Cosequin Presents Aftercare Spotlight: Caribbean Care

Shelley Blodgett didn't grow up around horses. A clinical psychologist living in Wellington, Fla., with a specialty in geriatrics, Blodgett came about her love of horses later in life, learning to ride and becoming a fan of horse racing.

In an effort to stay up-to-date with horse racing news and results, Blodgett created a Twitter account, where she followed a variety of racing-related handles. While many of the accounts she followed on Twitter were news outlets, journalists, trainers and horsemen, she also followed several advocacy-driven accounts.

Little did Blodgett know that over the next several years her interest in horse racing would expand into aftercare, helping to create an organization that helps American-bred horses sent to places like Puerto Rico and the U. S. Virgin Islands return to the U.S. mainland.

It all began last year when @NotCloudyAllDay, a Twitter account that tracks horses who are either advanced in age, in career starts or both, posted information regarding the plight of Immortal Wink, a horse we featured last year who had been bred in Florida and raced in the U. S. from ages 2 through 8, only to be sold and shipped to Puerto Rico. Immortal Wink had, at the time, well over 100 starts under his girth.

The gelding's situation moved Blodgett. With no initial link to the horse or his connections, she began working on his behalf, reaching out to his breeder (who was aghast to learn of his situation and eager to assist) and connecting with Kelley Stobie, a lifelong equestrian living in Puerto Rico. Stobie not only worked at Camarero Race Track as an equine physical therapist, but was also heavily involved with Thoroughbred aftercare. Together with others, they worked with Immortal Wink's owner to retire the gelding after 142 starts and coordinated his return to the U.S. mainland, where he is part of the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation's Second Chances program at the Lowell Women's Prison in Florida.

After creating a happy ending for Immortal Wink, Blodgett and Stobie set out to do the same for several other horses, eventually discussing the proposition of formalizing their efforts.

“While working on some of those initial efforts, Kelley and I talked about the needs of Thoroughbreds in Puerto Rico and also in the U. S. Virgin Islands,” said Blodgett.

Stobie suggested they bring Lynn Utech of Victory Thoroughbred Aftercare into the conversations as well. Based in the U. S. Virgin Islands, Utech has been coordinating the retired racehorses shipped to the Islands either back to the U. S. mainland or finding them useful homes in the Caribbean since 2004.

The result was Caribbean Thoroughbred Aftercare, an organization that works on the backside of racetracks like Camarero (in Puerto Rico), Clinton E. Phillips (in St. Thomas) and Dr. Randall James Race Track (in St. Croix). With Stobie and Utech as the “boots on the ground,” Blodgett assisting with travel coordination, networking with past connections of horses and fundraising through social media and other means, and several others in Puerto Rico and elsewhere assisting with logistics and networking, the organization has been getting results and changing mindsets.

“Shelley starts by contacting breeders and then previous owners and trainers,” explained Stobie. “We simply don't have the resources down here (in Puerto Rico) to rehome so many horses. If there is a way to get them [back to the U. S. mainland] we will try. If not, we find them homes [in the Caribbean] or they stay with us.”

Stobie, who is originally from England and moved to Puerto Rico in 1996 to work at Hacienda Siesta Alegre, a Thoroughbred training center, after living in several other countries, says daily operations at the tracks in the Caribbean are a stark contrast to those in the U. S. and elsewhere.

According to Stobie, in Puerto Rico, the feed, hay and everything else is of a lesser quality and basic supplies, medications and supplements are harder to get.

Added Stobie, “We don't have enough horses here to fill the five race days, so unfortunately the horses are pushed and raced too frequently.”

Stobie and Blodgett estimate that 20 to 25 horses from Camarero are retired from racing and immediately euthanized. To compound the issue, some people, rather than putting the horses down, release them into the bush with no reliable food or water source.

Kelley Stobie riding Strike N' Win, a New York-bred who retired in Puerto Rico after a 90-race career

Kelley Stobie riding Strike N' Win, a New York-bred who retired in Puerto Rico after a 90-race career

“With 400 Thoroughbreds being euthanized annually in Puerto Rico, many of which are sound and capable of good aftercare situations, there was a true need for aftercare where the focus was on the full spectrum of aftercare needs, including rehabilitating, retraining and even providing or securing sanctuary for horses who cannot be ridden,” said Blodgett. “Future goals are to create an equine-assisted therapy program and an equine vocational program akin to Second Chances in Puerto Rico.”

