In 2002, Bev Strauss and Virginia Suarez co-founded MidAtlantic Horse Rescue (MAHR) along the Sassafrass River in eastern Maryland. Strauss and Suarez shared a vision: to purchase slaughter-bound Thoroughbreds, repurpose them, and send them to forever homes.
Since 2002, the MAHR team has repurposed over 800 Thoroughbreds. Their farm has 90 acres dedicated solely to pasture, and the program maintains an average of 30 horses. Strauss has two rescue horses herself, one of them being a 17-year-old Thoroughbred that she tracked down and rescued from a kill pen. She says, “I still get goosebumps every time I see him and work with him. I am reminded every day how awesome these horses are.”
Strauss and other MAHR members work closely with the Maryland Jockey Club, especially its current director of racing, Georganne Hale, to increase the number of retired Thoroughbreds sent to aftercare facilities. Aftercare programs such as MAHR are encouraged by Hale and other racetrack associates who are pushing for the responsible repurposing of Thoroughbreds after racing. Strauss said, “Maryland takes welfare very seriously, and a number of the trainers here are top-notch horsemen.”
All horses brought to MAHR are quarantined for at least two weeks. After a horse is deemed non-contagious, he or she is evaluated by a comprehensive care team including a veterinarian, chiropractor, massage therapist, farrier, and dentist.
After a horse has overcome his or her health issues, Strauss begins to evaluate the horse’s physical and mental abilities in training. Strauss emphasizes that rehabilitation occurs on an individual basis; each horse has different needs that are met on a unique timeline.
Once a horse can walk, trot, and canter in both directions, he or she is listed for adoption. Adoption is critical for the success of MAHR. New horses cannot be helped until the current horses find homes. Strauss says, “Our horses are our best advertisers.” For her, the most rewarding feeling is seeing a Thoroughbred leave for his or her new life. She shared excitedly, “Yesterday, we had a thirteen-year-old girl who picked up her first mare and is just over the moon excited about her.” Stories like these power the MAHR team to continue.
At its inception, MAHR was one of a handful of Thoroughbred aftercare facilities. Strauss and Suarez started with just three horses and built their program from there. TCA was the first organization to grant money to MAHR. Strauss said, “We appreciate the support TCA has given us from the beginning. It’s a vote of confidence from TCA and from the industry. We have accreditation now, and that adds legitimacy to the work we do. It makes you feel like people appreciate what you’re doing.” TCA’s grants generally fund projects that would otherwise go unfinished, such as updated fences, sheds, and waterers.
Personally, Strauss is driven to succeed because there are so many horses still in need of help. “It’s the next horse coming down the line that drives me,” she claims. She hopes to see continued growth in education about Thoroughbred aftercare and a commitment from all those involved with racing to push for responsible treatment of retired equine athletes. The relentless hard work of aftercare facilities such as MAHR is an integral piece of the puzzle. Strauss describes it best: “There’s no drama; it’s just roll up your sleeves and get to work.”