Friday, September 20, 2013

Feature Friday - James River VA chapter of Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation

Howdy Folks,

Providing second chances for retired Thoroughbred race horses and the men who care for them is the idea behind Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation (TRF). The James River chapter of the TRF was founded in 2007 at the James River Work Center in Goochland County, VA. It is one of the now ten "Second Chances" programs that TRF has at correctional facilities around the country.

On  left, Nikki Linaman assistant warden in charge of James River work center, Ann Tucker on right.
The national organization was founded in 1983 with the mission to save retired Thoroughbreds from neglect, abuse and slaughter. Since then it has grown to 22 facilities located both at traditional farms and correctional facilities. At every TRF location the horses are assured a lifetime of care, and adoption to loving homes.

Leading the horses through the obstacles
At the James River TRF they've adopted out nearly 40 horses already. Horses who most likely had no promise of love and care in their future. Dozens of human lives have been changed in that time too.

Waiting patiently with his horse in the obstacles
Current President of The James River TRF, Anne Tucker says, "I joined the effort to take care of rescued racehorses that might otherwise not be cared for. I had no idea that working with these wonderful Thoroughbreds would have such an impact on the lives of these men, non-violent offenders who have much to offer if given a chance. We have certified over 50 men, many of whom have been released and are holding jobs both in and outside of the horse industry. Saving a life, how do you put a value on that?"

Offenders selected from a pool of applicants are assigned to the program for a specific period of training, during which they care for the horses on a daily basis – leading in and out, mucking stalls, grooming, feeding, doing round-pen work. This hands-on experience is complemented by classroom training in equine nutrition, physiology, tack and stable management. TRF uses the Groom Elite curriculum, developed by Reid McLellan, Ph.D., and taught at racetracks. Graduates become certified, and the Foundation assists them, upon their release, in finding jobs in the horse industry.
A tender moment between horse & man
"I am so wonderfully amazed at the impact this program has had on the men passing through the program." Anne says. "We are so grateful for our wonderful trainers, Jess Bowen and Brooks Clement, and the hard work of our adoption coordinators. We currently care for 22 horses, including Covert Action, a grandson of Secretariat, and Multiple Choice, a multiple graded stakes winner and great grandson of the big red horse born just up the road.  Both of these horses will be at the Virginia State Fair on opening day, Sept. 27, to help celebrate the legacy of Secretariat at his birthplace."

This is truly a place where horses help men to learn how to give, accept and make the most of second chances. "Of the men in the program now, four new men will begin their course with Dr. McLellan this week, and three men who have been studying for six months will be tested. On Friday we expect to have another graduation, another cause for celebration." Anne explained.
 Mike (on left) adopted "Step" - Kevin (who cared for Step) hands the lead to Mike. Another happy moment.
Thank you Anne and everyone at TRF for caring enough to help horses and men find new beginnings together.

You can visit James River chapter of Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation on the web (HERE) and on Facebook (HERE)

Gitty up ~ Dutch Henry

Monday, September 16, 2013

Saving Christian - A morning's Ride Ripe With Encounters

Howdy Folks,

It started as all our rides do, Kessy walking her wonderful soft shuffle down our path under tall pines to the logging road, Saturday trotting behind. But this would prove to be a more adventurous ride than most. Of course a little adventure is always fun, so ride along with us.
It was cool, but the sun warmed the tall yellow wild asters lining the logging road. Butterflies enjoying the warm sun beams flitted about the pretty flowers. Kessy's shadow glided along with us. Saturday is a bit off his game right now, so we did a fair amount of waiting for him, which gave plenty of opportunities to bird and butterfly watch.
Saturday leading Kessy and me up the trail
We'd left the logging road to explore one of our favorite side trails, and Kessy and I were waiting for Saturday. I was engrossed watching a sparkling blue butterfly on an orange flower. Kessy was close to sleeping. Without warning a large hunting dog exploded from the brush, almost colliding with Kessy. Kessy spun to investigate. Both Kessy and the dog were as surprised as I, then at a stomped foot protest from Kessy, he dashed away. This is the month hunters around here turn loose their hounds to run the big woods and get in shape for hunting season, so encounters do happen.

Not usually encounters like we were about to have, though. Back on the logging trail moving merrily along, at a slow enough for Saturday pace, we heard a pack of hounds behind us, yipping, howling and barking as they do when they are running on trail. But it sounded as if they were coming our way. I turned Kessy so I could look behind us, and sure enough that pack of about a dozen hounds was trailing us. Coming at us with their best speed!

We were on a long straight stretch of trail, the hounds were perhaps 500 feet away and closing. They can outrun a horse, and in times like this there is only one safe decision. I grabbed my hat, let go a loud holler, "Get it on, Kessy!" and set her in a flat out gallop straight on for the hounds, whooping and yelling.  Saturday of course was a safe distance behind.

We charged those dogs, Kessy's ears pinned, her feet pounding the hard packed dirt road and me yelling, "Get 'em girl!"

The hounds collapsed in a pile of yelping, squealing terrorized fur, then regrouped and dashed back the trail. Fleeing, tails tucked and barking in panic. We ran them until the left the logging road for the safety of the dense woods, then turned for home. A hundred yards back we picked up Saturday.

But the morning was still young. We'd heard the neighbor's goat had escaped about a week ago and I'd been asked to keep an eye open for him. A nice year old Nubian buck named Christian. They only had him a week before he set out on his own … The neighbor is my sister, who needed a goat like she needed a leaky roof, but …

Now Kessy and I have ridden up on bears several times, and of course often hounds, so when we rounded the turn, and there stood Christian about 100 feet ahead, I was happy. When Christian saw us, he jumped with joy, and bleated a happy greeting. Then began bouncing our way.

I reckon it was Kessy's first ever, horse meets goat moment, because she launched into a series of twists and crowhops that would have made a rodeo horse proud. Christian just kept coming, and bleating. He was so happy to see someone!

I'm still not sure I know how I rode that little explosion out, but I kept patting Kessy's neck and telling her, "It's okay, he's your cousin." Finally Kessy settled into a slow, bouncing, trembling walk, away from Christian.

It took a lot to turn her around, and when she did, the goat hopped off the trail into the woods. I saw our chance and hurried Kessy past him. At this point we were only about a quarter mile from our trail through the woods to our barn. I wasn't sure Christian would follow, so we stopped and waited … a safe distance ahead. Kessy still trembled. Then Christian stepped from the woods to follow us, Saturday behind him.

Kessy began to settle nicely, in fact as we made our way toward home we would need to stop often to wait for little Christian, who called out if we got too far ahead, and Kessy began stopping on her own! Saturday stayed with Christian.

Christian followed nicely even as we turned off the logging road, and it became clear Kessy had gone from scared as all get out, to worrying about her little goat buddy. At each turn on the tight brushy trail she stopped on her own and waited until Christian was back in sight.

I called Ravishin' Robbie to tell her we were bringing Christian home, and asked her to open both gates on the barn so I could ride through and get Christian in the barn. It worked beautifully, and he and Kessy stood together like lifelong friends. In fact when I rode Kessy out to the mounting platform to dismount, little Christian hollered and hollered from the barn.

We waited all together in Kessy's barn until my sister came to take Christian home again. Kessy and Christian are now good buddies and we'll need to let them visit often, perhaps even take Christian along a ride every now and then. We sure had an adventurous ride, and hope you enjoyed riding with us!

Gitty Up ~ Dutch Henry