5 years at Blackburn taught service, trust

Randall Sorrell learned service to others, partnership and trust while incarcerated at Blackburn.  He and Deacon, a Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation horse, participated in the Second Chances Program there, which celebrates is 15th anniversary today.

Randall Sorrell learned service to others, partnership and trust while incarcerated at Blackburn. He and Deacon, a Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation horse, participated in the Second Chances Program there, which celebrates is 15th anniversary today.

Randall Sorrell was locked up at the Blackburn Correctional Complex in Lexington, Ky., for nearly five years. It was his lucky break!

While serving time for “making a bad choice while in Kentucky on vacation,” he started to make good choices as a participant in the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation’s (TRF) Second Chances Program, which celebrates its 15th anniversary today.

While working with retired racehorse Thoroughbreds, Sorrell says he learned many things, including building trust between man and horse, giving and receiving. “I also learned about the effectiveness of partnership. If you look at the relationship between a human and a horse, it’s built on trust and mutual respect,” he says during a telephone interview with Off Track Thoroughbreds. “Those are life skills, some call it horse sense, and they’re easily transferable from the horse barn to interactions with people outside.”

That work, as well as a deep connection with the prison’s chapel and volunteers from the Lexington Catholic Charities prison ministry taught him to “live in service to others” every chance he gets.

Inmates bathe Ask the Lord at Blackburn's Second Chances Program.

Inmates bathe Ask the Lord at Blackburn’s Second Chances Program.

“I was blessed before I went to prison. I had a moderate level of success, and a good education,” he says. “But I made a bad choice on vacation in Kentucky, and I paid the consequences. I deserved to.”

Sorrell returns to the complex today a new man. A commodities marketing consultant who works with farmers to mitigate their risk for downward price movement, he is a successful businessman with his feet on the ground, and his heart with the Kentucky program that gave him his second chance.

An invited guest and speaker at the anniversary celebration, Sorrell will talk about how the relationships he developed working with ex-racehorses as well as his involvement with the prison chapel gave him opportunities to start anew.

Inmates and horses learn mutual trust and respect.

Inmates and horses learn mutual trust and respect. EquiSportPhotos image courtesy of the TRF.

“I’ve always kept the TRF in the back of my mind. I’ve gone to fundraisers and I’ve talked often … with my clients about opportunities there, and options for their horses,” he says.

The Open House runs from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. today, and will feature talks by other special guests, including Bryan Beccia, a graduate who is an exercise rider who worked Preakness runner-up Ride On Curlin.

Guests will also be given a tour of the facility, which opened its TRF Second Chances Program in April 1999 after the Commonwealth of Kentucky donated 100 acres to the program. Blackburn is currently home to 58 former racehorses, including Ask the Lord, who earned more than $700,000 in 83 races, and Argentina-bred Sovereign Kit, who raced 85 times and earned more than $440,000. ♥

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After big life loss, she gives all to save her t’bred

Alyssa Hammond spent hours on end in a Texas equine hospital with her stricken Thoroughbred Tough West.

Alyssa Hammond spent hours on end in a Texas equine hospital with her stricken Thoroughbred Tough West.

Wisp thin but strong, 19-year-old Alyssa Hammond toughened up early in life.

Just 11-years-old when she lost her father Scott to brain cancer, the young Texas girl turned to horses to shore up her defenses. As she pressed on with her education, and other obligations, grief that could rush at her with dizzying force, could also be out run with the help of a red dun Quarter Horse named Will; the first of three she would treasure and love.

On him she flew over fields and ditches as she embraced the Eventing discipline. And at school where she excelled in math, she eventually entered college to study accounting. Her goal an MBA, and ultimately, a solid job in the oil and gas industry.

Throughout her young life, she maintained her levelheaded academic pursuits, and in no small part, because a horse was there when she needed him most.

Eight years after enduring the battle her 48-year-old father lost to cancer, the young woman of nearly 20 has had another health crisis emerge.

