Citing difficulties re-homing one of their racing stock, Jan Vandebos and Robert Naify of RanJan Racing announced this month their ongoing commitment to their OTTBs, even if it means keeping some horses forever in their farm-based aftercare program.
Building on their commitment to “put the horse first” and keep them sound throughout their careers, Vandebos announced this month that the couple plans to operate its own aftercare at Springtime Farm in California, where their former racehorses will receive scrupulous medical care and be retrained at the horse’s pace.
Emulating the laudable horsemanship practiced by their race trainer Richard Mandella and their veterinarian Jeff Blea, Vandebos says aftercare is equally as important as race training at their California-based racing company.
“The best interest of the horse is first and foremost to us,” Vandebos says. “I have some horses that will be with me forever, because they have special needs. And the ones I retrain, I take as much time as they need … sometimes it takes a year or longer.
“Someone once asked me why I was taking so long to canter a horse I was retraining, and I explained that I wanted to make sure he understood the ‘whoa and go.’ The horse tells us where they’re at in the training, and I take baby steps with them. But if you come to the farm and see my horses, they seem like they’ve been working as riding horses their whole lives.”
Vandebos says she learned a “hard but valuable lesson” recently when a re-homing experience with one of her racehorses soured. After realizing the horse was not ideally placed, and paying a significant price to re-purchase the horse back, Vandebos has concluded that an owner such as herself should be hyper-vigilant when choosing a new home or situation for their horses.
“When I got my horse back, he was like a shell-shocked war veteran,” she says. “He wasn’t the same horse.”
Her experience speaks to a larger issue about the proper aftercare of racehorses, from their retraining to eventual re-homing, she says.
As an owner, Vandebos suggests it is incumbent upon other owners to be more involved with their ex-racehorse’s next steps in life, and that the race industry should dig deeper into purses to help raise funds for its equine athletes.
She suggests funds for aftercare be raised by funneling a percentage from race purses, as well as a small percentage from the winnings of jockeys, trainers and owners to help pay for Thoroughbred aftercare programs.
Noting that the CARMA Fund of California is doing just that, by actively raising funds to support about a dozen certified nonprofit horse charities through a one-percent purse fee, Vandebos suggests that the program could be copied and expanded throughout the racing industry.
“I would propose taking a percentage from owners, trainers and jockeys because all of those people are making money off these horses,” Vandebos says. “And I believe they should contribute a percentage” to the horse’s future.
Vandebos says she would also like to see the racing industry empower a racing czar and an aftercare czar to oversee these issues, and ensure ex-racehorses have a safety net, and a soft landing.
Regardless, Vandebos says she will redouble her commitment to keeping her own animals safe and happy.
On her farm, she personally retrains her ex-racehorses in new careers, and meticulously hand selects future owners/adopters.
“All of my horses get four months of turnout after they retire, and after that I work with them, very slowly, teaching them the basics first,” she says. “When I ride them, I take my time, and I let them take their time. I let the horses tell me when they’re ready for the next steps; sometimes it take a year to train them, sometimes a year-and-a-half.”
In the end, her ex-racehorses are so calm she has to wear spurs and carry a crop!
“We have a very strong philosophy to take care of the horse, and this is why we only use the trainer Richard Mandella. We only run a horse that is absolutely sound, and that’s why we have the record we have, this is the reason we’ve never had a breakdown,” she says.
And after, when they’ve worked so hard for her, the racehorses come home to Springtime Farm to begin anew.