Success Stories

The James River Chapter of the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation has successfully rehabilitated and adopted out dozens of ex-racehorses in need since its inception in 2007. We encourage you to read our success stories to learn more about how these deserving Thoroughbreds have found their “forever homes.”
Go to Cash or Haps Online.

Racehorse with Heart Retires to Share His with Teen

The Search

Erin had asked her mom, Sharee, for a horse since she was practically a baby. But circumstances and her mom’s belief that she was not yet mature enough meant Erin’s dream would have to wait. Then Erin turned 15.

“I didn’t have an age in mind when I thought Erin would be ready for a horse,” Sharee said. “But by the time she turned 15 she was showing a strong sense of responsibility and her desire for a horse had only intensified.”

So the search began, though not at first for a Thoroughbred. “Where I used to take lessons the horses were calm and slow,” Erin said. “I always thought of Thoroughbreds as high-strung and crazy and vowed never to ride one. Then a friend of my mom’s introduced me to his very large, very sweet, and very gentle Thoroughbred. He was not at all the fire-breathing dragon I had imagined. It opened my mind, so I expanded my search.”

Both Sharee and Erin liked the idea of adopting a horse, and when Erin searched online she found the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation (TRF). They located the TRF James River Chapter in the Richmond area about two hours from where they lived and set out to meet some ex-racehorses in need of homes.

“I really liked TRF’s mission of rehabilitating and retraining ex-racehorses and I felt that they truly wanted the best for their horses,” Sharee said. “And while I was confident that Erin was ready for a horse, teens can change on a dime, so I felt that if it really didn’t work out TRF would be there to help me.”

Erin bonded immediately with Cash, but initially found him surprisingly quiet in the ring. “When I first rode Cash he was almost lazy,” Erin said. “So I tested him a little, and he immediately showed more interest. Clearly, he was testing me too because pretty soon he settled into a more forward pace. It was like he was saying, ‘yes, I want to be challenged!’ Then I knew this was a horse I could grow with.”

Despite the immediate connection, it took Erin and Sharee about four months before they brought Cash home. “Having never been around horses, I wanted to be as sure as possible that we were doing the right thing,” Sharee said. “In total we visited the barn five or six times. I thought we’d drive the TRF staff nuts, but they were so patient and helpful. In the end I couldn’t arrange for a trailer so the TRF trainer brought Cash to us.”

Sharee also noted the interesting timing of Cash’s delivery. “Cash’s delivery to his forever home and his forever girl was exactly six years to the day from his final win on the track,” she said. “We don't believe in coincidences so I really felt this was meant to be.”

The Transition

Sharee and Erin brought Cash to his new home at a stable near their house where Erin had been taking lessons. The transition was smooth, though both Erin and Cash went through the “getting to know you” phase.

“Cash was really sweet and had great ground manners,” Erin said. “He was also a little shy at first. I think he was waiting to see if I’d return him – like he didn’t quite trust that this was his forever home.”

Cash eventually overcame his shyness. “Once he realized I wasn’t going anywhere, his personality came out -- and Cash is not a wallflower! One time he tried to scratch himself on me and when I wouldn’t cooperate he knocked my hat off then stepped on it.”

If Cash overcame his shyness, then Erin overcame any residual fears she had. “At first I was afraid to gallop Cash in the field, but now it’s my favorite place to ride,” she said. “It was amazing the first time we tried it. He knew where his feet were every second and he balanced us both perfectly.”

Trust and fears weren’t all that transformed. “When I first got Cash he was more fit than me!” Erin said. “We’d finish a lesson and I’d be sweating like a pig and he’d be dry as a bone. He fattened up nicely though and today he has a very cute pot belly.”

The Results

Erin visits Cash daily and does chores at the barn to pay for her lessons. Looking back, she says it’s a good thing she wasn’t given a horse sooner.

“I always wanted a horse, but it’s true that I wasn’t ready when I was younger,” she said. “A horse is a huge responsibility, and having to work so I can ride while maintaining a full school schedule is proving that I’m mature enough to handle it.”

Sharee agrees. “I’m surprised how therapeutic this whole experience has been,” she said. “I’ve seen Erin have a bad day at school, then go visit Cash and come back totally cheered up. And the barn lessons she’s learning through the discipline of taking care of a horse are really life lessons that will serve her forever. When she says ‘my horse,’ her voice is so full of passion and pride. Clearly, this is a labor of love.”

Sharee’s also learned some lessons. “All I knew about horses when we first started this process was that they involved a lot of check-writing,” she said. “Everyone at TRF treated us with respect and did a great job educating me. What was initially a very scary decision turned out to be right on every level.” When asked what Erin has planned for Cash in the future, she says she’s not sure but she’s not setting her sights on the Olympics.

“I like riding for fun,” Erin said. “I might take Cash to some schooling shows, but I don’t want to get that serious. I see these young kids on big $15,000 warm bloods that shy at the drop of a hat. Then I have Cash, who cost me a fraction of this and has loads of common sense and manners. That makes me feel really good.”

Clearly, Erin and Cash have something special. Spoken with the candor and clarity that only a teen can, Erin concludes with this: “I love him more than life itself.”

Happy Ending….New Beginning

Recently Vicki Phillips adopted Hap’s Online from the James River chapter of the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation. Happy is shown above with her first groom, Will, on the day she left and with Sarah Ranson schooling at her new home.

It was not an easy road for Happy to this point. She arrived at James River in July of 2010 a very shy and untrusting horse. We were told that she was taken out of training due to a chip in her knee before she ever raced and TRF took her in. Following surgery and rehabilitation in Kentucky, she was put into training for a second career and it did not go well at all. There was speculation that she had been abused at some point in her life. When she arrived here we realized that she could not even be saddled.

As she recovered from a fracture to her face as the result of a kick, an amazing thing happened. Will, also a very insecure and untrusting individual, bonded with her and nursed her back to health with the help of Dr. Tom Newton. What emerged were two confident individuals. Happy was ready to go to work and progressed rapidly under the guidance of Brooks Lyon. At her very first show she won a class over fences! Meanwhile Will is honing his farrier skills and looking forward to his release in September. When asked how he felt on the day that Happy left, Will said, “I have said my good-byes and moved on.”

This story has a happy ending but, more importantly, a new beginning for both Will and Happy. Our mission is truly people helping horses and horses helping people.

Haps Online and Will

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