Only this time, it involved a young Thoroughbred who needed her as desperately as she once needed that Quarter Horse.

Tough West
Sire: Tough Game
Dam: Ladyinabrownsuit
Foal date: May 3, 2011
So many people told Hammond to euthanize her 3-year-old Thoroughbred Tough West when he developed Pleuropneumonia just a week after arriving at her Texas farm from California. He was a gift from a Golden Gate trainer; and seemed to be the perfect horse to train for Eventing as she eased her other two horses into retirement.

But soon after stepping off the shipping van Sept. 7, Tough West went off his feed, and a week later was rushed to Bravos Valley Equine Hospital in Navasota, Texas. “The vets said he had one of the worst cases of pleuropneumonia they’d seen,” she says. “Both lungs were filled with fluid and he had a 103.8 temperature.”

He was admitted to the hospital on Sept. 13, and what followed was a costly, confusing, exhausting battle to combat a Penicillin-resistant bacterial infection.

Tough West battled pleuropneumonia for one month at the Bravos Valley Equine Hospital in Navasota, Texas.

Tough West battled pleuropneumonia for one month at the Bravos Valley Equine Hospital in Navasota, Texas.

Chest drains were placed into Tough West’s beautiful hide to clear the fluid, and new antibiotics were tried when Penicillin failed. As each procedure was tried, a new complication would arise.

“His lungs were so weak they were leaking, so he had air in his body where there shouldn’t be any,” she says, noting that even the IV needles triggered an alarming blood clotting reaction that made the veins in his face swell like balloons.

“There were times I stood in his stall with him, hugged his head, and my tears would just roll down his face,” she says. “People told me I should put him down. I’m a part-time riding instructor and full-time student, and his bills doubled from the original number I expected. But the vet said he acts like a fighter, and I just couldn’t give up on him after coming all this way.”

Though her veterinary bills began to exceed $10,000, a big burden on the young student, Hammond could not in good conscience let a fighter go to his grave when he seemed so determined to hang on.

He arrived home Oct. 14, but is not out of the woods. So sick Hammond can smell the illness on him, Tough West continues on heavy antibiotics, while he girds against the threat of Laminitis.

He arrived home Oct. 14, but is not out of the woods. So sick Hammond can smell the illness on him, Tough West continues on heavy antibiotics, while he girds against the threat of Laminitis.

“He’s just such a sweet horse. He’s only 3, but he was always so calm. He would let me wrap my arms around his head and hug him. And when I walked away, he’d watch me like he was waiting for me to come back,” she says. “When I started off with all this, I thought his medical bills would be around $5,000, and I thought I could handle that. But, they’ve nearly doubled.”

Even after he was released back into her care last week, he has required constant attention and care. He is on a regimen of Chloramphenicol, an antibiotic that is working against his infection and which she administers four times a day. And his front feet, which have begun to grow warm, now require additional measures to stave off the dreaded Laminitis.

It’s all become something of a battle for both horse and human, but they each refuse to give in to illness, and fight like hell so that Tough West can live another day.

“I could not tell a horse who was a fighter, who is expected to make a full recovery, that this is the end,” Hammond says.

As she hopes against hope that his infection will clear and his feet will resist developing Laminitis, she is filling out a payment plan application with the veterinary hospital, and has also created a Go Fund Me account to raise money to offset his care. Recognizing that the horse’s care is ultimately her responsibility, she has been cheered by recent donations.

To date, Spring Creek Feed in Magnolia, Texas donated 12 bags of Equine Senior Feed and Charlottes Saddlery in Tomball, Texas donated a lightweight turnout blanket. In addition, some $600 has been donated toward a fundraiser. To donate to Tough West’s care, please visit www.gofundme.com/ToughWest. ♥

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Owner from his past searches, saves old racer

Victorious Recall and his one-time owner Jay Romig, who continues to look out for his good buddy.

