by Kristen M. Castrataro
When my husband and I decided to move my old Belgian draught horse to his new home at our new home, we immediately started looking for a buddy for him. We were searching for a mini burro; we found Kid Cobra and the Standardbred Retirement Foundation.
Kid Cobra is a 20-year old Standardbred bred and trained for sulky racing. When I met him, he had left the racing world behind him and had become a ward of the Standardbred Retirement Foundation (SRF).
Founded in 1989, the SRF is the original equine rescue program. Its offices are in New Jersey, but SRF is a national organization with anywhere from five to 15 facilities used to board and train animals prior to adoption. Most adoptions occur along the East Coast due to shipping costs, but SRF has animals placed in almost all 48 contiguous states.
While there are other equine rescue programs, SRF has a couple unique elements. The first is that SRF horses are lifelong members. When a horse is matched with an adoptive home, the adopter expresses the intent to keep the horses for the length of his/her life. SRF’s Business Administrator Dana Letual explains, “We do not own a farm for seniors and have to pay board on horses that become unwanted to due to age or injury.”
There are times when adopters are unable to keep that commitment. Illness, financial reversal, or other unforeseen circumstances can make it untenable to continue caring for a horse. In that event, the adopter cannot sell or give the horse away. It must be returned to SRF where it will again be made available for adoption.
The second uniqueness of SRF is its follow-up policy. Twice a year, adopters are required to have a veterinarian examine the horse and complete a fitness report. If SRF has concerns about the results of those examinations, they contact the veterinarian for additional information. If it becomes evident that the adopter is not able to properly care for the horse, the animal will be removed and placed for a new adoption. This system ensures that SRF Standardbreds receive quality care throughout their lives.
While this arrangement protects the horses, SRF also tries to protect the adopters by matching the right adopter with the right horse. Prospective adopters fill out a thorough intake form describing their horse experience, their goals for their new horse, and even information about additional animals they have/have had. This process makes it less likely that an adopter will end up with a horse that does not suit their needs.
The variety of horses in the program is almost endless. Some are retired broodmares. Others were acquired at auctions, bound for slaughter. Some are sound and ready to begin a new life in any discipline. Others, due to injury or age, are suitable only for pasture pets.
There are some commonalities among all the animals, however. One is the Standardbred temperament. The breed is “hearty… with a great work ethic and friendly personality,” according to Letual. The second is basic training. Even the youngest adoptable horses are halter-broken, trailer-broken, well-mannered for farriers and veterinarians, familiar with many verbal commands, and tolerant of tack and driving equipment.
These qualities make Standardbreds a great choice for adoption for a wide variety of people. If someone is looking for an animal but doesn’t feel comfortable navigating auctions, websites, or dealers, SRF is an ideal option. Letual notes, “As horses stay in our program for life we do not benefit from someone taking in a horse that is wrong for them, as they can simply return the horse and get their donation back.” Depending on a person’s performance goals, SRF horses can successfully transition into careers in dressage, jumping, endurance, barrel racing, and, of course, pleasure driving.
Potential adopters need not be overly concerned about their own experience or age, either. Lack of experience with horses does not necessarily preclude adoption, although SRF may require that adopters new to horses board at a full-care, pre-screened, pre-approved facility.
Selecting a new horse is always an important decision. An increasing number of people are turning to SRF when they are in the market for a horse. Sometimes they discover something much more than just a horse. Letual shares the story of a woman who adopted a gelding named Listen to Me. Months later, the woman was diagnosed with cancer. She went to visit her horse, feeling despondent. Listen to Me rested his head on her shoulder. That show of affection reminded the woman that her life was filled with wonderful blessings.
While not every adopter has such a poignant story, Letual says, “The overwhelming response from adopters is “I love my horse, THANK YOU.” To join their ranks or to get more information, visit SRF’s website at http://adoptahorse.org/home. You may just find the horse of your dreams.
There’s nothing standard about the Standardbred Retirement Foundation
by Kristen M. Castrataro