“We get a lot from the horses in this game. It’s just good karma to give back. They’re living animals – We have to take care of them.”
So explains Stacie Clark, the training manager of the Adena Springs Retirement Program. She oversees the retraining of half a hundred Thoroughbreds per year. What started out as a turn-out paddock at Adena Springs South, near Ocala, Florida, has turned into a successful re-homing model for the Thoroughbred industry – one that could be held up as a standard for all the major Thoroughbed operations to emulate.
It’s about responsibility, and it’s about acknowledging that horses are living things, not commodities to be produced, consumed, and discarded. When one of the most successful Thoroughbred breeders in the world chooses to set an example of owner responsibility, the entire industry must pay attention. A perennial fixture on the top breeders’ lists, Adena Springs has won multiple Eclipse Awards for their breeding program, and in 2009, the farm led two-year-old sales, grossing $3.4 million dollars on 69 prospects sold at auction.
Whither the good karma? It starts in a pasture near Ocala, Florida, where the Adena Springs South operation turns out their retirees for a lazy winter in the Florida sun.
These horses are largely homebreds, some responsible for the more than 600 wins per year that Adena Springs’ racing arm racks up yearly, and some the more less successful members of the family. Family is the keyword here. When you plan your breedings around the kitchen table, and you name your own horses, you remember that these horses of your creation are your children and your responsibility. They aren’t allowed to drop through the claiming ranks, scarcely bringing in enough cash to buy cheap hay. These horses are given a second chance before time is too short.
Some are rehabs, Clark says, on lay-up from the usual ailments of the equine athlete: those troubled suspensories, tendons, and bone chips. Some simply haven’t figured out what their life’s work is yet.
Each spring Clark travels to Ocala from her home base at the northern Adena Springs operation in Ontario, and begins sorting through the prospects to see who is ready for their new life. She takes them north in groups of eight or ten in late spring, giving each group about a month’s work before bringing on the next. Living mostly out in the mild Canadian summer, just as they did in Florida, the horses live a back-to-nature lifestyle after the grind of the racetrack. They receive extensive groundwork, beginning with some Parelli techniques, before moving on to under-saddle work. When they’re at last offered for sale, they’re no longer racing machines – they’re ready to forge lasting partnerships with their new riders.
And they go quickly – word has spread about the well-bred, well-cared-for, and well-trained horses that Adena Springs offers for sale, and Clark says that when people come, they often bring their horse-seeking friends. Much of their current sales are based upon word-of-mouth referrals. All in all, about forty horses each year go through the program and find new careers.
At the program’s “Success Stories” Web page, pictures of bright-eyed, prick-eared Thoroughbreds in every form of tack and competing in every discipline speak volumes about the value of Adena Springs’ retirement work. Scopey eventers, elegant hunters, friendly trail horses: these are valued members of a family, someone’s children – just as they were bred to be.