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One Indiana non-profit helps retired race horses find new careers

friends of ferdinand

(Nick DiVaccaro, WTIU/WFIU News)

In Indiana, around 600 horse are bred to be trained for racing every year. Not all of them will make it to the track, but at least that many horses will need to be retired to make room for new racing horse. One Indiana organization helps retired race horses find new careers.

Because so many race horses are retired each year, buyers can be picky, and don’t typically buy horses off the track that could incur extra costs.

That’s where the nonprofit Friends of Ferdinand comes in. It has locations in southern Indiana and Ohio where retired race horses can be sent if they need a transition period. The one in Indiana, run by Brandon Fortner, focuses primarily on Western disciplines and trail riding. 

He helps rehabilitate horses, find them new careers, and owners. 

“They see a lot and experience a lot at the track," Fortner said. "Some of it's just exposure to things outside, letting them go out in the pasture, be a horse. Then just ride them outside the confines, let them see field trail, riding cows, things like that, that they don't see when they're at the track."

His own show horse came through Friends of Ferdinand– Hum Baby.

humbaby
Fortner with his horse, Hum Baby. 

“He is a seven year old off the track thoroughbred gilding," Fortner said. "He's kind of the kind of main horse I use for most of my work starting colts growth and cows and all that stuff."

Sara Busbice, the president of Friends of Ferdinand, says anyone who wants to adopt with them has to meet the horse first. 

“They're very individual, they have personalities, they have likes, they have dislikes, some of them are more tolerable than others," she said. "So we want to match the rider to the horse and, and set everybody up for success.” 

Friends of Ferdinand will take a horse back if the adoption doesn’t work out, but since 2005, only five percent of horses have been returned. 

Busbice says they take in roughly a dozen horses a year, but numbers are dictated largely on the needs of the horses they get. 

Friends of Ferdinand is the only Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance accredited organization in Indiana – meaning the organization follows a set of care standards to maintain transparency in finances and care of its horses. 

Horse race until about age seven, but can live up to 30 years. Without Fortner and Busbice, these horses could end up in unsuccessful homes, retired to a pasture, or exported for slaughter.

Fortner said race horses have a lot of potential after their race training, and some just need a softer landing place first.

“These horses have really good work ethics, really good mindset, they want to, they want to do something,” he said.

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