Reinventing Racehorses

In recent months, residents in the Old Quaker Hill area have noted the absence of retired thoroughbreds on the hill that was occupied by Akindale Thoroughbred Rescue (ATBR). The organization is entering an exciting new chapter as it is in the final phase of moving operations to the heart of Akindale Farm on Cox Road. Akindale Thoroughbred Rescue has been slowly transitioning over the past few months into the new location that was the home of horse advocate John Hettinger’s training and breeding program. The training barn has been updated and converted to the hub of the newly expanded and re-launched program, now known as the “A. John Hettinger Rehabilitation Center.” This move is part of ATBR’s new “Reinventing Racehorses” initiative, which will help rehabilitate, retrain and rehome thoroughbreds no longer able to race.

“We are extremely excited for the opportunity to expand and re-launch our program with a stronger focus on helping retired racers find forever homes,” explains ATBR Executive Director Chris Andrews. “With the inheritance of the training barn, we are now able to rehabilitate and retrain these horses year round, where we were always restricted seasonally due to the old location. The new facility will allow us to help transition so many more horses into loving homes with great second careers ahead of them.” Historically, Akindale Thoroughbred Rescue has been best known for providing forever-homes for retired racehorses that have had an injury that prevents them from being a riding horse.

Currently, ATBR’s Sanctuary is at capacity, housing 130 horses. “Unfortunately, our sanctuary is full,” explains Andrews. “Our ability to move into the heart of the farm allows us to continue to provide sanctuary to our retirees, but also create our new ‘Reinventing Racehorses’ program so we can continue our founder’s mission of helping retired racehorses find a second career and a happy home.”

The Hettinger Rehabilitation Center is a modified training barn with 18 stalls and sand track. Through a grant from Blue Horse Charities, ATBR was able to add the necessary additions to convert to a rehab facility and construct a new outdoor arena. The organization is also in the process of refurbishing another barn on the property into an eight-stall adoption center.

The rehabilitation program at Akindale sees horses come off the track with a variety of ailments, including suspensory injuries, bone chips, and fractures. Each horse is guaranteed sixty days of rest, proper rehabilitation and vet clearance to ease back into work. This process can include a variety of options from stall rest, hand walking, restricted turnout, and a gradual transition to larger pastures. “We want every animal to enjoy being a horse again,” adds Andrews.

The new focus on thoroughbred rehabilitation is a reflection of the vision of founder John Hettinger, who was a tireless champion for finding a second career for retired racehorses. After Hettinger’s death in 2008, the 800-acre property continued as a thriving breeding and training center until the retirement of longtime trainer Kate Feron in 2017. Horses who come to live on the property are also guaranteed sanctuary for the remainder of their lives.

The new focus of ATBR will focus on the 5 R’s of their Reinventing Racehorses Program: rest, rehab, retrain, rehome, and retire. “That clearly defines our program and is what differentiates us from other adoption programs,” Andrews says. “It’s been very well received by the thoroughbred industry as it gives these horses a home for life and prevents them from an unknown fate.

Going forward, ATBR will also be expanding their role in the local community to raise awareness of the program. In addition to joining Pawling’s Chamber of Commerce, the organization has also begun working with the Rotary and participated in the successful Fall Festival several months ago. “We’re really looking closely at connecting with our community this year,” says Andrews. ATBR officials are working with a writer to produce a children’s book about the farm and are planning several events this year, including a classic car show complete with an Elvis impersonator, horse shows and a variety of family friendly events – “anything we can do to educate people on what goes on here,” adds Andrews. On Saturday, March 2, ATBR will be presenting a Neil Diamond Tribute Concert at the Lathrop Center in Lakeside Park, starring Robert James McArthur and the Brooklyn Roads Band. All proceeds from the evening will benefit the ongoing efforts of the thoroughbred rescue.

For more information or to purchase tickets for the Neil Diamond Tribute Concert, please visit online.