuart (who is on the national board of the TRF) and Benny Williams of Cromwell Bloodstock have served as the “whippers-in” for organizing the Kentucky group.

Kentucky Gov. Paul Patton has proven himself a friend of the horse industry many times. He announced this program the week prior to the Kentucky Derby, Kentucky’s premiere showcase for Thoroughbred racing.

The Blackburn TRF will provide a way for some Thoroughbreds to leave racing in a dignified manner and be re-trained for other athletic careers. It will provide an alternative for some horses to become useful members of the equine community as trail mounts, pleasure horses, or horses used in riding for the handicapped programs. For other horses, it provides an alternative to slaughter.

If you know me, then expect to be contacted to help with this worthwhile cause. If you don’t know me but recognize the benefits that this program will bring to the equine industry, then contact the Foundation to offer help. If you are a company, think not only of giving something back to the industry that gives you your bottom line, but of the potential new clients and horse owners out there being created to buy your products. If you are a horse owner, think of giving a special horse a chance. If you enjoy humanitarian efforts, think of the positive results that these programs have brought to inmates during their time of incarceration, and afterward.

The Blackburn TRF organization can be reached by calling John Stuart at 606/885-5525. To make a donation or for more information on the Thoroughbred Racing Foundation, call 732/957-0182; fax 732/671-7538; or e-mail

This is one project to which you should say, “Yes!”


About the Author

Kimberly S. Brown

Kimberly S. Brown was the Publisher/Editor of The Horse: Your Guide To Equine Health Care from June 2008 to March 2010, and she served in various positions at Blood-Horse Publications since 1980.

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