Fate – and Heart –
are two words that came up a lot when I was researching this series. For those of you who are familiar with, or a fortunate enough to love, a Thoroughbred, that may come as no surprise. When I spoke with Rachel Hess, Program Director at Track to Tranquility Equestrian Program
, about her partnership with the non-profit Turning for Home
and how she got into the business, fate and heart were woven into the very fabric of her story.
Why the Off-the-Track-Thoroughbred?
Her story starts out the way many good ones do – with a love story. Conquistador was his name, and he was a difficult and misunderstood OTTB who found a kindred spirit in Rachel. Excelling in dressage, they formed a strong bond and ultimately, though unknowingly at the time, the basis for today’s Track to Tranquility training program. Though she lost “Luke” to colic, the passion for working with the Thoroughbred had been kindled.
How did Track to Tranquility get started?
Rachel was already “retraining and re-homing” Thoroughbreds as a hobby when she was connected with Danielle Montgomery, administrator for Turning for Home, by chance. Turning for Home is a 501C3 founded by the Pennsylvania Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association to provide racehorses with a safe retirement. At the young age of 21, Rachel found herself embarking upon a partnership with TFH to rehabilitate, retrain and rehome off-the-track thoroughbreds. Since December 2013, they have been part of rehoming over 60 horses.
What does the program look like for the horses coming into the program?
Each horse is assessed and evaluated individually for two weeks upon entering the program. During this time, information about the horse’s race record, medical history, disposition, prior handling and any retraining they may have had is discovered and also evaluated. Every horse is an individual and as such, requires different treatment from the program caregivers. Some horses enter the program requiring stall rest for a medical rehabilitation, while others can be slowly introduced to the rest of the current “T to T” residents. Each horse also has a unique adaptation period before they are ready to begin training – some adapt much quicker than others. Oftentimes potential adopters will request under saddle video and the horse may not be ready, which, according to Rachel, is difficult, but the horses are never rushed. As she says, “When the horses are confident and comfortable, we are ready to move forward, and to get the best feel for where each horse's best interests are, regardless of the discipline.”
How has your program evolved since you started?
Happy owner of an OTTB from Track To Tranquility
The program started with just 2-3 horses at a time in 2013, growing to 3-4 program horses plus 3 of her own personal horses in 2014. After a big second year, and a relocation, the program grew again to 6 program horses in 2015. Now in 2016, they have relocated once more and have 4 of their own horses in addition to 8-10 program horses at any given time. “The journey has been very exciting, and while definitely not easy, it has been extremely worth it, and I have never been surer of what I was meant to do here in this beautiful albeit sometimes crazy world.”
What would you say is the most challenging aspect of retraining and rehoming thoroughbreds?
In her opinion, the most challenging aspect of retraining and rehoming the horses is not the horses themselves. “Connecting the right matches of people to the horses we get to work with can be tricky at times, because we have to use our best judgement and find the best fit for each horse and person individually.” Most horses are adopted out to their new homes sight unseen, which is a tricky and scary thing for many new owners, so Rachel tries to make the process as effortless as possible. Every year, she says, is a growing and learning process involving much reflection and improvement.
What would you say your biggest success has been? Your biggest learning moment?
Rachel says that her biggest success, as well as her biggest learning moment, come in learning not to please every person she comes across, but also in proving to herself that she can be the horsewoman she has always wanted to be. “I have accomplished many personal goals and developed some life-long relationships with many great friends through this process and program development. Yes, there have been bumps in the road. Yes, there have been struggles. But we have always found a way to push forward, always keep our integrity, and most importantly keep our horses our number one priority no matter what.”
In the next post of our OTTB series, we talk to a rider bound for Rolex on her OTTB, and a trainer who competed at the 2015 Retired Racehorse Project and came home Field Hunter Champion, about how they select their prospects and why they love a Thoroughbred.
About the Author:
Stacy Bromley Cheetham, MPA grew up riding horses. She currently resides in Raleigh, NC with her boyfriend, her two rescue Pomeranians, an ornery calico cat, and is working with a promising young OTTB, Indelible (Hanna No Sir) who came from the Track to Tranquility race rehoming program. She is a fundraiser for a local nonprofit and is the Silent Auction Chair for Duke Jump for the Children, an AA rated horse show benefiting Duke Children’s Hospital.