By Diana Pikulski
In 2008, the Finger Lakes Thoroughbred Adoption Program (FLTAP) which was founded in 2004 opened the doors of its Purple Haze Center at the Finger Lakes Gaming and Racetrack in Farmington, NY. The Purple Haze Center is a 10,000 square foot structure designed with 16 stalls as well as an indoor exercise area. It also includes 14,000 square feet of outdoor fenced paddock area. It is named after the racing stable of Wanda Polisseni who donated the funds to build the facility. This is the only retraining and adoption facility located on the grounds of a racetrack in the U.S.
We caught up with Julie Smith, FLTAP's program manager to see where things stand as FLTAP heads into its 14th year.
TAN: How many horses are at FLTAP right now?
JS: As of today 15 horses are in the facility.
TAN: What is the average number of horses in the program?
JS: We are a 16-stall facility and usually every stall is full. There are always horses on the waiting list. Our busiest time is when Finger Lakes Racetrack is closing for the season. Many horses just are not competitive for racing any longer and their trainers and owners would like to find them a new career that they will enjoy, so they put their trust in FLTAP to do just that.
TAN: Since the birth of FLTAP, has the mission remained the same?
JS: Our mission is the same since day one: giving horses a second chance to be winners. Our purpose is to assist in the placement of adoptable horses who have raced at The Finger Lakes Racetrack and give them a productive life after racing. We have a great staff that is very horse knowledgeable. Melissa Porter is our new staff rider. She works with every horse at least three times per week, starting with desensitizing, moving to the lunge line and then work under saddle.
TAN: What is your average day like?
JS: My average day starts at 5:00 A.M. I train the five race horses I have in training at Finger Lakes Racetrack. At 9:00 A.M., I start my day at FLTAP. We feed breakfast, turn the horses out and do barn chores before riding and training begins. We also schedule appointments for the people who are interested in adopting during the afternoon sessions. Then we bring the horses in and start to feed dinner, hay and water off and kiss everyone good night!
TAN: What are a few of your favorite adoption stories?
JS: All adoptions are great, but a few stand out. My first adoption as a staff member was a beautiful chestnut gelding named Rio Dinero (Gelding, 2005, River Keen, 6-1-1-0, $7,290). Not only was he my first adoption made, but it was also on my birthday! “Rio” is still with his adopter in upstate New York. They still attend horse shows and dressage lessons.
Another fond adoption is Old Army (Gelding, 2011, Posse, 23-3-3-1, $43,679), a gorgeous bay gelding that was adopted as a three-day-event prospect. He was in training in Aiken, South Carolina when I received his last update and video. This handsome boy can jump and I cannot wait to see him in Kentucky at Land Rover (formerly Rolex) someday.
TAN: What has been your personal journey to FLTAP?
JS: I am from Delaware. I was introduced to horses by my mother when I was very young. My mother and I loved to trail ride and horse show together. I was always fascinated by the racing industry and worked for a few amazing trainers at Delaware Park. I started as a hot walker volunteering my time on the weekends in 1992. I finally decided to make racing my career and started grooming and galloping in 2001. By 2006, I received my trainer's license at Delaware Park. In 2008, I transferred my racing stable to Finger Lakes. With only a couple of horses in training, I was looking for something else to keep my days busy. I was told about the hiring of a new Program Director for FLTAP. I thought that would be an amazing job and a way to give back to the horses that give so much on the track and I was hired!
TAN: What 3 things do you most want people to know about FLTAP?
JS: Three things that are important to me that everyone knows about our program are: First, that the horses we bring into the program must be able to go on to have another career. We are a 16 stall facility usually with a waiting list. We work the horses right on the grounds of FLTAP. Second is that we have helped over 1,500 horses find new careers and fantastic homes over the 14 years since FLTAP was established. Third, is that we are funded by adoption fees, fundraisers, Finger Lakes Gaming and Race Track, Finger Lakes HBPA, grants from organization such as TCA, TAA and ASPCA and sponsorship by New York Breeders and Development Funds. Every penny goes back into FLTAP and giving horses a second chance to become winners.
TAN: At this time, which adoptable horse is the most likely candidate for the show ring?
JS: We have a few very nice show horse prospects. Hunter on the flat would either be Make Your Point (Mare, 2011, Not For Love, 35-4-8-11, $131,161), or Noble Doss, (Gelding, 2008, Mr. Greeley, 4913-6-2, $196,799). Both are beautiful movers and laid back. For dressage, Make Your Point again would be amazing. Western Pleasure would most definitely be I Love Lassie, (Mare, 2009, Eltish, 45-3-8-8, $53,311) as she has the most beautiful “lazy” jog. For trail competition, without a doubt it would be Lil O's Expression (Gelding, 2005, Western Expression, 81-8-14-9, $148,361) or Stoney Soprano, (Gelding, 2012, Bustin Stones, 14-4-2-2, $51,935)–both of these gentleman are very confident and love to try new obstacles.
TAN: What is on your wish-list?
JS: Our wish list consists of Jolly Balls, lead ropes and halters, and a 4 wheeler to help us plow snow and care for our paddocks.
TAN: I wanted to add a brief note about Wanda Polisseni as she has done so much for FLTAP and for Thoroughbreds everywhere through her example. This is from the FLTAP website:
Wanda Polisseni, Vice President of FLTAP: Born and raised on a farm in Yates County and graduated from State University of Delhi where her family boarded Standardbred horses, Wanda married and had four children, three living. In 1977 her husband, Gene, and family moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, to open Paychex, Inc. Since retiring from Paychex, she has devoted her time to racing, both Standardbreds and Thoroughbreds, and to many charitable organizations such as the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. She serves on several boards including Rochester General Hospital, Thompson Health Foundation, New York State Troopers Foundations, MCMEC, Crisis Nursery, The Polisseni Foundation, Finger Lakes HBPA, as well as FLTAP.
“I have loved horses and ridden since I was a little girl. My greatest wish is that no horse has to face the perils of slaughter and I hope through all of our efforts we can achieve this.”
For more information and to help with the wish-list, go to: http://www.fltap.org/.