Written by Fran LaBelle

Horses always come first with the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation. That has been true since our founding in 1983 and proven by the thousands of former racehorses that the TRF has rescued, re-homed, and given sanctuary to for all these years. Whether or not that would continue was a stark reality in 2020 when COVID changed everything. The year began with plenty of promise and a calendar filled with activities and events. Within months, the best laid plans were now in jeopardy, and the team at the TRF felt the heavy burden of what was at stake – but the TRF’s supporters realized what was at stake as well. Longtime supporters, as well as 750 new donors, came together and saw the TRF through this daunting year. The uncertainty we began to feel in March as the pandemic took hold was steadily replaced by new hope and a stronger sense of purpose.

“Our herd is thriving thanks to our donors and our horse sponsors,” said TRF Executive Director, Pat Stickney. “Their belief in the TRF, their loyalty and resolve enabled us to stand up to the challenges presented by the pandemic. It is truly remarkable.”

Here are a few special highlights of the 2020 year for the TRF, for which we are all very thankful and proud to be a part of:

• On November 12, the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries (GFAS) awarded Accredited Status to the TRF Second Chances Program at the Lowell Correctional Institution in Florida, and the Eastham Sanctuary Farm in Virginia.

• The Hay Drive exceeded its matching goal of $60,000 from the Santulli Family Foundation; that $120,000 will feed the entire herd for the next 12 months!

• Our Giving Tuesday events, held in May and December, both surpassed their goals raising more than $40,000 for the TRF’s Farrier and Grain Funds – and the TRF also welcomed four new generous grants for a total of almost $25,000, most of which will go to upgrading our Second Chances Programs. One special private donation was earmarked for the TRF’s Veterinary Fund which makes dental and vet care covered for the entire herd in the coming year.

• In October, the TRF hosted the Second Annual Blackburn Horse Show as a live, virtual event from the Blackburn Correctional Complex in Lexington, KY; more than 2,700 people tuned in as the student/inmates demonstrated how they work together.

• BBQ at the Barn became a drive-thru event, where people remained in their cars, drove around a bucolic facility, viewed horses of different breeds, sizes and shapes and even got to chat with some of the racing industry’s celebrities as they drove up to collect their barbecue dinners to go. In October, we partnered with Pitney Meadows Farm in Saratoga Springs to offer our first ever “Pumpkins, Ponies and Pies” event that was enjoyed by children and their ponies – all in costume and in joyous step with the season.

• In October, on the West Coast, 10 student/inmates began a new semester at the TRF’s Equine Care Program at Pleasant Valley State Prison in California to mark the program’s first anniversary. The TRF, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, West Hills College and Harris Farms worked together, and Program Director, Heidi Richards was named CDCR’s 2020 Corrections Officer of the Year.

• In July, ten former racehorses from the TRF’s Second Chances Farm in Wallkill, NY found a new home at Pastures of Point Lookout (PPL) in Chadds Ford, PA – created by American artist, Jamie Wyeth, in memory of his late wife, Phyllis, who owned 2012 Belmont Stakes winner Union Rags.

• In September, the TRF collaborated with Old Friends at Cabin Creek and brought two of its “ambassadors” – Uptown Joe and Bold Mon to OFCC’s beautiful home base outside of Saratoga Springs, forging a new friendship with OFCC. Bold Mon was subsequently adopted and is enjoying life at his new home in upstate New York.

• A volunteer group of 60 people joined as “Friends of the Herd” to contribute their time and talents to help the TRF weather the 2020 storm – we could not do this without them and are so grateful to all who gave their time to our mission.

No one knows what challenges lay ahead but a very thankful TRF gained an even deeper reverence for, and an understanding of, the passion, dedication and commitment of its donors, volunteers, board members, and staff. We sincerely thank all who have helped us to care for our horses this past tumultuous year, and we are more confident than ever that we have the support we need to accomplish even greater things in 2021.