Retirement Program Designed To Assist Equines, Humans

Many fashionably bred horses retire from the racetrack to a second career in the breeding business, but that's not an option for some others. Enter John Stuart, president of the bloodstock agency Bluegrass Thoroughbred Services and an advocate of the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation.

"What happens to these horses is sort of a dirty little secret," Stuart said. "(Many) aren't that familiar with it, but it's pretty gruesome. A lot of nice horses basically get slaughtered for their meat. I hate to see the (National Thoroughbred Racing Association) and the horse business have this great momentum going forward, and all of a sudden get mired down because 60 Minutes has this program on what we do to these horses when they're finished."

Stuart is a member of the TRF's national board, and together with Diana Pikulski, executive director of TRF, was instrumental in a recent boost for the organization. In late April, Kentucky Gov. Paul Patton announced the commonwealth had donated 100 acres to TRF to house and rehabilitate retired racehorses.

The land is part of Blackburn Correctional Complex, a minimum-security state correctional facility near Lexington. As an added bonus, the state will provide the labor in the form of inmates to man the equine operation. "It's a situation that doesn't cost the state a lot of money because the facility is here, the help is here," Stuart said. "It's sort of a win for the state, the department of corrections, and a big win for the horse community."

Warden Thomas Dreher oversees the 394 inmates at Blackburn. Approximately 70--equal to the number of horses--will be involved in the program. The inmates will go through a screening after they volunteer to help with the horses, then participate in an intensive training program, both hands-on and in the classroom. Former lieutenant Jeff Oliver, a 10-year employee of Blackburn who has practical farming knowledge, was appointed farm manager May 17.

Organizers hope to begin accepting horses in September. Stuart said there are two kinds of horses the facility hopes to help--former racehorses that simply need a place to live, and those who can be retrained and adopted. The goal is to be able to save 70 horses every six months.

Stuart also hopes to set up a program whereby each horse would have a sponsor. With labor provided by the state, and alfalfa grown on another 59 TRF acres also manned by inmates, the estimated cost per horse is $3 a day.

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