On Aftercare: United Pegasus Foundation Still Going Strong After 25 Years

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Helen Meredith

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The United Pegasus Foundation (UPF) was founded in 1994 by Helen Meredith. Meredith moved here from England in 1990 to work in the Thoroughbred racing industry as she had in the United Kingdom and France. Currently, UPF has two farms, one in Tehachapi with 46 horses, and the other in San Jacinto that holds the remaining of the 124 horses in UPF care. UPF was one of the first Thoroughbred sanctuaries to be accredited by the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries and the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance.

UPF and Meredith have ridden the arc of Thoroughbred rescue in the US from 25 years ago when tens of thousands of Thoroughbreds were found in kill pens each year and most of them went to slaughter, to the current time when awareness and industry funding are at a peak. As with many organizations, the road was not straight or smooth. No matter what the political or financial hurdle facing Meredith, her dedication to and standard of care for the horses of UPF didn’t waiver. She is seen by many as the heart of horse rescue in California.

“Helen is the single best horsewoman and hardest working person I have ever known in my life,” said Joe Snyder, a UPF board member of 13 years. “The reason why the United Pegasus Foundation has been so successful over the years is because of the pragmatism of Helen and her way of making sure every donation and every dollar goes to the horses. Since its founding, Helen has saved UPF in excess of a million dollars through her hard work and knowledge of what is essential for the well being of the horses in her care.”

Meredith did not come to the US with the intent of dedicating her life to sanctuary for Thoroughbreds.

“I was shocked to learn about what was happening to so many racehorses,” said Meredith. “It broke my heart so I bought a few acres of land and started to save as many as I could. For years, I paid for the operation out of my own pocket until 1994 when I started the foundation.”

Over the past 25 years, Meredith has had to move the horses to different locations depending on finances and availability of good property. Because her operation is a sanctuary, the UPF board prefers to own it farms.

“These horses are our family and we cannot risk being in a situation where we had to move quickly and put them at risk,” said Meredith.

One adjective that comes to mind when thinking of the trajectory of Meredith and UPF is nimble. With what seems like pure grit and a handful of loyal board members, she has weathered tumultuous times and come through with grace.     Meredith is revered as a strong and consistent voice for the Thoroughbreds that retire unsound and cannot make it in second careers.

“I have a special place in my heart for the racehorses that are not sound enough to be retrained,” said Meredith. “We have horses like Bordonaro (Memo {Chi}), who earned $938,128 in 20 starts, and some that earned more. And, we have those who never made the board. They are all special to us.”

“UPF has helped establish the bar for Thoroughbred horse rescues by addressing aftercare reality,” said Snyder. “Not every horse can go on to a second career and those with Helen that are permanent retirees enjoy a full and active life with similar horses, while at the same time maintaining the dignity and respect for the breed.”

Meredith’s place of significance in California horse rescue became especially apparent to everyone in 2016. In May of that year, UPF added 42 horses to its herd in one fell swoop when CERF (California Equine Retirement Foundation) was forced to give up its entire herd of thoroughbreds because of poor care and misappropriation of funds.

“The CERF farm, after the horses were moved from the founder Grace Belcuore’s farm, was just down the road from us at Tehachapi,” said Meredith. “I started to hear from people that the horses weren’t being fed properly so I made three attempts to help but my offers were rejected. When the authorities moved in, UPF agreed to take the whole herd and we brought them all back to good health.”

Today, UPF is looking to sell its property in San Jacinto and buy a second farm near its Tehachapi location. This will simplify the care of such a large herd.

“Property is less expensive in Tehachapi,” said Meredith. “We can find a bigger place to give the herds more room and it will be simpler for our staff and our sponsors who like to visit the horses.”

Of the 124 horses in UPF’s care, only seven are currently adoption candidates and are in retraining. Sponsorship of sanctuary horses is a major part of UPF’s funding in addition to the grants they receive from TAA, TCA and CARMA.

“The sponsors are mostly members of the general public, not previous owners of the racehorses,” said Meredith. “Without these loyal horse lovers and the grants that we receive, it would be impossible to make ends meet.”

“TAA has been great for retired racehorses,” said Snyder. “Even thought the paperwork of the TAA accreditation process is onerous, we are appreciative of the fact that they weed out the organizations that are not following proper protocols.”

UPF is looking for new sponsors. Like many organizations, UPF has seen a decrease in funding from some people and organizations who feel that because the industry funds TAA and CARMA, they need not make direct gifts. There is also a growing concern among Thoroughbred sanctuaries that they are feeling what is referred to as ‘sanctuary syndrome’ when donations for sanctuary horses taper off while the horses are still in the prime of their lives. As an industry, we need to secure funds to provide good care for the whole lives of the sanctuary horses. While to some, giving to feed the same horses every day for their whole life ‘gets old’, feeding those horses every day, all winter long, is reality and luckily, to the dedicated caregivers across the country, it is something they love to do.

More information, as well as before and after photos of the horses rescued by UPF from CERF, on the UPF website: www.unitedpegasus.com.

Diana Pikulski is the editor of the www.Thoroughbredadoption.com and a partner in the public policy firm Yepsen and Pikulski.

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