By Katie Ritz
For the first time since opening their doors in 2004, the Secretariat Center at the Kentucky Horse Park will keep its reschooling operation up and running throughout the winter months.
Shelley Mann, who stepped on as the program's executive director this September, spoke on their plans for the upcoming season.
“Typically in the past, we have fostered horses out or decreased our numbers for two or three months out of the winter,” she said. “This is the first year that we really want to stay open. We have an entirely brand new staff this year and we want to work.”
One reason why the facility has shut down in the past is the lack of an onsite indoor arena.
“There are going to be some days, unfortunately, where we won't be able to get a ton of riding done,” Mann said. “But there are so many other things that we can do with the horses whether it's handling them on the ground, teaching them to clip or doing things with them in the stalls- just handling them every single day that we can, rain or shine. We're looking forward to it.”
For nearly two decades, the Secretariat Center has worked to prepare off-track Thoroughbreds for successful post-track careers by rehabilitating and training foundational skills that will help them succeed with their eventual adopters.
“We really pride ourselves on being the gold standard in Thoroughbred retraining,” Mann said. “I think what makes us unique is that we are not a rescue facility, we are a retraining facility. We have great relationships with our donors and our adopters, and we work to make that match between a quality horse that is athletic and versatile with a perfect home where they can be happy and healthy for the rest of their lives.”
In order to keep the barn open in the coming months, the Secretariat Center is conducting a 'Be An Angel' program this holiday season to help gather basic supplies the horses will use throughout the winter.
“We're really working to provide as many opportunities for the horses as possible,” Mann said. “This year we have created a program where we have Be An Angel trees in a variety of locations around the Lexington area. Each ornament has a photo of a horse currently on the property and on the back is their Christmas wish list.”
Requests on the wish lists include girths, winter blankets, turnout sheets and more.
Be An Angel trees are located at the Secretariat Center main office, as well as KBC Horse Supplies, Rood and Riddle Veterinary Pharmacy and Hagyard Pharmacy. For those who wish to contribute, donations boxes are available at each of the tree host locations, as well as the Secretariat Center office lobby. Supply donations can also be made online through Amazon Smile and monetary donations can be made here.
The Secretariat Center sits on 22 acres at the Kentucky Horse Park and features various paddocks, riding arenas, a round pen and a 10-stall barn. The program typically houses between 10 and 15 horses.
While inquiring adopters are usually permitted to visit the facility and ride available horses, the process has been hindered this year due to the pandemic and ongoing travel restrictions. Mann and her team have had to adapt in order to continue adopting out their trainees.
“We do a lot of communications through live videos. Trainers can sit in on the calls. It's been interesting to be able to branch out and think of new ways to find homes for these horses.”
One 3-year-old mare has been adopted out through online communication and will be going to her new home, quite appropriately, right before the holidays begin.
“Christmas Pickles (Awesome Again) has been very popular since we have put her up for adoption,” Mann said. “She's a big girl at 17 hands, and was just recently adopted. She will be moving to North Carolina and will be our closest thing to a Christmas delivery.”
Mann said that with their location at the Kentucky Horse Park, she believes their team has a unique opportunity in terms of educating both the public and the industry on aftercare.
“It's wonderful being here,” she said. “Education is really a focus of ours, whether it's working within the industry with owners and trainers to educate on options for these horses after they're done racing or reaching out to other facilities that want to promote and educate on aftercare.”
As she looks ahead to the new year, Mann said her team has even bigger goals for 2021.
“We have so many plans,” she said. “We're so excited, but I would say really we're trying to focus on how we can do things better in terms of increasing our outreach through education and within our community so that anyone that goes through the Secretariat Center has a memorable, positive experience.”