My intention when starting this blog six months ago was to follow our rescued Arabian mare, Snow Angel, as we nursed her back to good health. Rehabbing an emaciated horse is a challenge, and my hopes were that by detailing what Race2Ring did with Snowy that I could educate the general public on both proper rehabbing of a neglected horse as well as general care for the older equine. In my six-month review I was happy to report that Snowy not only was doing great in her foster home, but also had been adopted by her foster parents. She continues to do well, and her energy, attitude, and overall health are increasing daily!

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In an effort to continue on with my goal of educating horse owners, the focus of this blog will be changing over the next few months. My topics will still concern proper equine care as it relates to rehabilitating horses who are both mentally and physically broken, as well as ways to prevent abuse/neglect from happening in the first place (because not all “abuse” is actually intentional).  Subjects will include how to choose your trainer/boarding barn, what to look for in a vet & farrier, how to ensure you are selling/leasing your horse to a good home, etc.

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To start off, this month I want to review an incredibly good book that I feel should be mandatory reading for anyone involved in the equine industry. When I first started at Race2Ring, I found a copy of “Raja, Story of a Racehorse” by Anne Hambleton among some items we had for sale for fundraising. Working with horses full time, I tend to prefer reading non-equine related fiction in my off time as a way of escaping, so “Raja” sat on my bookshelf for a couple of years. Recently I felt like a change and decided to pick it up, and boy am I glad I did! From the title I assumed it was a biography of a real OTTB, but I was pleasantly surprised to discover it is actually a fictional novel, whose author is extremely well versed in both the racing and retirement side of the Thoroughbred injury.

Told from the horse’s point of view, Raja’s story starts off idyllic; he has good breeders and trainers in his life who take great care of their charges. Raja was on the road to becoming a Triple Crown winner, but an unfortunate accident as a foal left him with a deathly fear of thunder and lightning, resulting in an accident cutting his bid for the roses short.

Unsuitable for racing, Raja is given to an Olympic show jumper who feels he will be her next Grand Prix mount. So far Raja has lived a charmed life, not knowing pain or abuse, a horse who’s always been loved. Then a tragic life changing accident unrelated to horses forces the show jumper to sell all of her horses, and thus begins a roller coaster ride for Raja that left me in tears through some chapters and relieved in others.

Most people feel that all TB’s are abused on the track and retire broken. This is not often the case – having been involved in the TB industry both on the track, at the breeding farm, and in post-racing careers, I know there are just as many good trainers as there are in the show and pleasure worlds. Oftentimes it is one or two homes AFTER a horse comes off the track where he runs into trouble, and Anne is a master at explaining this to the reader from the horse’s point of view. Raja survives the dreaded New Holland auction not just once but twice; he has abusive show horse owners as well as kind but ignorant pleasure owners. He does a stint as a NY city police horse, and spends some time with the son of an old Olympic level master. I won’t give away the ending, but I will say after numerous homes Raja’s story ends well….

Or does it? The book ends with Raja in a happy home, but he is only ten years old. As the author has shown us throughout the book, life tends to through us curveballs, and as still a young horse there is no guarantee that Raja has found his “forever home”.

As someone who has always rehabilitated horses, even before I started working for Race2Ring, this was an extremely hard book for me to read. While it is fictional, and does have a happy ending, this book could have been the story of any of the horses at our rescue, or my own OTTB’s Fate & Bates, or even Snowy’s story. So often horses are born into good homes, and sold to good owners, but throughout their 20-30 year lifespan things change. Young owners grow up and go to college, get married, get divorced. People lose jobs, suffer illness and accidents, lose interest in horses. People die. Our horses are at the mercy of our choices – we make a commitment to them when we breed or purchase them, and so many are just thrown away when their owners are done with them. And for the owners who do care, but suffer an extreme life event, there are so few options for rehoming their loved ones. It is a problem we deal with every day at Race2Ring, and something I hope to address in future blogs. Until them, I HIGHLY recommend picking up a copy of “Raja, Story of a Racehorse” – I promise it will give you a whole new outlook on horse ownership.  http://rajaracehorse.com/