Victorious Recall and his one-time owner Jay Romig, who continues to look out for his good buddy.

Eight years had passed since Jay Romig stepped into the same race barn as his white Thoroughbred who had once run his heart out for him at Penn National.

But time disappeared when Victorious Recall, now a 17-year-old careworn gelding, and Romig, 65, saw each other again a few months back, meeting as old friends after years apart.

“I never thought I’d see him again,” Romig says. “I thought he must be dead.”

But as soon as Romig entered the temporary barn, where Victorious Recall had been taken in by some kindhearted women, renewed vigor seemed to pump up the tired old warrior, who pricked his ears in Romig’s direction, and nickered.

“People in the barn couldn’t believe it. Everyone said they could tell he still knew me.”

Victorious Recall had been Romig’s racehorse for 13 months beginning in 2004, when he and other racehorse owners purchased him. “He never ran worse than fourth”, Romig says with pride.

During those years, Romig got to know the animal’s quirks. A veritable overachiever on the track, he ran with a stride so huge that he would kick and bruise himself with his own hooves if he wasn’t very carefully shoed, Romig recalls.

Victorious Recall
Sire: Lordeyhexecutioner
Dam: Lamartic
Foal date: May 3, 1997
Earnings: $248,167 in 111 starts
“You had to shoe him perfectly so he wouldn’t hit himself,” he says. “We used to wrap him and put pads on him to make sure he didn’t do too much damage.”

And he had the heart of a champion, Romig says, noting that when this horse strode onto the track, he could almost feel him thinking: “You guys aren’t going to beat me!”

After 13 fabulous months with Victorious, the hard-trying horse was eventually claimed away in 2005, and from that point on, Romig never stopped worrying.

“I always kept an eye on him. I didn’t always go to Penn National when he ran, but I tried to keep tabs on him, and we did try to claim him back once,” he says. But several other owners successfully claimed the animal.

Fortune turned again however, when in December 2007, says Romig, “I was approached and asked if I wanted to take him back. I didn’t have the room on my property in Halifax, Pa., I had two with me, and boarded two, but I said I’ll take him and board him somewhere.”

Romig did his best to find Victorious a home. For a number of years he was comfortably ensconced with neighbors just a half-mile from Romig’s home, so visits were frequent. “It was great. They took excellent care of him,” he says.

But when his neighbors decided they couldn’t keep Victorious anymore, they found another home for him nearly 50 miles away. And for several months he tried calling the new owner, but got no response, not realizing she had become ill.

Victorious Recall now lives at the Exceller Fund’s Missouri facility, and his long-ago owner Jay Romig is paying his bills.

Victorious Recall now lives at the Exceller Fund’s Missouri facility, and his long-ago owner Jay Romig is paying his bills.

Out of desperation he drove to the neighborhood where he thought he might find the pretty white gelding, but the search seemed in vain. He even gave out his phone number in the community and asked people to contact him if they heard anything.

More time passed without a word, but then a phone call came.

“A lady said, ‘Were you looking for Recall?’ And I said, ‘Victorious Recall, yeah, I’m looking for him. Is he dead? And she said, ‘No, we have him!’ ”

The ex-racehorse who had successfully waged 111 starts and earned $248,167, had been taken in by a farm after his last owner died, and while Romig had no idea how he could help, he dashed off to the barn to see his old friend.

But he could help and he did. With the assistance of Thoroughbred welfare organization R.A.C.E. Fund, Romig got his old horse placed with The Exceller Fund, and agreed to pay a portion of Victorious Recall’s upkeep through his retirement years.

Recall arrived at the Exceller Fund’s Missouri property on Nov. 15, and now Romig breathes easily knowing his old friend is in good hands.

“I’m going to pay every month for the rest of his life to take care of him,” he says. “I wish more people would pay for their horse’s retirements. You won’t make as much money, but you can still make it work.” — Author’s note: This story was originally published on Jan. 2, 2014. ♥

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