Adena Springs: Caring for Their Own

“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.

Royal Regalia, an Adena Springs success story.

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.

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8 Comments

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8 responses to “Adena Springs: Caring for Their Own

  1. If all owners took this path, the cruetly that most racehorses face would be over and they would not be sent to underground killer buyers and sent to Mexico and Canada for brutal slaughter. Why is it the industry as a whole will not stand up and support the retirement of racehorses? too much greed of course. the horses who run for their lives deserve a safety net of a percentage of all purse money to be used for racehorse rehabilitation and re homeing. The horses make it all possible and yet they are left out and sent out to die like they never exsisted. the industry is not the Sport of Kings, but the Sport of Shame.

    • Natalie Keller Reinert

      Hi Patricia, welcome and thank you for the comment! I see you’re active in Thoroughbred retirement and for that, I have to give you my sincere thanks.

      The question of owner responsibility spans the entire equine industry – indeed, it spans pet and animal ownership as a whole. There will always be people who justify the heartless treatment of animals with, “They’re just a horse/a dog/a bird/etc, and not worth our time and compassion.” Just as those of us engaged in rescuing animals use very similar words to justify our work: “They ARE a horse/a dog/a bird/etc. and therefore worth our time and compassion.”

      As an interested observer, and a small-time member of the industry (I have registered four Thoroughbred foals in the past two years) I believe that national regulation of the racing industry is a must if we are going to provide these horses with dignified ends – even if it is euthanasia, because we do have to acknowledge that we do not have an infinite amount of space and money to provide homes to unsound pasture pets or irretrievably untrainable thugs. Moreover I believe that we need to provide much more outreach to the performance horse world that we have very fine horses available to suit every discipline and personality – which I hope I am doing in some small way with this blog.

      It is to Adena Springs’ eternal credit, as one of the truly huge breeders in North America, that they take care of their own. We can’t ask for a better example, and their program needs to be held up and given as much press as possible.

      I hope to do a follow-up from their Ocala farm soon.

      Again, many thanks for your comments, Patricia, and the work you do at RACE Fund.

  2. Of course, I worship the Stronachs!
    Kudos to Mr. Stronach, a true Canadian Hero of mine.

    wonder if they need help..
    hmmmm.

    Great post, as usual.

    • Natalie Keller Reinert

      I will add him to my ode to Canada. What was it, Northern Dancer, and something else… you? 🙂 and Mr. Stronach.

  3. GemTwist

    Great to here that a big member of the TB racing industry is doing it’s part to help re-home horses before it’s too late to save them.

    I am fortunate to have 4 ex racers at the barn I work at. They all love their new jobs and have been doing them for a few years now. One is 18 and is sound with clean legs and loves to jump. The only mare loves running with the hounds 🙂 The 10 year old is a great hunter and does well in the show ring. We are working on the newest off the track. He’s coming along nicely with slow consistent ground and ridden work.

    Great article you have here!

    • Thanks – they do a great job up there, don’t they? I’d like to find out about more major racing ops that are doing similar work. Adena Springs has received quite a lot of media attention within the racing industry – so it appears that they stand head and shoulders above the others.

  4. with the Breeders Cups coming and all the current excitment , it woud be a wonderful time for the Public to voice opinions on the lack of care given to horses that cannot compete anymore and have no safety net. the industry as a whole needs to commit to a perrcentage of gross purse money at all track to support retirement facilites.TRF is a shining example of how to take care of retriees . Blue HORSE CHARITIES ANOTHER.

  5. Pingback: Progress in Racehorse Retirement – Forbes | Retired Racehorse

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