Q&A: The unstoppable Allie Conrad

Relaxing with her closest friend

Allie Conrad, executive director of CANTER Mid Atlantic, and a national CANTER board member, is funny, irreverent, and an outspoken voice for ex-racehorses, with a knack for telling it like it is.

Her humor and no-nonsense opinions have landed her a regular column in the horse bible known as Chronicle of the Horse, as well as stints shooting photos of the best equine athletes competing at Rolex and beyond.

In this week’s Clubhouse Q&A, Conrad discusses her work, and what she thinks of the growing popularity of ex-racehorse Thoroughbreds among horse buyers.

Q: Allie, as the executive director of CANTER Mid Atlantic and board member of the national CANTER, what would you say have been the greatest challenges and successes of the past year for your organization? 

I think we face the same problems that other groups do—too many horses who need help, and there’s not enough money.

We really do thrive on the idea that we need to “do what you can with what you have,” and on particularly tough days, we try to remember that we are all volunteers who are spending all of our free time helping the horses we have the resources to help.

Fundraising is always a challenge.  We all got into this because we love Thoroughbreds, and knew how to use a computer. (I’ve always said I’m just a nerd who loves horses). But, fundraising in this economy is just a flat-out challenge for a few nerds with computers.

Our successes have been pretty monumental I think! This year, CANTER USA will approach 17,000 horses placed from the trainer listings, which is a really staggering number to think about.

Additionally, We really are making a concerted effort to make sure people know that OTTB’s are out there, competing at the top, and we are working to make sure our CANTER Mid Atlantic-trained horses are recognized wherever they show, by asking adopters to put the prefix “CMA” in front of their names.

I love how this is catching on, and even spreading to other groups, because it will help market all OTTB. I think donated or rescued horses are plagued with stigma that they are “used up” or broken, and quite often it is just not the case.

Q: Every CANTER organization seems defined by itself, as a singular entity, rather than by the whole. How has CANTER Mid Atlantic tried to differentiate itself?

Oh yes, she can ride!

When the first CANTER was started in Michigan, it was set up as a single entity. Who could have envisioned it would become as large as it has?!

Subsequently, several other CANTER affiliates incorporated as their own entity, with their own 501(c) 3 status. More recently, CANTER National was set up as an umbrella organization in order to better manage new affiliates, and those are all covered under the CANTER National umbrella.

We do all adhere to the same sets of Best Practices, Codes of Conduct and Mission.  While we would like to be a more cohesive group on the surface, the fact is that we are each in such diverse environments, and we need to adapt to our surroundings in order to best operate.

To name just a few of the environmental differences, this includes the track environment, the Sporthorse market, the real estate market, and the individual lives and availability of volunteers.  That said, coming from the business world, I work hard to operate CANTER Mid Atlantic with the motto, “Grow or Die,” in mind.

I built CANTER Mid Atlantic into a scalable operation that could adjust with the economy, meaning, we can take as many horses as we have money for, and scale back through attrition when funds are tight.

We have really worked very hard to increase its “output” (horses going to new homes) through the training program and by creating connections with well-respected and accomplished trainers.

Once this dialogue was opened up, we were able to really show our horses to an entirely new market for us—the upper level eventer. We’ve shown them that our horses are exactly what we say they are (AWESOME!), and they have faith in our opinion, and listen closely when we say, “You’ve got to come see this one!” Once you have that success, word spreads quickly.

I have a vision of the direction I’d like CANTER Mid Atlantic to go, and slowly move this large ship toward those changes as we can.

Right now we have our first two working students from Hendrix College, and they are working on a really cool project that I’ve wanted to do for five years, and if it works, means we can help many more horses that we couldn’t otherwise take into the program. I’m super excited about it, but need to keep it under wraps for now.

Conrad, right, with camera at Rolex

Q: You have been absolutely everywhere this year! You’re writing for the Chronicle of the Horse, and photographing Rolex. How did these roles happen, and how do they help electrify CANTER Mid Atlantic’s mission?

A.D.D. has its benefits! Seriously though, I thrive on a diverse task list, and the more I have to do, the happier I am.

I’ve been a photography nerd since I was 10, and had a darkroom in my basement growing up.  Other kids were off styling their Barbie’s hair, I melted mine with a hairdryer and went and played in the darkroom.

Taking photos is probably one of my favorite joys in life, and taking pictures of our CANTER success stories out there doing their thing is about as happy as I can get.  Anybody who knows me knows I always have a camera; I keep one in my car, one in my purse, and the “big daddy” in a bag that usually follows me around in the car.

Media is in such an exciting, dynamic time, and who doesn’t love a great photo? Getting photos of OTTBs in sport has been great fun and really helps solidify to the doubters that OTTBs CAN do everything!

Writing for the Chronicle has been great fun!  Though, several times I’ve sent blogs off with the thought that, “Someone’s gonna kill me!”  I tend to be a bit contentious, but anything that gets people talking is a good thing in my world.

Being able to highlight the challenges of re-homing horses has been important, and I am so thankful for the platform that Chronicle has offered me. I do hope to get more written this year, and I bet Chronicle does too! I also am very much a person who tries to highlight ALL of the groups doing what CANTER does.

There are so many fabulous groups out there. We all do our own thing because it works for each particular group; but, every group out there who is helping OTTBs into new homes in a positive, proper way should be celebrated, encouraged and promoted. I hope to do more of that this year in the blog.

Parklane Hawk at Rolex. © Allie Conrad

Q: What would you say has been the most promising, or encouraging sign, this year, with regards to the marketability of ex-racehorse Thoroughbreds to the horse-buying public?

Ooooh, picking just one is going to be hard, but in my world, it was seeing a plain-moving, plain-jumping horse winning Burghley and Rolex!

*Editor’s Note: Parklane Hawk won these premiere events with his rider, William Fox-Pitt.

To me, it really showed that you don’t have to have a 10-mover to win at the top, but you have to have a sound horse with heart.

We have lots and lots of those!


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