All of this, of course, takes funding. Blodgett, Stobie and Utech formalized their efforts in November of 2016, applying for federal 501(c)(3) status in the U. S., as well as tax-exempt status in Puerto Rico.

“Because so many Puerto Rican Thoroughbreds are bred in the States, and all Puerto Rican-bred Thoroughbreds are registered with The Jockey Club, our organization is eligible to apply for Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance accreditation,” said Blodgett. “We are also working with the administration of Camarero Race Track and the two Thoroughbred ownership federations to work out a means of funding our program regularly.”

While Blodgett is relatively new to racehorse rehoming, Utech and Stobie have been working in the field for decades. Their experience and hands-on approach, working with trainers and owners at the tracks and gaining their trust and support, pairs perfectly with Blodgett's ability to organize logistics and travel, and to rally support for individual horses and the organization as a whole in the States.

“Little by little the trainers and owners down here are starting to understand what we do and that it is a much-needed service for the racing industry in the islands,” said Stobie.

As the saying goes, “it takes a village,” and the village of people and organizations assisting Stobie, Blodgett and Utech is ever-growing. While fundraising for the expenses for each horse (which includes not only acquiring the animal, but also caring for it during quarantine; any necessary veterinary care; transporting it, often by air or sea, to its post-racing home and more), networking and making introductions on behalf of Caribbean Thoroughbred Aftercare is of equal importance.

Stobie's former employers, Greg and Linda Jackson of Hacienda Siesta Alegre, offer the group discounted rates on quarantine and flights for horses leaving Puerto Rico, as well as discounted board rates for those staying in Puerto Rico for retraining and rehoming.

Other organizations, including The Exceller Fund, One Last Race, After the Finish Line and others, have assisted with not only helping Caribbean Thoroughbred Aftercare connect with people previously associated with the horses they are helping, but also with information sharing on social media, which often translates into both fundraising and awareness-raising.

Since working together as Caribbean Thoroughbred Aftercare, the group has returned eight horses to the U.S. mainland after their retirement from racing in Puerto Rico, some going to their breeders' or previous owners' farms and others finding placement with adopters or sanctuaries. Many of the Puerto Rican-bred horses they have helped, along with a few U.S.-breds, have been re-homed in Puerto Rico and the surrounding islands as recreational or competitive equestrian mounts, trail horses and track ponies.

“Currently we are watching some horses and have offered to help with several who were born in the States and are racing in Puerto Rico,” said Blodgett. “Many are older and have a high number of starts and are not racing as well as they once did. In one case, a breeder in the U.S. is trying to retire and re-acquire his stakes-winning horse. Another case is an 11-year-old Florida-bred with 133 starts who we have a sanctuary home waiting for when his owner retires him, which he is promising to do.”

Often Caribbean Thoroughbred Aftercare is contacted about horses by past connections or concerned citizens who ask if they would keep them on their “watch list.” Much like some aftercare organizations in the U. S., such as CANTER operate, Stobie visits owners and trainers at the racetrack and explains what the organization does, offering to help the owners and trainers to place their horses when they are ready to retire them and periodically checking in with them and the horse's status.

Stobie also works with the two veterinary clinics near the racetrack, which in turn contact her if they come across a horse that would be a candidate for the organization's services.

To learn more about Caribbean Thoroughbred Aftercare, visit adoptcaribbeanottb.org or visit the Caribbean Thoroughbred Aftercare, Inc. Facebook page.

Jen Roytz is a marketing, publicity and comprehensive communications specialist based in Lexington, Kentucky. A native of Cleveland, Ohio, her professional focus lies in the fields of equine, health care, corporate and non-profit marketing. She holds board affiliations with the Make a Wish Foundation, Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance and the Retired Racehorse Project, among others. While she currently has no plans to build an arc, she is the go-to food source for two dogs, two cats and two off-track Thoroughbreds.

Email Jen your story ideas at [email protected] or connect with her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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