Trainer Works To Give Race Horses A New Career, New Life

DRUMS, Pa. (AP) — Sabine Spring loves horses. So, it’s no surprise she sees her farm and horse barn along Deep Hole Road as a little piece of heaven.

A racing official at Mohegan Sun Pocono, formerly Pocono Downs, she spends her off-time rehabbing and retraining Standardbred horses that are coming off the race track, or retiring for any number of reasons.

Some aren’t fast enough to compete any more, or never were fast enough, she said. Others are just getting older, dealing with the aches and pains brought on by their advancing years.

Mandatory retirement age for racers is 15, but most live well into their 20s and 30s, Spring said.

Many times, owners or trainers come to her when they know a horse is ready to retire, or needs to come off the track. They many even have someone who is interested in taking the horse for trail riding, Spring said.

But that’s not always the case.

Some find their way into a dealer’s kill pen, where they will be weighed, tagged and sent on a final journey out to the country.

“These are true rescues,” Spring said.

She raises money through her Facebook page, mainly through friends, to buy these “gentle” horses from dealers and save them from the kill pens.

“If I wouldn’t take them and they (would) go on the truck,” Spring said. “And they’re dead.”

Race horse owners don’t sell them outright to a dealer, knowing they are destined for slaughter, she said. But many do sell them after their racing careers, often to the Amish community.

The Amish, however, “trade in” their horses after a number of years, like people trade in their cars. This is how many race horses eventually find their way to a dealers’ kill pen, she said.

Spring recently posted a plea for donations to save a horse that someone had already agreed to foster from a Shippensburg pen.

Within days, several people donated what they could and they were about halfway to the $1,350 needed to save this horse, she wrote.

Spring also posted about two other horses that have come to her from auctions and dealers, Johnny Z. and Emerald Express, who together earned nearly a million dollars during the racing careers.

Johnny Z. will now have a new life as a therapy horse, after a group that works with veterans with post traumatic stress disorder contacted her about needing a horse for their program, she wrote.

“Johnny has the best personality for this kind of job, and a veteran himself, I’m sure he had to deal with trauma,” she wrote on social media.

Emerald Express, who just arrived from quarantine after being rescued from a kill pen a month ago, will also be up for adoption after “lots of TLC,” Spring wrote.

Many need rest and rehabilitation before they can be retrained for a rider and with a variety of new skills.

“They come here skin and bones,” Spring said.

She posts pictures of the horses’ progress, allowing donors to share in their journey back to health and, hopefully, a home for the rest of their lives.

Training does not take long, Spring said with a laugh. Sometimes no more than a week with working with a horse, as it’s just learning a new skill for them, she said.

“They’ve been handled since they were born,” Spring said. They just have to adjust to a saddle and learn to balance the weight with a rider.

Spring also works with the Standardbred Retirement Foundation in New Jersey, which shares her mission — finding people and resources to help save and re-home these horses, described as quiet, willing and great with kids.

“We currently have over 400 horses needing homes,” said Judy Bokman, foundation executive director. “The Standardbred Retirement Foundation has done over 4,000 adoptions since its inception in 1989.”

Both the organization and Spring work on finding people willing to adopt the horses once ready for a new life — and both have contracts to ensure the horses aren’t sold or given away, or wind up back in a kill pen.

Spring requires the horses come back to her if there’s a problem, she said. If a neighbor or friend steps in to the take the horse, she has them go through the application and vetting process, the same as the original adopter.

Spring, who has worked with horses, trainers and owners all of her life, knows when she has found a good match for a horse in her care, and also when something isn’t right.

She matched one Standardbred with an equine massage therapist from Vermont, Judith Falk, who was looking to adopt when she had to euthanize her horse, which was an off-track Thoroughbred.

Falk liked the idea of adopting an off-track Standardbred, because they’re really underrated and capable of much more than people think. She tried other adoption organizations, but “the experience wasn’t bearing fruit,” she said.

Then, Falk linked up with Spring on Facebook, they messaged back and forth a bit, and agreed to talk the next day, she said.

Before they did, the name of her next horse — Jackson — came to her in a dream, she said, and much to her surprise the horse that Spring had in mind for her was named Jacksons Minion.

“I knew he was the one,” Falk said, recalling that he had already checked all of the boxes for her, based on Spring’s description.

The name just sealed the deal, she said.

“I really credit Sabine with working really hard to find the right fit for horse and rider, and doing it in a way that gives everyone the best chance of success,” Falk said. “I was really well taken care of by Sabine. Jackson is fantastic.”

Bokman noted that many people are shocked to find out that this happens to horses, and reach out to help,

Spring has considered forming a nonprofit organization to further her cause, but understands that could cost about $1,200, she said.

“I could feed four horses for that,” Spring said, noting that it costs about $300 a month to keep and feed a horse.

Her neighbors in the Butler Valley help out, too, she said. Some keep horses for her on their property and allow her to ride on trails in adjoining land, she said. Spring treasures those neighbors, who are all willing to help each other.

“Sometimes, you just need somebody who can help you,” Spring said.

While she may consider the horse farm a piece of heaven for herself, the same may be true for the horses she works to save.