Race horses given new purpose in retirement

Jacob and Blaine's Storm
Jacob and Blaine's Storm
Becky Thayer and Tail Ablaze
Becky Thayer and Tail Ablaze
Debbie Gartland and Krypto Disco
Debbie Gartland and Krypto Disco

SUMTER COUNTY, SC (WIS) - At one time, their sole purpose was to run really fast. Now their human friends are finding a new purpose for them.

"He's very smart, like most Thoroughbreds. He was really easy to retrain into a new career," said Jacob Crotts. "They like to work and they like having a job and they'll take on any job that they need to do and they'll do it well."

Crotts adopted retired race horse Blaine's Storm from the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation. He was prepared for adoption by inmates just down the road at Wateree River Correctional Institution through the Second Chances program.

"All of the horses out there are very, very well taken care of -- very well fed," Crotts said. "They all get handled very well."

Within weeks, Crotts taught Blaine's Storm to jump and within two months he was competing in show jumping. Now they are fox hunting.

Blaine's Storm's athleticism appealed to the Thomas Sumter Academy senior when he visited the prison farm to adopt a horse.

"Thoroughbreds are just so athletic and I think they're the best horses you can get," he said. "There's so many of them that are available off the track and it's good to give them a new home and give them a second chance and give them a new job. It's perfect."

"He's wonderful. I love him," said Debbie Gartland of her adopted race horse, Crypto Disco. He spent three years at Wateree River Correctional Institution before he was adopted by Gartland's friend, Becky Thayer.

"Nobody wanted him because of the bump on his nose but we all just love him here," Gartland said. "He's a great horse and it's just been...a really good match."

Thayer has adopted several TRF horses at her Stateburg farm. They are so well-prepared by the inmates, she uses them for children's riding lessons.

"Our legacy is to try to transition for people," Thayer said. "We can bring the horses here, kind of, they've already been let down as far as the racing goes, so they're definitely fat and happy so we just ease them into our riding school program"

Thayer said she fell in love with her striking gray, Tail Ablaze, at first sight.

"He came right up to me," she said.

In addition to using the horses at her riding school and trail riding, Thayer has been spreading the word about the benefits of the retired race horses throughout the South Carolina horse community.

"They are becoming more popular because we have had such good success," she said. "In fact, these here at the farm have almost breathed new life into the first field."

The first field refers to the more experienced horses and riders in a fox hunt, in which Thayer participates locally.

"They seem to like the work and the hunting makes sense to them in that they're with their friends, they're going as a group, and we can ease them into it."

Although when they're racing, Thoroughbreds are known to be high-strung and energetic, upon retirement, they mellow out. Blaine's Storm may find retirement a lot easier. He ran 73 races; some of them in England.

"He's pretty laid back and I think maybe it is because he ran so much," Crotts said. "But he's always been very calm and very easygoing."

"It has been a really, really good match," said Gartland, who got into riding after her children grew up and left her nest empty. "He's taught me a lot. He's improved my confidence. My outlook on life has totally changed."

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