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ReRun Gives Race Horses a Second Lease on Life

Donna Campbell Smith is an author, freelance writer, and photographer. She has an AAS degree in equine tech and is a certified instructor.


Some of us can't get the picture of Eight Belles out of our minds as she crumbed to the ground just as she came in second at the Kentucky Derby. This high profile story comes only two years after Barbaro broke a leg in the 2006 Preakness Stakes. He had to be euthanized months later after a hard fight to save him.

Thousands of racehorses are injured on the track every year; others are not fast enough and are taken out of competition. Even though they survive, many ex-racehorses have a dim future once they are no longer able to race. Unfortunately, some of these horses fall into neglect once their racing career is over.

That is where an organization called ReRun, Inc. can help. ReRun places ex-racehorses with new owners. The horses are donated to the program, and then ReRun volunteers assist in retraining, and making the horse ready to be adopted. ReRun first checks the horse for soundness and temperament. They judge the horse's abilities and decide what the horse will do best. ReRun works hard to match the horse carefully to the right adoption family.

ReRun can only accept horses that have a good chance of placement. If their injury is so bad that they can never be ridden or if their temperament makes them dangerous to handle, then they are not taken on by the program.

Qualifying adopters must pay an adoption fee. For the first two years of placement the horse is monitored by ReRun. At the end of the two years if everyone is satisfied, the adoption process is declared complete, and the horse officially belongs to its new owner.

All of the hard work and expense is worth it when ReRun volunteers are rewarded with a successful match. They can see the benefit of their efforts in the eyes of the people who's own lives are enriched by the companionship of their adopted ex-racehorse, as they proudly tell the story of how they became ReRun members.

ReRun also benefits the racing industry by giving the racehorses a second chance and thereby promoting a good image for the industry. The ReRun volunteers learn good horse management and handling skills. Some volunteers go on to be grooms or hotwalkers working at the tracks.

ReRun operates mainly on donations of money, supplies and volunteer services. The adoption fees do not cover the cost of their program. While horses are being made ready to go to their new homes they have to be cared for. All the normal expenses of keeping horses apply to them. Feed, hay, bedding, vet and farrier care and various other expenses run into a lot of money, even with the volunteer help. ReRun also needs tack, health supplies, and office equipment, land, building supplies, skilled laborers, and the list goes on.

An art auction, annual horse show and other events are organized by the group to help raise funds to support the horses. "RUNNING for RERUN" is a fundraiser held at the Saratoga Race Course. Racehorse owners participating in the program donate a percentage of their race earnings, and as a result, thousands of dollars have been donated to ReRun.

When I visited the ReRun educational booth at the Carolina Classic Horse Expo a few years ago the volunteers were happy to tell me their stories. One of those stories involved a racehorse named El Backan.

El Backan started his racing career as the favorite in the Kentucky Derby in 1994. He didn't win, but at the Preakness he did come in third. Imported from Panama, he was named 2-year-old Imported Champion in 1992. But problems with his knee and ankle reduced the champion to small claiming races, where he was run in spite of his deteriorating physical condition. His future looked grim; surely he was headed for the slaughterhouse.

John Harrell, a writer for the Thoroughbred Times, noticed the bay at the Penn National, a small track in Pennsylvania. Remembering El Bakan's good days, the reporter and some friends went in together and bought El Backan for $700, and then donated him to ReRun.

Lisa and Curtis Courtney, who live in Georgetown, Kentucky, adopted El Backan. They needed a horse to keep their mare company. This mare was grieving over the death of her pasture mate; an aged gelding that had died of old age. The Courtneys were worried the mare would die too if they could not find another horse to take the place of her old pasture mate.

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Lisa and Curtis contacted ReRun and told them what they were looking for. ReRun volunteer, Rick Bowman, connected the Courtneys with El Backan. The mare and El Backan bonded as soon as they met. It was truly a "happy ever after" story.

Another story Mr. Bowman related was about a mare named Our Mims, a 1977 Champion three-year-old filly. Her wins include the Coaching Club American Oaks, The Alabama Stakes, The Delaware Stakes, and the Fantasy Stakes.

Retired to be a brood mare, Our Mims was barren for six years. Then Bourbon County suffered from the 1999 drought. A neighbor, Jeanne Mirakito, noticed the twenty-five year old mare's progressively poor condition due to lack of forage.

Ms. Mirakito encouraged the owner of Our Mims to donate the mare to ReRun. She kept the mare on her own farm until ReRun had space for her on one of their Kentucky sites. Our Mims was later placed in a loving home.

These are only a sample of the many stories from ReRun with happy endings. If you are interested in adopting an ex-racehorse, making a donation, or volunteering, perhaps in memory of Eight Belles, you can contact them through their website There are chapters in Kentucky, New York, and New Jersey.

© 2008 Donna Campbell Smith


ashley kauffman on March 25, 2009:

i am trying to get funding to start a pa state program for saving these beutiful creatures! i want to retrain them to become pleasure horses for everyone to enjoy! to support this program please email me for details @!

wammytk from Iowa on May 09, 2008:

I hate horse racing. I think it is cruel to treat these horses like this. I remember as a young girl, watching the derby I believe and one of the horses broke both front legs during the race. I actually ran to the bathroom and lost my lunch. I have not watched a race since. I just can't imagine doing this to one of God's most beautiful, trusting animals. Great Story and glad that someone is helping out these poor animals.

donnaleemason from North Dakota, USA on May 07, 2008:



silvalinings from Richardson, TX 75080 on May 06, 2008:

i hate it that these animals are injured for entertainment purposes. I'm glad to know there's a chance for some of them, at least, to live out normal lives with love. Thanks for the hub!

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