10/23/2015 10:50AM

Mereworth Farm renovations to create major rehab, retraining facility


By Jen Roytz

Retired racehorses and equestrians will soon have a new venue to meet their match. As the country’s leading racehorse rehabilitation and adoption program, New Vocations Racehorse Adoption adopts out more than 450 horses annually, but the aftercare organization still cannot keep up with the demand.

With more owners and trainers keen to donate their horses to the nonprofit group than ever before, and riders applying in droves to adopt their very own professional equine athlete, New Vocations is operating at maximum capacity with more than 100 horses in its care at any given time.

The answer: Mereworth Farm

The late Susan Salmon Donaldson inherited Mereworth Farm from her father, Walter Salmon Jr. The 1,200-acre tract of rolling bluegrass was founded by her grandfather Walter Salmon Sr. in the early 1900s and served as home to more than 170 stakes winners over the years, including Preakness Stakes winners Vigil (1923), Display (1926), and Dr. Freeland (1929), as well as Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame inductees Discovery and Battleship.

An animal lover and philanthropist, Donaldson had a special affinity for horses and was passionate about providing sanctuary for those that could not be retrained or rehabilitated, ensuring they could live out their years in peace and comfort. Before her death in 2011, she created the Susan S. Donaldson Foundation in an effort to preserve Mereworth Farm as a safe haven for unwanted horses so that her mission would continue long after her death.

Donaldson’s longtime friend and attorney Elizabeth Hughes serves as president of the foundation. Hughes shares Donaldson’s passion and commitment to seeing Mereworth meet the needs of horses for years to come.

Anna Ford, Thoroughbred program director of New Vocations, said: “I was introduced to Elizabeth the year Susan passed away and learned about the long-term plans for Mereworth. We stayed in communication, and about a year and a half later they offered to take some of our horses that needed long-term rehabilitation and turnout. In the summer of 2014 we talked about expanding the relationship and, when we sat down to figure out what the best course of action would be, the idea that we could help more horses together than either of us could on our own helped us to create and solidify our plan.”

Hughes’s and Ford’s plan was to create a world-class racehorse rehabilitation and retraining facility at Mereworth that would allow more horses to be helped than ever before.

This new facility would include two 15-stall barns with 12x12-foot stalls, a 200x150-foot outdoor arena, a 180x80-foot indoor arena, 10 pastures, eight paddocks, and an office that will serve as the new national headquarters for the multi-state organization.

Total cost for the expansion is projected to be $2 million, prompting Ford and her team to create a capital campaign to raise the funds.

“Land is being cleared, the outdoor arena is complete, and the first barn is in the process of being built,” said Ford. “So far we have raised half of the $2 million.”

Fasig-Tipton was the first to offer support to New Vocations by donating the funds needed for its outdoor arena. Additional support has come from some notable names in the racing industry, including Mike Repole, Starlight Racing, and Glen Hill Farm.

“Half of the money we’ve raised so far has come from the racing industry and the other half has come from the equestrian world, which is so representative of all that New Vocations stands for,” Ford said.

The program’s Lexington,Ky., facility takes in roughly 100 horses each year. This new facility at Mereworth will allow the organization to double the number of horses it can help and will allow it to fulfill Donaldson’s original mission of taking in horses in need of permanent retirement.

“We will have 40 to 50 horses in training and another 20 to 30 in lay-up, and that number will keep growing as we continue to expand at Mereworth,” Ford said. “New Vocations serves both the Thoroughbred and Standardbred communities and, while the retraining program will be Thoroughbred only, I wouldn’t rule out adding another barn for Standardbreds down the road.”

As part of its capital campaign, New Vocations has created sponsorship and naming opportunities at all price points for its Mereworth facility, allowing anyone with a passion for responsible aftercare the chance to have his or her name etched in history in the creation of this premier facility.

“We are looking forward to doing tours, hosting clinics, and being a good community partner,” Ford said. “Education is a huge component of what we do, and having this new facility in Lexington gives us limitless potential to reach new audiences and bridge the gap between the racing and equestrian worlds.”

Founded in 1992 by Dot Morgan, New Vocations has evolved into the nation’s largest racehorse rehabilitation and adoption program. With seven facilities throughout Kentucky, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, New Vocations helps more than 450 horses each year and has adopted out more than 5,500 horses.

New Vocations works directly with owners and trainers across the country to give them options when their horses’ racing careers are coming to an end. More than half of the horses retired to New Vocations arrive with injuries stemming from their racing careers and are in need of surgery, stall rest, physical therapy, or other lay-up and rehabilitation services, all of which New Vocations provides, thanks to donor and industry support.

For more information on New Vocations Racehorse Adoption, go to www.horseadoption.com.