Life on a CANTER farm

I am always questioned about what our CANTER farms are like and my answer is always that they are the horse version of heaven. I truly believe that the horses donated to CANTER are very lucky horses. What makes our farms so perfect is that they are just huge open fields filled with grass. The horses get to live in big herds. They have access to lush grass or hay. They have shelter with run in sheds. They have auto waters. They just get to be horses. They sleep when they want. They eat when they want. They get to pick what their day will be like. I think I would enjoy their life 🙂

When we get donated horses we actually do just turn them right out. Yes, they may run a lap around the 30 acre field but then they put their head down and learn to eat grass. They let go of the physical and mental issues that may have been created by life in a 12×12 stall at the track. They are not the crazy horses that people might think they are. If they were crazy at the track they tend to lose that quickly once at the farm. We don’t treat them like hot-house flowers. I think sometimes their trainers and owners get a bit worried when they drop them off and see nothing but wide open fields. Yes, very different from the track!  They get checked on several times a day but it is almost a period where the horses just don’t get a lot of human interaction and that is a good thing. They make friends with their field buddies and they get a chance to be independent. They come in to get their feet done and whatever else is needed but there is no riding that is done for horses on the layup farms. It is true rest and relaxation.

Sometimes in the let down process they will look a lot worse before they look better. It is hard not to panic but they all bounce back. Our horses don’t eat grain (unless absolutely needed) and that can be a transition but they all do really well. I can honestly say these Tb’s live out on huge fields and they are all fat and happy. Their feet get a chance to grow out and spread because they go barefoot. They do gimpy for a month or so but we give them time to let their feet be natural.

Horses in the field at the farm

Horse stay at the layup farms anywhere from two months to several years. Frankly, a lot of it depends on how successful we are at selling the horses that come into retraining so that we have room at our retraining farms. They get a minimum of two months but it is always a bit longer than that. When we go out to pick out the horses that are going to come into the retraining program we look for the horses who are ready. What is ready? Ready is the horse that comes up to you with interest. The horse that appears to be ready for a job. It is almost like they are putting their head in the halter like pick me..pick me. They look physically and mentally ready. We lunge them to check to make sure they are sound (even sound horses can take a long time to heal their bodies so sometimes a horse could be sound but still need time off).

They aren’t exactly unfit because our farms are quite big and they do a lot of moving around as seen in this video that Allie took of the horses all running up because they were interested in her dog.

I would venture to say that we really don’t know a whole lot about the horses at the farm. They come from the track and we just sort of ignore them until we go over to evaluate those who are ready for retraining. They are getting good care so we know they are just fine. However, we don’t know much about them in terms of size, movement, personality and sometimes soundness (although we do know if they have injuries coming off the track they all tend to be a bit body sore so the degree of body soreness can vary). I try to go every few months and just take an inventory (pics/video) at the farm that is closest to me so that I can have an idea of what stages of let down each horse is in. We aren’t worried about selling them at this point so it takes the pressure off. My inventory is often more of an evaluation to see who is next in the retraining pipeline.

The fun part of the trips to evaluate horses is that you get some awesome surprises. Hey, we know we have nice horses (everybody else might not know but we always know :)) but we often don’t even know just how nice they are which makes it fun to video them. Allie just made a trip out to one of the farm and it is fun to see her pictures.

For example, this mare has been at the farm for over a year. She actually was at Delaware Park but our closer farm doesn’t take mares so she went to the other farm. It takes us a lot longer to sell mares so she was still just hanging out. They went to video her and were just shocked. I got a call to say this horse is world-class. Potential high level dressage horse in the making. One of the best movers she has seen. Just wow! Who knew!

This isn’t even as good as she trots!

Sure, this one (sired by Medgalia D Oro)

Now looks like this

But..that is okay and even welcome. We want them to have this chance to get fat and furry. Just to be a horse for a bit. It sure makes the retraining easier.

I think this one would like nice in my barn 🙂 He is a horse that was donated because a former owner asked if we had any idea how he was doing. We didn’t but I reached out to his trainer and told him that a former owner would help him out when he needed to retire and a month later he was in our field. Lovely big sound gelding that everybody will fight over.

Easy to tell the horses that have only been at the farm for a short time. They are in the yuck phase of muscle loss and overall loss of body condition.

Do you recognize this guy? This is Corcho who was at my farm for a bit before we decided he just needed more time off to deal with some muscle soreness. Allie said he has grown and is now 16.1 and once he sheds out his two-tone coat he is going to be stunning.

This is a new arrival at the farm closest to me and I can’t wait to meet him.


He is a neat 8 yr who has made $150k in 70+ races. I love these war horses and I look forward to meeting him. He just has the look of one classy horse.

We decide who goes into retraining by whatever horse is most ready but that doesn’t mean that I still don’t get pretty excited about certain horses and anxiously await the time when they will be ready. I once in a while call dibs on a certain horse. Hey, I have worked hard and Allie gives me the allowance to call dibs if I really really want to work with a certain horse. I have been very excited about bring Gib to my farm for whatever reason. He has just always struck me as a special horse and I am excited to see if I am right. He comes home with me after Rolex and I just can’t wait!!!! More on that later.

Samantha Clark from Eventing Nation interviewed Allie and the article was great- http://eventingnation.com/home/allie-conrad-ottb-angel.html

I especially like this part:

In any given week, there will be three or four CANTER Mid-Atlantic volunteers visiting the half a dozen or so tracks in the area that weekend. “We’ve been very lucky that we’ve been able to grow an awesome group of volunteers.” Depending on the funding level at the time, if people are in a situation where they need to get rid of a horse immediately, then CANTER Mid-Atlantic will take them as donations. Once again, depending on funds, CANTER Mid-Atlantic takes in anywhere from 60 to a 100 horses a year; those horses will be turned out for three to six months depending on what they need, then re-trained and re-homed.

The extensive retraining is what probably stands CANTER Mid-Atlantic apart from a lot of other OTTB programs. “You can’t truly evaluate a horse in one or two rides; you can only evaluate those two rides. We started insisting on 30 to 60 days of re-training so that we could really go about re-training and evaluating them in a very thorough, systematic way. Our success rate in placing them in new homes is at about 99 percent. I think we’ve had two horses come back ever that were not the right match.”

Obviously this makes the process extremely costly. “It’s much more expensive, but our service has to be to the horses and not the bank account, and we’re not doing the horses the right service if we’re placing them in a home that has unrealistic expectations of them, both mentally or soundness wise. We are extremely transparent in our re-training process. We write extensive blogs about each horse, and we document everything. I call it ‘The Good, The Bad, The Ugly and The Really Ugly!’”

Funded by donations and grants — a very generous grant from ASPCA enabled them to double their efforts — most of their funding comes from donations and the sale price of the nicer horses, although “for every horse we sell for $3,000 or $4,000 or sometimes even $5,000 if it’s been to a few shows, we’ll probably give 10 away for a dollar or a couple hundred.”

I think it highlights this process of really letting the horses just mentally and physically relax before we start the retraining. I do think we stand apart because of this process. I have been buying enough horses fresh off the track that it makes me realize just how much easier it is to work with these CANTER horses that have been lucky enough to get all this time off before they begin retraining. It absolutely makes the retraining easier.

We head off for Rolex tomorrow. I am so very excited!  I get to see lots of awesome ottb’s in action. Kurt and I hope to fit in some visits to some of TB farms.

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2 responses to “Life on a CANTER farm

  1. CANTER does such a great job with these horses, I’m jealous that I don’t live closer to one of the farms. I LOVE the video, talk about happy horses!

  2. That sure does sound like heaven! What a great program!

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