The news story last year shocked the Bluegrass: Ferdinand, winner of the 1986 Kentucky Derby, had been sent to a slaughterhouse in Japan.
Behind the scenes of the glamorous world of horse racing, it’s a more common end than you might think: racehorses who no longer make money for their owners and trainers can face an uncertain future.
What to do with a retired racehorse has been a problem recognized long before the story of Ferdinand came out, though, with many organizations being formed throughout the country to rescue ex-racehorses.
So it’s only fitting that one of the largest rescue organizations is based here in Kentucky, near Millersburg.
Shon Wylie and Lori Neagle are the founders of ReRun, a non-profit group that helps racehorses find second careers.
“Most of our horses are off the track,” says Shon. “Many were donated because they had no talent for racing, but are otherwise physically able for other sports.”
Begun as a division of the Humane Society of Kentucky, ReRun was incorporated as its own entity in 1998. It started small, with a handful of horses kept at Shon’s farm. Today, it’s an eight-state organization with a waiting list of horses to be accepted into the rehabilitation program.
The goal of ReRun is to “recycle” racehorses, giving them a chance to pursue new disciplines. Donated horses are professionally assessed on their temperament, talents, and physical capabilities. When a horse is ready, whether in two months or two years, he or she becomes available for adoption.
A donated horse must meet certain requirements to be accepted in the ReRun program, Shon notes.
“The horse needs to be capable of being rehabbed into at least a pleasure horse,” she says, “or perhaps as low-level jumpers or dressage ,” a form of English riding often referred to as horse ballet. While many horses are donated due to injuries, rendering them incapable of high-impact sports, Shon says some ReRun horses have gone on to physically demanding disciplines such as eventing, which is composed of dressage, stadium jumping, and cross-country jumping courses.
Shon and Lori delight in listing their success stories. Hope of Glory and Come On Get Happy are two well-known horses that came through the ReRun program. Our Mims, a sister of Alydar, was rescued through ReRun. Region is now a dressage horse in New Jersey, and John Ferneley, once a top turf horse in England, is happily doing fox hunting as a second career.
A lot of a horse’s success depends on temperament.
“Good racehorses generally have an attitude of ‘Don’t you know who I am?’ ” laughs Shon. “Those are the ones who later perform well.”
Currently, there are about 20 horses in the Kentucky chapter of ReRun. They are stabled at various farms in the state, the most notable being Bethlehem Farm in Paris.
This 50-acre farm, home to six ReRun horses, has expanded its program to include people. Here, women with emotional and/or spiritual problems rebuild their lives alongside the horses.
Founded by Christian missionary Sandra White, Bethlehem Farm offers a refuge for women and horses by providing a working horse farm to rehabilitate and retrain thoroughbreds from ReRun and private farms. The women work with the horses as they work toward resolving their own personal issues through on-site counseling, Bible studies, and encouragement from staff and volunteers.
Come On Get Happy is the adopted mascot at Bethlehem Farm. Donated to ReRun by trainer Elliott Walden, Sandra beams while watching Happy being ridden.
“This is a great example,” she says, “of what can happen when a thoroughbred is taken care of after retirement so he can have a second career.” Sandra plans on introducing a dressage program at the farm by learning this discipline aboard Happy.
It takes a lot of money to take care of a lot of horses, and ReRun is involved in many fund-raising efforts. Adoption fees, which run from $300 to $1,500; Kentucky Thoroughbred Farm Manager Club-sponsored golf tournaments; Thoroughbred Charities of America donations of auctioned items; and ReRun’s All-Thoroughbred Horse Shows raise the bulk of their funds. But their most recent money-raiser is indisputably the most unusual.
Known as Moneighs (get it?), these are paintings done by horses themselves. Getting the idea from elephants who paint, Shon and Lori approached horse farms about lending their horses to do these paintings.
Mary Simon, who coordinates the painting sessions, says, “It’s a great way for owners and trainers to contribute to the ideals of ReRunnot with money, just their horses’ time. It’s a win/win for everybody.”
It works like this: The horse is presented with a palette of different colors of non-toxic paint. Generally, the horse sticks his nose into the paint out of curiosity, then rubs his lips and nose onto a blank canvas.
The Moneighs have been wildly successful: one painting alone may be sold for several thousand dollars. And why not? The paintings are beautifully abstract, and are done by famous horses such as Funny Cide, Prized, Cigar, and John Henry.
For the most part, horses seem to enjoy this work. Funny Cide was so taken with his new hobby that he did five paintings in a row. Cigar had so much fun with it that he held a paintbrush in his mouth and painted that way.
Most paintings have been sold at auction, but they are periodically offered on eBay’s Web site. A search for “Moneigh” will let you know when they are up for auction.
And should you be a skeptic, all paintings include a photo of the horse painter in action.
Due to the popularity of the Moneighs, ReRun has taken a good idea even further: if you’re daunted by the price of these paintings, Mary Simon will come to your farm and, for a donation to ReRun, help your horse create his own masterpiece.
For More Information
535 W. Second St. #103
Lexington, KY 40508
Search for “Moneigh”