Aftercare Initiative Makes a Difference in Baltimore

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Coyle Studios

By Diana Pikulski

On May 21, the first veterans will arrive at the Baltimore County Therapeutic Equine Arena and Learning Center for their inaugural session with Saratoga War Horse, a program where interaction with horses helps veterans suffering from PTS. The horses at the Baltimore County program are all Thoroughbreds, primarily off-track.
The goal of the center is twofold: to provide education and effective equine-assisted therapy and learning to the many populations of Baltimore County that would not otherwise have contact with horses and to provide a place for training off-track Thoroughbreds for a new vocation in equine assisted learning and therapy. Those horses may then be adopted by other facilities or individuals working in equine-assisted therapies.
This center, the first of its kind focusing primarily on off-track Thoroughbreds, illustrates the remarkable adaptability and marketability of off-track Thoroughbreds–even those not sound enough for regular riding. The first five Thoroughbreds, three from Sagamore Farm and two from Foxie G Rescue, arrived last week to settle in.
In addition to Saratoga War Horse, the Thoroughbreds will also be part of a regular EAGALA (Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association) program which will be made available to veterans, their families and other suffering from a broad spectrum of emotional and traumatic symptoms.
A third program expected to launch at the center this year is The Connected Horse, an equine-based behavioral research program from the University of California, Davis (UC Davis). Since its inception in California, The Connected Horse has demonstrated that a series of guided workshops in which newly diagnosed Alzheimer’s and Dementia patients and their care partners interact with equines results in measurable improvements in participants’ mood, motivation, social relationships and activity levels. The researchers are interested in exploring the potential to enhance the therapeutic effects of the protocol by utilizing sanctuary Thoroughbreds.
The officials of Baltimore County became aware of the power of equine-assisted therapy when a group of county police, firefighters, and correctional officers, all of whom are veterans, were given government leave to attend the Saratoga War Horse program in Aiken, SC.  It seemed like a natural next step for Baltimore, where the GI Preakness S. is held, that they create their own facility to help many more of their residents and connect with Thoroughbreds to do that.
“We saw a unique opportunity to make an impact on the mental health of veterans and their families,” said Suzanne Berger, Equine Program Manager for Baltimore County. “From experience, we know that the therapy and interaction with the horses works.”
The center will also provide a unique teaching venue and way for the entire community to connect with horses and learn from them and about them. The county will provide education programs about horses, career training and public safety training in horse rescue and how to save horses in barn fires.
The center, which is operated under the auspices of the Maryland Equine Resources Council, will maintain 10 off-track Thoroughbreds at a time at an estimated cost of $50,000 per year and will be actively fundraising for program and operating expenses.
“When you show people this first-class facility and the power that the retired racehorses have to heal and energize people, especially people who formerly had no connection whatsoever to horses, you cannot help but see the incredible value of these programs,” added County Council Chairman Julian Jones. “We are confident that the horse industry and philanthropists will continue to support it.”
Maryland is a state steeped in thoroughbred breeding, racing, and steeplechase tradition. On Monday, the TDN reported that The 2018 Economic Impact Study produced by the American Horse Council revealed that Maryland’s horse industry adds more than $1.3 billion to the state’s economy. The report found that the horse industry’s total employment impact is over 21,000 jobs and that $500 million-plus is added from the horse racing sector alone. It is fitting that Maryland would also boast innovations in horse welfare and retirement.
The Maryland Horse Council is the only horse council that has taken a formal position in favor of a federal ban against horse slaughter and transportation of horses for slaughter. In January 2018, to reduce the risk for Maryland’s horses, The Maryland Horse Council created Maryland Equine Transition Services (METS). This is a mobile unit that will evaluate horses free of charge for owners no longer willing or able to care for it.
The METS unit shows up with a coordinator to assess the horse and make recommendations. They will then help market the horse if appropriate or find a sanctuary placement. If necessary, they will euthanize the horse. METS has partnered with Days End Horse Rescue, which has been serving and horses and the community with their programs for at-risk youth for more than 25 years.
“Our goal is to minimize the risk of slaughter and neglect for all horses in Maryland by assisting owners and horses with a transition when the owner cannot keep the horse and doesn’t know to where they can turn,” explained Brittney Carow, METS’ program director. “For Thoroughbreds,” she added, “we will help when they are in a post racing situation and their owners need assistance–not at the track.”
Owners and trainers of Thoroughbreds in training can call Beyond the Wire to speak with manager Jessica Hammond.  Hammond, a lifelong horse owner and the Director of Benevolence and Counseling for the MTHA, runs the program which is very similar to NYTHA’s Take the Lead. In its first year of existence, Beyond the Wire placed 70 horses off of Maryland tracks.
When Hammond receives a call about a racehorse needing retirement, she has the horse evaluated within 24 to 48 hours. The program places horses with TAA- (Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance) accredited programs for retraining and adoption. A stipend goes with the horse. Beyond the Wire is funded through the Maryland Jockey Club, Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association and the Maryland Horse Breeders.
Two of the first five horses in the program, Rift (Not for Love), a 10-year-old who was stakes place and earned close to $100,000 in 16 starts, and Reserved Quality (Elusive Quality), who raced 28 times and earned $190,000, belong to The Foxie G Foundation in Union Bridge, MD. Three other geldings: Done Done Done (Latent Heat), Fifty Two (Grand Slam) and Go Hard (Candy Ride {Arg}) came from Sagamore Farm.
“We are proud to be a part of this initiative which will well serve many Maryland residents and provide some of our sanctuary horses with much deserved extra attention,” commented Foxie G founder Laurie Calhoun. “Our hats are off to Baltimore County for the hard work and perseverance it took to get the equine therapy program and facility in place.”
“The program at Baltimore County Therapeutic Equine Arena and Learning Center promises to be a dynamic example of the value of thoroughbreds, even when not being ridden, to help a community through interaction, understanding and connection, added Chairman Jones. “We plan to invite police and other service providers and veterans from across the state to participate. This will be a model to be replicated to help more horses and people.”

The Baltimore County center will be creating a website and fundraising for its operating expenses.

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