At Pimlico, young trainers share their work with retired thoroughbreds

After seeing the Stakes Barn and the Winner's Circle — vestiges of Preakness glory — the men, women, and children taking tours at Pimlico for several days prior to the race on Saturday, finish the tour with a presentation from a group of local young women that tells of life after the races.

"Putting these girls at the end of the tour, shows that these horses have a future," Fran Burns, of Monkton, a guide and coordinator of the the Sunrise at Old Hilltop tour program, said. 

Several of the young women work at EMS Stables in White Hall, one of two local farms highlighted for their work with retired thoroughbreds.

"We're informing everybody that racehorses have a life after the track, and they can be turned into your show horse, your event horse, dressage — they can be turned into your new project, and they're versatile and can do anything you want them to do," Anastasia Vialov, 15 of Cockeysville, said.

Once a horse is in their care, the girls said the process of transitioning the racehorses into other disciplines depends mostly on the horse and what it likes to do.

"They've spent their whole lives in stalls, so they need some time to go out and interact with other horses, then start getting tack on them again, going around the ring and learning it's not always a race," Sydney Parker, 15, of Timonium, said.

From there, the horses can take to a number of different new styles. Some prefer walking trails and taking in the scenery in a low-stress environment. Others, like Sydney's Saratoga Jet, love to jump.

"We kind of just take them to give them a happier life, what they want to do," Meredith Miller, 14, of Lutherville, said. "If they want to stand in the field and be a companion horse all day, we'll send them to someone who wants a companion horse. If they just like going trails, we'll do that for them."

As their riding careers progress, each of the girls has a special memory with their thoroughbreds. Elizabeth Norris, 14, of Lutherville, prefers her thoroughbred Go Fly A Kite, while Meredith enjoys Big Deal.

Big Deal was bred as a race horse in New York, but was never trained to race.

"He was orphaned at four months, so he was pretty much human-raised, so now when I'm out in the field whenever I say his name he'll come trotting up to me," Meredith said. "He just follows me around like he's my little dog."

The girls at EMS have mostly show horse backgrounds, but their proximity to the thoroughbreds has expanded their horizons. EMS is also a location where active horses can retreat for a bit of relaxation, and the girls keep tabs on the horses they've cared for as their racing careers resume.

But the groups represented on the tour this week are more concerned with giving the racehorses a second life. 

"People don't really understand that thoroughbreds don't go to this happy farm in Kentucky or they don't get (to breed). They actually sometimes end up in really bad situations and they need homes," Lauren Moran, 23, of Churchville, said. Moran and her sister, 14-year-old Selina Petronelli, were representing the family's Claddagh Manor Farm.  

Moran's horse, Hat City, though a bit temperamental, is their biggest success story so far. Hat City wasn't a successful race horse, but was named the Baltimore County Horse Show Association's Horse of the Year for 2012.

"We saw a guy walking around who said the only thing they're good for is breeding and dog food," Moran said. "No they're not. They have a lot of other things they can do."

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