This story was corrected at noon on Dec. 30, 2013. An explanation follows the story.
It was Christmas Eve one year ago when Groovy Music entered his last race. The 6-year-old bay gelding pulled a ligament in a race that sidelined his racing career. But, with the help of a nonprofit organization, Groovy Music and many thoroughbreds like him are getting a second chance.
CANTER, the Communication Alliance to Network Thoroughbred Ex-Racehorses, works with trainers at Laurel Park and racetracks across the country to help their horses find new suitable homes when they finish their racing careers. CANTER Mid-Atlantic caters to racehorse owners and buyers on the East Coast, with their horses housed at different farms in Maryland, Delaware and North Carolina.
Finding a suitable home for these retired racehorses isn’t an easy job, according to Wendy Komlo, Groovy Music’s owner.
Komlo owns Tantarra Stables and breeds her own racehorses that she races at tracks along the mid-Atlantic. She also owns Komlo & Associates property and casualty insurance agency and a 12-acre farm in Derwood where she has two of her retired racehorses, two brood mares and one rescue pony to keep them company.
CANTER helps owners like Komlo weed through prospective buyers and adoptive homes to make sure horses find their perfect fit for their second career. A retired racehorse doesn’t have to hang up his horseshoes. These horses can be used for pleasure riding, police work, as show horses, or for cattle work, according to Deidra Darsa, a volunteer who also deals with public relations for CANTER Mid-Atlantic.
“We call it owner responsibility to find out where those animals are going and it is a long hard process,” Komlo said. “I can sleep very well at night knowing where my horses are.”
The CANTER program is 100 percent volunteer-run and launched in 1999. In its 14 years, the mid-Atlantic group has placed 375 horses, according to Darsa.
“All my life, I’ve loved horses,” said Darsa, who owns a CANTER horse of her own.
CANTER maintains a website that lists horses for the owners and facilitates a match with a prospective buyer.
There are many factors that come into play on how long a horse can race. In some cases, they have the “slows” and just aren’t competitive on the track. Some horses get injuries that end their racing careers, but not their ability to go onto second careers. Some horses race until they are about 9 years old, Darsa said.
Horses fresh off the track are priced at less than $1,000. Horses in retraining typically are in the $500 to $3,500 range, Darsa said. Groovy Music was listed for $1,000.
Often, racehorse owners will donate retired horses to CANTER. When that happens, the organization uses all of the money made from selling the horses to take care of other horses before they are adopted.
CANTER rehabilitates and retrains horses donated to them because they are often weak and fragile after years of racing. The rehab typically costs $3,000, Darsa said.
“They come off the track a little body sore,” she said. “We turn them out to relax and just be horses for three months.”
After that, they are retrained. When a buyer comes along, CANTER makes sure they’re a good match to foster a successful relationship.
“Through CANTER, I get the chance to really see where I want my horse to go. CANTER does a heck of a job,” Komlo said.
Former Montgomery County resident Allie Conrad founded CANTER Mid-Atlantic. She said there was no place to market these horses, so they could find a good home, she said. She wanted to help connect sellers with buyers.
Darsa and Conrad met some years back at stables in Damascus.
“I ran out of friends to sell horses to, so I had to find new friends,” Conrad said with a laugh about her move to North Carolina.
Jennifer Martin of Falls Church, Va., starting as a volunteer with CANTER, but later became the adoptive owner of Cally in 2007.
She and her 12-year-old thoroughbred finished third in the beginner/novice category at the Maryland Horse Trials in Adamstown on Nov. 10.
Cally lives on Southwind Farm in Damascus, where Martin pays a $800-per-month boarding fee.
“I think the horse appreciates where she is. She lights up a little when I am there,” Martin said of the horse.
Through donations and grants from the ASPCA, as well as a ton of time, effort and energy, Conrad said, they work with horse specialists, like chiropractors and dentists, to bring the horses back to their full, healthy potential. The number of donated horses they can take in each year entirely depends on funding for that year and the amount of volunteers on hand.
Conrad said she enjoys her work with CANTER simply because of the horses themselves, as well as having happy owners call her and say that their CANTER horses are the best things in their lives.
“Daily therapy from the horses — there is nothing better in the world. They are such great insight into your mood and soul. They are the biggest reward,” Conrad said.
Staff Writer Krista Brick contributed to this story.
An earlier version of this story listed an incorrect price range for the horses. Also, Southwind Farm was misspelled.