07/12/2012 1:01PM

Racehorse adoption program educates a new generation

Audrey C. Crosby
Saylor intern Mandy Su bonds with former racehorse Pleasant Spring.

LEXINGTON, Ky. − New Vocations is best known for retraining ex-racehorses and putting them up for adoption in new careers, but the group also is offering valuable training for people, thanks to a paid internship program that puts students in touch with Thoroughbreds.

“A big part of what we do is education,” said Anna Ford, program manager at New Vocations. “On a daily basis we’re educating Thoroughbred owners and trainers on what retirement options are there for their horses, and what the horses can go on to do. We’re also educating adopters on what these horses can do. And the third leg is opening our doors and educating young students that are interested in learning more about the program as a whole.”

New Vocations already had an internship program in place at its Ohio facility and wanted to expand the idea when it opened a Lexington division several years ago. That’s when Paul Saylor, a Thoroughbred owner who raced champions Fleet Indian and Ashado, stepped in with funding to support the idea. Saylor launched the Olivia M. Saylor Internship last year in honor of his daughter, who died Jan. 1, 2011, at age 21.

“It’s an effort to honor her and to make sure she does have a legacy,” Saylor said. “She was very active in Thoroughbred horse racing and loved it, and she was especially concerned about the well-being of horses after their racing careers. The industry, I think we all know, is in lousy shape for a lot of reasons, and one of the reasons is that young people don’t have incentive to participate, either because they deem or someone else deems that the job is too menial or they’re just not interested because of all the noise about alleged use of drugs or other stuff we all read about every day. So if something can be done to continue some young person’s interest in the industry, that’s the focus, and that’s also why we give a four-year scholarship through the Race For Education.”

Ford, 33, said New Vocations seeks applicants who have horses in their background, because of the hands-on aspect of the work, though lifelong horse or riding experience isn’t required. New Vocations pays interns $9 an hour for an estimated 20-30 hours a week, though hours can vary somewhat according to the time of year.

This year’s recipient of the Olivia M. Saylor Internship was Mandy Su, a 22-year-old senior at the University of Kentucky. Su said she applied for a five-month internship partly because she hopes to have her own riding facility someday.

“I do hunter-jumpers, and I’ve always been interested in incorporating off-the-track Thoroughbreds,” said Su, a community leadership and development major. “I think it’s a good chance to give a horse a new opportunity if they don’t succeed at racing or are finished with that career.

“Before I heard of New Vocations I actually got an off-the-track Thoroughbred, and that’s where the interest started rolling,” she said. “I never was really introduced to the racing world until I came to Kentucky. I’d only been to one horse race in Florida. I’ve learned that steps are being taken to improve the negative side of racing, and I think that’s great. It needs to be done to prolong the well-being of the horses.”

New Vocations benefits in the short term by having extra hands to help out with the daily duties. That means more than riding and mucking out stalls. The Lexington intern essentially is an assistant to the local New Vocations manager, and Su also helps evaluate horses, assess any injuries they might have, meet with donors, and arrange horses’ shipment to adopters.

“I’ve learned a lot of medical stuff,” Su said. “I knew how to basically treat wounds, but a lot of horses come in with more extensive injuries, even if they are old injuries. So I’ve learned how to identify those, why one horse might not be suited for a certain discipline, and what kind of maintenance certain injuries might require in the future.”

“We don’t really have a set job description,” Ford said. “If you come here, you’re going to see all parts of the work. You’re going to meet adopters, you’re going to meet owners, you’ll do a little bit of everything.”

Over the long term, Ford said she hopes interns will gain a good understanding of what hands-on professional horsemanship is like.

“If they truly are interested in working in the horse industry, whether it’s with an aftercare program or something in racing or showing, it’s good for them to see what it’s like to do it day in and day out,” Ford said. “And once someone has been working with New Vocations for any length of time, whether they’re interns or volunteers or employees, they’re going to be a walking promotion, no matter what they end up doing with their lives. They become passionate about our mission and taking the horses and giving them a new skill. That’s a lasting thing, that they will spread the word and awareness of issues surrounding aftercare, and also promoting the Thoroughbred in second careers.”

That’s something Su could be well placed to do if she fulfills her dream of owning a hunter-jumper operation someday.

“I remember when they used to have Thoroughbred classes and non-Thoroughbred classes at the rated shows,” said Su, who began riding at age 6. “Thoroughbred classes have kind of disappeared. They used to be what people showed, and it’s sad to see them phased out, because they were so successful in the show ring. They’re easy to come by, they make great show horses, and you can actually take them out in the hunt field. I think it’s great that the Jockey Club is starting the Thoroughbred Incentive Program classes. A lot of people still have the idea that Thoroughbreds are all crazy and broken, so it will take some time to sway people’s views.”

New Vocations currently offers two internships a year, but Ford said she would like to see the program grow at its newest location in Lexington.

“We only have funding to do one at a time, but we’d love to do more,” Ford said of the Lexington internship. “There are a lot of students who really want to find a job in the horse industry, and, especially coming out of UK and Georgetown, this gives them a good glimpse of what it’s like to work within this type of organization.”