She finds funds for ex-racehorses

Amid vast grassroots efforts to help ex-racehorses, Dawn Mellen enters the fray with the very thing that often saves an equine’s life—cash.

Mellen with special friend

Her nonprofit, After the Finish Line (, aims to match donors with needy rescue efforts to save Thoroughbred ex-racehorses and broodmares, and do it with a streamlined, well-researched approach.

This year, Mellen anticipates aiding 50 Thoroughbred rescue organizations, which have been thoroughly vetted, and approximately 300 horses.

“For nearly a decade, I volunteered to help rescue organizations across the United States care for and save Thoroughbreds from slaughter,” Mellen says. “I quickly learned that funding was the common problem for all rescues.”

Seeing a need for a concerted fundraising effort to serve as an umbrella for myriad rescues, she started After the Finish Line in October 2007. As founder and president of the all-volunteer, national 501 (c) 3 nonprofit, her two-prong goal is saving horses, and ensuring donations are used in the way a donor intends.

Her nonprofit works first by qualifying a rescue organization for funding, and then by keeping records on how money is spent, she explains. “If an organization requests funding for a medical procedure, for example, we would need to see receipts.”

With such measures in place, donors can feel confident that when they write a check for an intended purpose, that this is where their money is going. “Nobody at After the Finish Line is paid. Our attorney is pro bono, our website designer is pro bono,” she says, adding, “We really qualify organizations and do thorough interviews because it’s really important that the money is used as it’s intended.”

This is a better approach to donating and fundraising in an area that is naturally fraught with emergencies, she says.

“When I worked in horse rescue, I kept finding is that I had to pull money out of my back pocket because the need is like a running faucet. There’s always a need. There’s always another horse, not the next day, but the next hour,” Mellen says.

Recalling her days on the front lines saving horses for volunteer organizations, Mellen describes an emotional rollercoaster. “Often somebody would call and say, ‘If you don’t take the horse, I’m sending it to auction.’ What a guilt trip that was. Or, when a trainer calls from the backside of a track and says they have two horses that have to move in two hours so he can move in two faster horses.

“Things happen so quickly in this world, and timing is really important,” she adds.

After the Finish Line wants to be there when those emergencies arise, whether to pay the meat buyer at a feedlot to save a “beautiful Thoroughbred who doesn’t deserve to be there,” or to assist with medical needs, feed, transportation or other needs.

An equestrian since age 5, Mellen was drawn into Thoroughbred rescue one day at a racetrack. In attendance to watch the races, she glimpsed an advertisement for a rescue organization, did a little research, and was soon hooked.

Thoroughbreds deserve a second chance at a new life, she says.

“If there weren’t horses, there would not be a $13 billion horse racing industry. They generate income for fans, racetracks, veterinarians, trainers and owners. They build careers for people,” Mellen says. “We ask so much of them. Why can’t something be given back to help them after their racing days are over?”

To read more about Mellen and an upcoming fundraiser for After the Finish Line, please visit

3 responses to “She finds funds for ex-racehorses”

  1. Amy Latka

    Friends of Ferdinand Inc, a 501(c)3 organization that works to transitions exracehorses to new careers has been supported by After The Finish Line. We are grateful for the work they do and the support they give to organizations such as FFI.

    1. Susan Salk

      Hi Amy,
      What a great tribute to Ferdinand. I would like to learn more about your organization, and feature a story about it in an upcoming blog. Meantime, thanks for commenting. It’s good to know that a growing number of people are willing to step in and try to help, despite the seeming long odds.

  2. Betty Maddocks

    Heartwarming story. Bravo, Dawn!

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