Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation: Saratoga’s Racehorse Sanctuary

If Candyman could talk, his story would make you cry. I got all teary-eyed when Jennifer Stevens, national director of development and communications at the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation (TRF), told me what happened to him. The 12-year-old gelding and one-time racehorse known as Candyman E, who competed at Saratoga Race Course, along with three other retired Thoroughbreds, had been rescued from neglect on a Hudson Valley farm in March. “They were starved,” says Stevens. “You could feel their ribs. And they were afraid. You could see it in their eyes.” The quartet of horses, which also included 8-year-old bay gelding Call the Iceman (now Icey), 13-year-old bay mare Supurb Suprize (now Emma) and 8-year-old dark bay Uptown Joe (now Joey)—once dubbed “The Forgotten Four”—have now been welcomed as special guests to Saratoga Springs’ Bloomfield Farm this summer.

This past May, when I first met the foursome, they were still pretty skinny, but they’re on the mend and should be back in the 75- to 100-pound range and muscle-pumped soon enough (likely by the time you read this story). The Found Four, as they should now be known, are eagerly awaiting visitors to pet them and feed them treats. Their gracious hosts are locally renowned polo aficionados and Bloomfield Farm’s owners, Will and Tabitha Orthwein (Will’s the head coach of Skidmore’s polo club). “We wanted to support a program that gives horses second or third chances,” says Tabitha. That program, in part, turns Bloomfield into TRF’s Saratoga Summer Farm, a place where interested parties can visit a crop of the nonprofit’s rescues and learn some valuable lessons about what the organization does. The pair will also be hosting a string of four Open Barn events, July 22-August 26—as well as fundraisers at the Saratoga Winery (August 20) and the Saratoga Spa State Park (August 31).

Founded in 1983 and headquartered in Saratoga, TRF is a national nonprofit, whose primary mission is to save lower-level racehorses from neglect, abuse and slaughter after their racing careers are over. The oldest and largest such organization in the country, it cares for 650 horses at 18 facilities. Thoroughbreds generally race for 5 or 6 years before retirement—but surprisingly, can live to the age of 35. “We keep a horse for life,” says Stevens.

The Found Four might be the new kids on the block, but Quick Call, who won nine races at Saratoga Race Course and has a Saratoga stakes race named after him, is the foundation’s star boarder. The 35-year-old lives at Wallkill Correctional Facility in Ulster County, one of TRF’s seven Second Chance Farms, where prison inmates have the opportunity to take part in equine care and stable management programs.

Back in Bloomfield’s quiet, green pasture, Stevens has high hopes for the four survivors she’s introduced me to. “We think these horses are all adoptable,” she says. Stevens also predicts that the Saratoga Summer Barn will attract hundreds of visitors this year. “People want to be near the horses,” she says. “They want to touch them. Saratoga is a horse town: the more people can connect with horses, the better.” Agreed. Hey there, Candyman. I haven’t forgotten about you. I’ll see you again this summer—with another carrot in hand.

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