For years, the racetrack gallop girl and talented horse trainer wished she could help them.
The thought of it nagged at her.
Whether she was sitting on the back of a frantic, green Thoroughbred prepping for a race career, or working at Delaware Park, where she and her husband owned racehorses, the thought would come rushing to her: I have to do something.
“Everyone knew what happened to Thoroughbreds after racing,” says Beverly Strauss, cofounder of Mid Atlantic Horse Rescue.
She spoke of those times before a groundswell of goodwill had given rise to myriad federal nonprofit re-homing and retraining organizations for ex-racehorse Thoroughbreds; before vigorous re-homing efforts burbled up from all corners of the Thoroughbred industry.
An avid racing fan as a girl, she was passionately drawn to the sport and to the breed. She often spent hours studying pedigree stats and poring over trade publications. Yet, once she grew up and went to work in the industry, she discovered an equal passion for horses who had fallen through the cracks after their pace slowed.
Race name: What’s Your Wish
Dam: Debutantes Wish
Foal date: April 2, 1998
Earnings: $249,630“In 1988, I started to going to New Holland,” auction in Pennsylvania” after a neighbor showed me her beautiful stallion”, purchased there, she says. “I had always heard of the auction. As a kid, I also read about Snowman, ” the famed slaughter-bound gray who became a national jumping sensation.
Shortly after her first visit to the Pennsylvania horse auction, Strauss began dabbling in the retraining and sale of Thoroughbreds, operating from her small Glenmore, Pa., farm.
Years rolled by. As she trained and sold Thoroughbreds to new homes with greater success, she started to talk to friends about the idea of forming an official horse rescue operation. And in the summer of 2002, she and Ginny Suarez, who operated a dog rescue, started to get more serious about the idea.
A few months later, in September, the talk stopped and the action began when Strauss discovered 27 ex-racehorse Thoroughbreds at New Holland, had been liquidated from a foreclosed farm.
“This is when I picked up the phone and called Ginny and said, ‘Today’s the day!’ If we’re going to start it, this is the time, because there are a lot of good horses here. ”
Along with $2,000 in seed money donated by Suarez’s grandmother Allaire du Pont, the owner and breeder of Kelso, and a second donation from Herb Moelis, founder of Thoroughbred Charities of America, they started work.
With less than $10,000 to fund their dream, they purchased three horses from the auction and started officially retraining horses under the charge of Mid Atlantic Horse Rescue.
“We started small, never taking in more than we could handle, and we pulled ourselves up by our bootstraps,” she says. “We wanted to help as many horses as we could, so our goal was to select the sound ones and get them going. And we knew we had to place them in new homes; that was key.”
Today, Strauss estimates approximately 600 ex-racehorse Thoroughbreds have passed through her organization since 2002, and all but two have been perfectly fine under saddle. She can attest to this because Strauss makes a point to ride every horse that comes to her organization.
“I trust a horse that’s been tattooed. The way I look at it, they’ve been broken. They’ve been ridden 365 days a year. And, you know what you’re getting,” she says. “I did have one horse that was not tattooed, and he turned out to be dangerous. And I had a green horse who was difficult.
And then there was the one she couldn’t let get away. Her horse, What’s Your Wish.
“We had Wish at our facility for about three days before we transferred him to Akindale Thoroughbred Rescue. And, when I went out to take his picture, I got this electric feeling when I was around him,” she recalls.
She wound up getting Wish back from Akindale when she realized his tough-as-nails personality was, surprisingly, just right for her. “I always liked the hot mares, and here he was, a gelding.”
It took patience to retrain him. His biggest obstacle was learning that he didn’t know it all. But today, he is novice eventing, and has earned her highest praise: “He is just the coolest horse I’ve ever met!”
And recently, Strauss was grinning ear to ear when one of her ex-racehorse Thoroughbreds, Solidify, competed in a widely publicized trainer challenge created by the Retired Racehorse Training Project.
The bay brown demonstrated how quickly he could be trained, and how calm he could be in front of an audience of 3,000 onlookers. Although he made a fine ambassador for the breed, his skill is nothing new to Strauss.
“These horses can do anything. They’re smart, they’re trainable, they’re intelligent,” she says. “Our youngest adopter is a 9 year old, and our oldest is in her 70s.”
And, she is thrilled that the breed is attracting both favorable publicity and a commitment to their care, from within the Thoroughbred industry.
“I see that the whole industry is now stepping up. I think it will be a long, slow process to turn this ship around, but in the end, they’ll do it, for the horses, and for the fans that love them so much.”