DAYTON — On an inconspicuous farm on the outskirts of Dayton, thoroughbred race horses with success in the winner’s circle and names like Downie’sHip, The Kahn, and Launch The Posse are all receiving a pampered second lease on life and a new career off of the race track.
The farm, owned by Amanda Tranquillo, is a place of refuge and rehabilitation through non-profit Hope After Racing Thoroughbreds (HART). The Iowa group receives injured or noncompetitive horses from Prairie Meadows race track, nurses them through injuries or surgeries, retrains them, and adopts them to new homes for a second chance at life.
“This work is important because it helps the horses by creating an intermediary that helps the horses that do not already have homes, find them in a protective environment,”said Jon Moss, HART ex officio. “HART helps (the horses) and finally rehomes them by placing them with the best possible candidate HART can find by matching up the needs of the horses and the capabilities of the people who wish to adopt for long term successful relationships.”
Tranquillo, who has worked as the trainer for HART for more than four years, sees the horses from their final moments on the track, through surgeries, aftercare, vet checks, rehabilitation, training for new careers, and finally helps to load them into trailers as they’re adopted into a suitable, new home.
“This is such a rewarding career for me,” said Tranquillo. “This program and my job is vital in making sure our Iowa racehorses transition properly and in a healthy way from their track careers into a second career when they can no longer race.”
HART is able to help Iowa racehorses through a series of cooperative agreements and working relationships that have been cultivated for more than two decades, including a partnership with the horsemen at Prairie Meadows as well as representative organizations like the Iowa Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association (IA HBPA). According to Moss, each time a horse is injured or isn’t fast enough for the track, the horseman makes a $10 donation to HART, which then will take ownership of the horse. HART also has working relationships with both the Iowa Thoroughbred Breeders and Owners Association (ITBOA), Prairie Meadows, and the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission.
“The IA HBPA at Prairie Meadows began the process of working on starting an aftercare organization in 2010,” said Moss. “Then they brought Prairie Meadows in to help with some components of the overall collection of the $10 donations. Since that time, the IA HBPA, ITBOA, horsemen, and HART have all worked together on funding, organization needs, etc. Prairie Meadows also kindly donated locations on the track during key times for HART to promote itself and to do community outreach.”
When a horse is injured or no longer able to be competitive, a number of conversations take place between the horse’s owner and HART. Tranquillo and her barn staff then travel to Prairie Meadows where they meet the horse and load it for transfer to Dayton, where it will begin its rehabilitation and training process.
“The track and the tremendous amount of training our Iowa racehorses receive while they are on the track helps make these athletes extremely versatile and enjoyable for anyone from an experienced trainer to a beginner – with the help of a trainer – to own and begin a new career with or just leisurely enjoy as an all around personal horse,” said Tranquillo.
In many cases after rehabilitation, the horses become dressage, show jumping, or eventing horses. Others enjoy a second career as trail riding horses, and others, due to injury, will live the remainder of their life in a pasture.
“Racehorses here in Iowa have a fantastic and lush life on the track, but are extremely used to set daily exercise routines and schedules, so my job is to help transition these athletes into a little less strict routine, one that is still scheduled, but more relaxed as to what a non-racing home would consist of,” said Tranquillo. “We start training and place our horses into new careers and homes most suited to their athleticism, personalities, and of course, their soundness and ability for their best future.”
The adoption process through HART is extensive as the organization wants to ensure the best possible match and successful lifelong relationship between the horse and new owner.
“The adoption process begins with an application link on our website, iahart.org,” said Moss. “From there, a member of our board will reach out and ask questions as well as reach out to references. The reason for this process is that it’s part of us doing two things – verification of you as an applicant, and so that we can work with that potential adopter to find the best horse that is going to meet their needs. We’re trying to find the best combination for both the horse and the new owners, so this becomes a long-term commitment by the adopter.”
Since its partnership in 2010, HART has rehabilitated and adopted nearly 100 horses into new careers and homes, a success that both Moss and Tranquillo say is worth all of the hay, alfalfa, and time in the barn.
“Every time we match the right horse and the right rider, and I get to see them excelling or even just enjoying their new career is a pinnacle moment,” said Tranquillo. “Thoroughbreds are bred to be athletes. They are smart, as well as athletic and are able to excel in so many other career fields after they’re done racing.”
“The very first horse that came into the program, All The Love, had an injury that was very severe, and the owner really wanted this horse to have a second chance,” said Moss. “It was touch and go for almost a full two months, and eventually, this filly turned right around and healed up after a sesamoid fracture. She was not sound enough to race again, but the family that we were working with at that point, the Houdes, fell in love with her and thought they would try and breed her, which they did. All The Love then produced an amazing horse that ended up racing and winning here at Prairie Meadows, called Loving The Rush. It’s always just been a fun story about a horse that is the very first one to come into the program, then foals out another horse that ends up racing and being a winner here at the very same track.”
As the new racing season has just begun at Prairie Meadows, HART has already started receiving calls about horses, including Judge Phillip, a five year old bay gelding who is healthy, but not fast enough for the track. Tranquillo and her barn staff picked up Judge last week and he is now learning a slower pace of life in Dayton. Information about Judge, his demeanor, and the adoption application are available on HART’s Facebook page and web site. Tranquillo believes that more horses will come into HART’s care as the racing season continues this year, which is typical.
“Aftercare is such an important part of the racing community now, whether it’s Prairie Meadows to Santa Anita or Belmont,” said Moss. “Racing is really focusing in on our stars and working to provide them the best post-racing careers we all collectively can, and HART is acknowledged for that by also being Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance (TAA) certified.”
According to Moss, TAA certification is a heady process that requires much due diligence and requires HART to show that not only are they rehabilitating the horses, but also documenting the care provided and that important checks and balances are being done organizationally.
“HART is very proud to be doing the work that we do and to be recognized as part of that group of organizations within the racing community for stepping up and putting ourselves out there as to welcome the TAA completely, to look at everything we do, and to certify that we are who we say we are and are doing the important work that we are is so important to us.”
As a non-profit organization, HART also welcomes donations for rehabilitation and care of the horses that are brought into the program. Donations can be made on the HART web site, iahart.org.