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Retired Racehorse For The Barn?

Annie Ringwelski found the horse wasting away in a pasture about four or five months removed from the racetrack. He was a tall animal, 16 hands or more, but gaunt looking and strikingly malnourished. She estimated that he was about 400 pounds underweight. “He looked to be starving to death,” she said.

She understood that he had been a very good racehorse but now he was scrawny and scruffy looking. “He looked eight days older than God,” she said. “His hindquarters were sunken; he had suffered substantial nerve damage and been given a block.”

Ringwelski took him home with her to die. “I was going to have him euthanized, but the clinic was closed that weekend,” she said. She had no choice but to make the horse as comfortable as possible, feed him and provide shelter until the clinic reopened.

“I took him home,” she said. “In those two days his appetite perked up and the light started to come back into his eyes.”

His name is Scottie. He has two knee chips and some atrophy in his hind quarters, but now, two years later, he has become a dependable riding horse for Ringwelski’s daughter, Daria, 11.

Scottie, unwanted and left to wither, is one of several horses rehabilitated and trained to a new life by Ringwelski and the Minnesota Retired Racehorse Project.

The nonprofit organization – formed by Ringwelski and Dr. Jennifer Selvig – finds homes for horses retiring from racing. Coleen Foley is secretary and publicity agent for the organization, frequently mistaken for a rescue group.

Scottie’s story might promote that very idea, but Ringwelski says “we are not a rescue organization. We’re a placement program. We do rehabilitation and promotion for retired racehorses.”

Many horses simply need a home. Others take only a short time to adjust, physically and otherwise.

Selvig and Ringwelski will put on an educational seminar Saturday morning in the grandstand after a tour of the backside. They expect to accommodate 50 persons or more. What they try to do is educate would-be horse owners on the issues associated with adopting a retired racehorse. They are also trying to get the word out to trainers about their group and how they help find homes for horses being retired from the racetrack.

“It’s a seminar on retraining racehorses,” Selvig explained, “how to deal with them, what to look for, potential problems with their training and behavior.”

Retired racehorses go through a transitional period after quitting racing. They lose muscle and weight. “It’s a normal response for an athletic horse,” Selvig said. “It takes a while for them to get back to their glossy, beautiful selves. They lose muscle but need time to get some of their fat back.”

MRRP generally investigates potential owners before placing horses with them. “We try to do an on-site check of their facility or at least get pictures of it. We want to make sure they know what they’re getting into,” Selvig said.

Some horses make an easy transition to “civilian” life. Others take time.

“We’ve had horses that were trail-riding a week after they left the track,” said Ringwelski. “Granted, that’s not always the case. Some have to be placed with people who have experience with horses.”

Ringwelski has been placing horses on her own for a decade or more.

With MRRP now in place at Canterbury, she hopes to place even more. She has four horses at her farm in Webster ready for adoption. MRRP has been given two stalls at Canterbury, with the possibility of more as the meet winds down, where they can keep horses donated by trainers during the transition period.

“We try to help trainers and owners find new owners for their retired racehorses,” Selvig said. Sometimes trainers donate the horses. Other times MRRP facilitates a sale. “The horses we get generally will cost a buyer $1,000 or less,” Selvig added.

Many of the costs incurred during the transition period, feed, medicine etc, are borne by Selvig and Ringwelski themselves. MRRP is in constant need of donations, monetary or otherwise _ feed etc.

Selvig frequently assists in the transition process by taking x-rays when necessary and evaluating the animals for potential medical problems. She then tries to educate a new owner on the best way to rehabilitate the horse.

Not every horse winds up in Scottie’s condition. In fact, the MRRP tries to prevent such
occurrences, to find retired horses a home before they fall through the cracks as Scottie did.

(Additonal information is available on the organization’s website at www.mnrrp.com.)

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