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Akindale Thoroughbred Rescue: A Living Legacy

In 2006, Thoroughbred owner John Hettinger dedicated 1,000 acres of his farm to a permanent haven for retired Thoroughbreds. Akindale Thoroughbred Rescue (ATBR) in Pawling, New York, is Hettinger’s living legacy and a paradigm of Thoroughbred aftercare.

On any given day, ATBR is home to over 150 horses. Some of these horses are in training for a new career, while others will live out the remainder of their days at Akindale. To combat the rising number of horses in need ATBR is intensifying its search for permanent adopters. Executive director Erin Pfister says adopters must realize that horse adoptions are long-term commitments.

Horses come to Akindale from a variety of venues. Some come from low-end auctions, others are transfers from organizations such as Mid-Atlantic Horse Rescue. Currently, Akindale’s facilities are in such high demand that preference is given to adoptable horses so space can be made for other at-risk horses.

When a horse is admitted to ATBR’s program, he or she is first seen by a vet, an equine chiropractor and a dentist. Health status is the primary checkpoint in determining readiness for training.

Akindale’s robust training program, directed by Heather Carlson, works to re-establish trust with the horses. After 30 days of under-saddle training in a variety of conditions, Carlson reevaluates each horse to decide whether he or she is ready for adoption. By investing an extensive amount of time and energy into their training program, Akindale thoroughly prepares their adoptable Thoroughbreds for new career. Pfister says, ATBR’s rescue and retraining program is remarkable because of its broad capabilities. Its impressive size and resource pool make it possible for ATBR to treat horses that cannot be helped elsewhere.

One graduate of ATBR’s successful training program is Stud Muffin, a retired crowd-favorite. He arrived at Akindale in 2012, after a long racing career. Carlson took a special interest in Stud Muffin and helped him flourish. They successfully competed in the Retired Racehorse Project’s Thoroughbred Makeover together at Pimlico racetrack in 2013. Stud Muffin and Carlson’s bond was undeniable and after that pivotal experience together, the two were inseparable so she adopted him.

TCA’s grants are primarily ear-marked for horse care and medical expenses. When a horse is brought to the rescue with little or no paperwork, the ATBR team works to determine the horse’s medical history as well as identify any ongoing problems. Pfister’s goal for the future of the aftercare industry is to increase the required amount of paperwork for retired racehorses as understanding preexisting conditions and experiences would save on exploratory veterinary examinations and procedures.

Pfister is optimistic about the future of Thoroughbred aftercare, both inside and outside of Akindale. She has seen a marked increase in the quality of care given to retired athletes, and more racetracks are putting energy into finding good homes for their horses. Additionally, Pfister has seen an increase in adopter interest. The versatility of Thoroughbreds makes them extremely well-suited for second careers in a variety of disciplines. Their unwavering work ethic and intelligent nature draw people to them. As Pfister said, “Thoroughbreds can do anything.”