After Fort Erie closed, many hands help horses

Heading for the Fort Erie track at the end of the meet. Photo by Laurie Langely

Heading for the Fort Erie track at the end of the meet. Photo by Laurie Langley

In a town that lost one of its McDonald’s Restaurant at the start of the year and its racetrack a few weeks ago, two horse-loving Fort Erie women doggedly work to find soft landings for racehorses who would otherwise lose their jobs, entering an unknown fate, since the rusted, chain-length fence was stretched across the backside’s entrance and padlocked.

Owners and trainers too, who didn’t know what their next steps would be, worked earnestly with Alexis Kacho-Sinke and Kim Sinodinos, co-founders of horse charity Second Start Thoroughbreds, to make sure their horses would be safe.

“I’m amazed that the track embraced us and turned our program at Second Start Thoroughbreds into something so successful,” says Kacho-Sinke. “In 2013, we’ve placed 135 horses so far this year, and since we began three years ago, we’ve placed over 400.”

Thirty-five horses are still available for sale at Second Start Thoroughbreds.

For many of the 200 or so workers affected by the Oct. 15 track closure, the horses “are what it’s all about,” says Fort Erie outrider and pony girl Laurie Langley. She and her husband are both facing the prospect of finding new jobs as the Canadian government considers whether to permanently close the track.

After the race, a horse and Fort Erie worker head back to the barn. Photo by Laurie Langely

After the race, a horse and Fort Erie worker head back to the barn. Photo by Laurie Langley

“Many of the horses I’ve seen listed (with Second Start) are ones I know were very special to their owners,” Langley says. “I know that they wanted what was best for them, especially going into a long winter facing the unknown.”

She adds, “Most trainers and owners have been working diligently to make sure that all their hoses are going into the best place possible. Second Start has been a godsend in that respect, to help us network our horses and get them into new homes in a timely manner.”

This year’s race season at Fort Erie was pretty thin already, with only a total of 250 horses racing at the once-robust track that typically ran over 1,000.

Kacho-Sinke explains that negotiations with the Canadian government triggered last-minute changes to schedules, which resulted in far fewer horsemen participating at Fort Erie this year.

Even so, there was a feeling of hope on the backside all year as horsemen awaited word that the track, which had suffered in the wake of a governmental decision to pull out its slot machines, might rebound.

Photo by Laurie Langely

Photo by Laurie Langley

But by Oct. 15, the last day of the meet, Kacho-Sinke drove away from the track in tears. Though she’d never been a “trackie,” and had gone there simply to help re-home racehorses, she felt devastated when the government announced in October that the track was not a “viable” operation.

“It’s very sad. While we do what we do for the horses, it’s hard not to become fond of the people; I felt like I was part of the family,” she says, adding, “At the end of the meet, I cried all the way home. It’s the weirdest feeling. It was a funeral atmosphere at the track, and after the last horse crossed the finish line, I looked around and nobody looked happy.”

In the wake of the expected closure of Fort Erie, Kacho-Sinke is shifting the focus of Second Start Thoroughbreds to other racing venues, including Woodbine Racetrack, but will maintain her goal of listing ex-racehorses, for horsemen who want to help their horses find a soft landing.

9 responses to “After Fort Erie closed, many hands help horses”

  1. robert

    i work at the fort for 5 years and it was some of my best times at the track

  2. Cari

    Although I have not had a horse from SecondStart, my first horse was a forgotten, abused Racing thoroughbred. I had no idea what I was doing as a first time owner but my smart, gentle, big boy knew he was loved and he taught me everything I needed to know. He was handsome, intelligent, sincere, honest and above all loving. I wasn’t looking to own a Thoroughbred, especially one that was off the track, but I would never change the experiences I had with Mikey. Mike’s stable mate was a dwarf rabbit named Rover who went in and out with Mike. My daughter would ride Mike to the bus stop and after seeing her safely off, he would come home. People would call saying: “Your horse is out”. And my response was always: “He’s in his backyard.” These animals are truly special and if you have the chance to love one, take it! Thank you to SecondStart!

  3. Élizabeth

    Please let me know if any horses are to be sent to slaughter because they cannot find a home, I will do the best I can to find one for them.

    Thank you!

  4. Carrie

    I have a retired thoroughbred from Fort Erie that I have owned and she is the best, most solid, honest trail horse I’ve ever owned. I can ride her anywhere and even take her overnight camping. Anyone looking for any horse for any type of riding should seriously consider one of these social, smart and athletic partners. Our barn is full of OTTB’s and we all trail ride together and our mounts keep us safe and enjoy their outings as much as we do! Great job, Second Start for getting the word out on the heart and versatility of the OTTB…good luck to all deserving horses and their lucky new owners!

  5. jon

    The actions of many of the trainers, grooms and owners prove that the people the own, care for and train are very concerned about their horses. Even though they have uncertain futures in their industry, they are working to make sure the most vulnerable members of their team are going to land softly in good places. Most only want the best for their horses.

  6. Vera Bowman

    Thank you so much Alexis and Kim. You two have made a such remarkable positive difference not only in the lives of the ex-race horses that you have helped re-home, but also to the people involved in the process – from owners, trainers, exercise riders, grooms, et all. Kudos to you and best wishes to the continuation of Second Start Thoroughbreds!

  7. PK Training

    Thanks for writing a story about this rescue. I hope they have continued success finding homes for all their retired racehorses. The track atmosphere really is that of a close-knit family. You don’t have to be a “trackie” to be a part of the family. Hopefully some of them will find each other with employment at other race facilities. 🙂

  8. Monique Boucher

    Last year I adopted a horse from SecondStart. I can honestly say that he’s the absolute best horse I’ve ever owned. Jimmy the Link has now lived with me for just over a year. I’ve become friends with his past owner and exercise rider. I brought him for a visit to Fort Erie in the spring. Everyone was very happy to see how well he was doing and his exercise rider got to ride him for fun. What an amazing program and opportunity for both horses and humans involved.

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