One woman gives racehorses a second chance at a new beginning
By Kelsey Duckett
The life they are accustomed to, fast speeds on an oval track, boisterous crowds, and thousands of people betting on their performance, is over. Retired racehorses often times have no place to go, no one to rehabilitate them, no one that they can count on.
This is where Kim Smith, president and founder of Second Stride, comes in. She created this non-profit organization to take retired race horses and give them a chance at a second career in dressage, jumping, or trail and companion use.
Smith’s interest in horses began at age seven when she got her first pony—and she’s been hooked ever since.
“This is my calling, I want to help in any way I can. I want to give these horses a chance, a chance that they otherwise probably wouldn’t get.”
Smith, a licensed thoroughbred trainer, says everyone in the community seemed to be coming to her with stray horses. She knew she needed to get involved in a more serious fashion.
When rehabilitating and retraining horses at Second Stride, the volunteers must essentially start from scratch. The horses need to relearn everything they learned living at the track. They are taught new words, such as, “walk,” “trot,” and “canter.”
“We basically have to act like they have never been ridden,” she explains. “They are so used to racing and so used to the same routine, [that] they are not used to just being ridden casually.”
When training and rehabilitation are complete, the horses are ready for adoption. Most go to a kind of “foster” home. There, they continue to get the socialization they need, until they find new permanent homes to live out the rest of their journey.
Racehorses can often times get a bad rap, but Smith knows them to be very athletic and extremely quick learners.
“People seem to place this stigma on thoroughbreds that they are not family horses,” she says sadly. “Of course, right off the track they are not ready for a family setting, but if you give them a chance, and they adapt [they can] become great horses in any setting.”
Second Stride helped 65 horses last year, and they are on track to place over 100 horses in new homes this year.
“We grow slowly,” she explains. “We would love to double, but we exist with a volunteer staff, and don’t want to take on more than we can handle. If I could save every horse out there, I would.”
Smith says the Internet has really added a new facet to the adoption process, and reaches more potential adopters. Her group places as many photos, information, and pictures online as possible, since most people adopt the horses sight unseen.
Second Stride has many friends who donate to the cause, but as with most non-profits, there is not enough funding to cover all the costs. Smith reports that 99 percent of the money they raise goes directly back to the horses.
“Every time I think I am getting close to catching up, I am overwhelmed with dozens of new cases,” she says. “It is a revolving door, but we continue to work one horse at a time.”
The experience has been very humbling for Smith and her staff. At the beginning Smith felt as if she was in this fight alone, but quickly realized that people really do care.
“There is a community-wide sentiment for these animals, and I have met some awesome people through running this program,” she says with a smile. “If we continue to come together, we will be able to save these animals and give them a new life full of love.”
Second Stride is always seeking donations and volunteers. For more information visit: SecondStride.org.