12/14/2013 1:04PM

Oklahoma Thoroughbred Retirement Program has big year on many fronts

Dana Kirk
Prospective Kiss, 12, has been retired to his breeder's farm after racing in $2,500 claiming races in North Dakota.

In a year of accomplishment, the Oklahoma Thoroughbred Retirement Program has forged a relationship with the equestrian team at the University of Oklahoma, assisted in rescue efforts during the Moore, Okla., tornado, and reunited the 12-year-old Prospective Kiss, who last raced in July, with his breeder, CresRan.

The Oklahoma Thoroughbred Retirement Program is a non-profit organization that was founded in 2007. The goal was to place racehorses off the track in new homes, with a focus on caring for horses that had ties to Oklahoma. Since the program started, about 80 horses have been adopted, said board member Chris Kirk.

“A lot of people assume as a retirement program, we take horses and put them out in a pasture,” Kirk, 42, said. “But many are in new careers as hunter-jumpers, cow horses out on working farms, a little bit of everything.”

Kirk, who with his wife, Dana, participates in racing as an owner, began his affiliation with the retirement prtogram in 2012.

“It was mostly because I saw how passionate people working with the organization were taking care of the horses,” he said. “I wanted to help with fundraisers. And a lot of people didn’t know the program existed. That’s what I wanted to do, create awareness, get the word out.”

Kirk met Amanda Eggleston, head coach of the equestrian team at the University of Oklahoma, at a horse show this past summer. The team began helping retrain the retirement program’s horses in July.

“We use them in our practices,” Eggleston said. “The girls help ride them. It’s part of the retraining program, being used in our equestrian program. We hosted our first show this year and two of the horses got to be in the horse show, in the walk-trot classes, and they were fantastic. One of them, Cowboy Rex, won like four classes. He actually ended up getting adopted.”

The University of Oklahoma is part of the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association, which calls for individual schools to supply horses for shows they host. The team’s relationship with the retirement program has turned out to be good preparation for the competitions, said Eggleston.

“With the IHSA program, when the girls travel for their shows, they don’t know what horses they’ll get,” she said. “They get random horses, have to walk into the ring, and go jump. They don’t get to get used to the horse. The neat thing about bringing racehorses in to get retrained is the girls having to learn to ride horses that are green. It makes the kids better riders.”

Eggleston said she would love to see more Intercollegiate Horse Show Association schools look to retired racehorses for their programs as schools have to provide about 35 horses for a show. She also noted the United States Hunter Jumper Association is increasing its support of retired Thoroughbreds.

“They’re adding more Thoroughbred-only classes in shows,” she said. “Thoroughbreds are making a comeback. For the longest time it was nothing but Warmbloods. Thoroughbreds are coming back in the hunter-jumper discipline.”

Eggleston, whose team works with four to five of the retirement program horses at a time, is hopeful most of them will be “rehomed” within 60 days of being in the retraining program. “That’s our goal,” she said.

The OTRP’s reach this year extended to rescue efforts in Moore, where an estimated 150 horses were killed by a tornado in May. The retirement group assisted in the care of both injured and displaced horses, some of whom were stabled at Heritage Place, the auction house in Oklahoma City.

“We had volunteers that walked the horses every day,” Kirk said. “They went daily to help take care of them. We helped with literally dozens of horses out of the storm, all of which have gone back home. We had one missing his teeth. They were knocked out in the tornado. He was adopted.”

Another triumph for the group this year was Prospective Kiss, a four-time stakes winner who this summer was racing in the $2,500 claiming ranks in North Dakota. The Oklahoma Thoroughbred Retirement Program was made aware of the horse’s whereabouts by one of his former trainers, Megan Miller Olesiak.

“She had kind of followed him,” said Kirk.

Prospective Kiss’s breeder, CresRan, is the Oklahoma-based operation of Carol Ricks that is managed by her grandson, Ran Leonard. During the horse’s career, which spanned nine years from 2004 to 2013, he won 15 of 83 starts and $432,956. Prospective Kiss launched his career with CresRan, but was claimed from the stable for $65,000 in 2007. He would be claimed four more times, eventually landing in the $2,500 ranks in March 2011.

“CresRan said just do whatever it takes to get him,” Kirk said.

Olesiak helped secure the horse following a July 21 start in Fargo, N.D., in which he finished sixth as the favorite. From there, plans were made to get him back to CresRan.

“It was a big ordeal to get him to Oklahoma,” Kirk said. “It was a big process and there were a lot of people that helped along the way. It meant quite a bit to get him reunited with his original breeder and back where he grew up.”

Prospective Kiss is now living at CresRan’s farm in Crescent, Okla.