Thoroughbred breeding and racing have always been educational pillars of Godolphin’s Flying Start program to prepare students for a future in the industry, but what is the future of the racing industry without responsible aftercare?
Now during the Kentucky stint of their program from January to July, the Flying Start trainees are taking part in hands-on Thoroughbred aftercare education. Last year, they spent time at New Vocations at Mereworth Farm, and they’re continuing to make aftercare a component in Kentucky this year at the Maker’s Mark Secretariat Center. Both Central Kentucky organizations are Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance-accredited.
“We are lucky to have top-class aftercare organizations located in Kentucky, and we felt there was a great opportunity for the trainees to gain a hands-on understanding of the work that is being done to retrain these athletes for second careers.”
Each trainee will be spending one week at the Center, learning about horse care and how to successfully transition a horse from racing to another equestrian discipline. This is done through MMSC’s signature Horse Centered ReSchooling Program, in which a horse is evaluated and trained based on its mental, physical, and spiritual needs.
“All of these horses know how to be ridden, but your job is to figure out where the weak spots are—is it physical, is it mental, is it curriculum?” MMSC executive director Susanna Thomas explained.
“I want them to understand that it’s got to be horse-centric. It’s a different language, and it’s not up to the horse to learn to speak your language. You need to communicate your idea in the way that the horse can be successful. So that’s one component, and then there’s the core component of the attention to detail—whether it’s mucking a stall, preparing a ration, bandaging a hoof—you must understand that to do something well, the devil is in the details. That’s the management part.”
The hope is that the main takeaway from their time at the Center, however, isn’t just knowledge on how to transition a horse, but more of an understanding of responsible aftercare being an essential part of the sport.
“If there is one thing to know about Susanna, it’s that she’s just as passionate about education as she is about horses, and we are lucky to have her and her team on board to share their philosophies and practices at MMSC,” Hardy said.
“The trainees will spend time in the barns and in the office, learning both the methods for retraining a Thoroughbred for a second career and the challenges of running a nonprofit aftercare facility. MMSC’s trainer, Kara Toye, will be working with them to demonstrate their Horse Centered ReSchooling Program, and our goal is for the trainees to come away embracing Susanna’s motto that ‘aftercare should always be a forethought, not an afterthought.'”
The MMSC already has an ongoing relationship with Godolphin through the global operation’s Lifetime Care Program to re-home and retrain its horses. So when Thomas was approached by Hardy to take on the Flying Start trainees, she was grateful for the opportunity but had one stipulation: a lecture and open discussion on aftercare.
“There was a modicum of time on safety and how we do things, but the bulk of it was: What is aftercare, why does it matter, who is impacted. We had an hour-and-a-half discussion,” Thomas said. “They took notes, and I said to them, ‘Listen, what you’re doing is really important and you’re learning, but you’re not going to have an industry possibly for reasons you just cited if you don’t make aftercare foundational, so let’s hear what you’re going to do.’
“You should see these notes, you should see how dynamic they were and the discussions that they had. I said, ‘We’re turning this world over to you guys, you’re going to go back to your countries, and you better be mindful of this because it’s in your hands.’ Just like I do with horses, the opportunity even for a brief time to empower people and to get them thinking makes me so excited.”
And where that message goes from here is in the hands of the trainees.
“If we pay attention to aftercare and we do it well, as an industry, we will have far fewer problems,” Thomas said. “If we show our concern for our horses when they can no longer provide us with remuneration and entertainment, then maybe we have a chance of turning our ship around. And that’s in the hands of the youth. Yes, it’s in the hands of the industry, but, like anything, all generations fizzle out. But if you get young people, you’ve got to get to their hearts and turn on their brains. That’s my goal.”