In 2002, while working in marketing and community relations at WinStar Farm in Versailles, Kentucky, Elisabeth Jensen and then farm co-owner Bill Casner sought to find an effective means to give back to the Thoroughbred industry while making a significant impact within the community. As they worked to identify the greatest need they found that “higher education for young people was not addressed in a comprehensive way,” according to Jensen. With assistance from industry stakeholders including the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association, The Blood-Horse and several others, the Race for Education was formed.
Jensen, the president of the organization, shared that the initial goal of The Race for Education was two-fold. “We sought to attract new interest in the Thoroughbred industry while offering need-based scholarship assistance to children whose parents work in the industry.”
The Race for Education’s Horsemen’s Scholarship does just that. The scholarship is available for children of horse farm and backstretch workers in the U.S. that meet a minimum grade point average and house hold income level. “Our scholarship selection committee tends to default to students who work hard, have good communication and leadership skills and who otherwise won’t be able to go to college,” said Jensen.
In the years since its inception The Race for Education has expanded to meet the growing needs of the community and the audiences it serves. Today, in addition to the Horsemen’s Scholarship, the Race for Education offers nine other scholarship opportunities all with a variety of equine-based criteria including the Winner’s Circle Scholarship, which, in partnership with the American Association of Equine Practitioners, provides one scholarship to a student enrolled at one of the 36 equine veterinary schools in the U.S. In total, the Race for Education has awarded over $6 million in scholarships to 700 students.
Additionally, in 2005 the Race for Education was awarded a grant from the U.S. Department of Heath and Human Services that allows their scholarship recipients to receive an additional $4,000 upon the successful completion of a financial literacy course. To date, 196 students have completed the course and received additional scholarship money.
To further meet the needs of the local community, in 2010, the Race for Education launched the Starting Gate, an afterschool literacy program. The program is available for children in grades 6-8 that are reading below acceptable levels. Currently, there are about 150 students enrolled in the program among five schools in the Lexington area.
“We felt that by helping the greater good, we can help the smaller good,” said Jensen in referring to the focus on the schools where many students are the children of horse farm and backstretch workers. “We believe that via the Starting Gate program we can reach out to families that may not even have college on their radar.”
Thoroughbred Charities of America is proud to support the Race for Education as they work to provide assistance to those who care for Thoroughbreds on the backstretch and horse farms. “Education is so important and the need is so great,” shared Jensen. “College is getting more expensive and we hope to ease the burden for students and parents.”