Ten years ago, Brian Westbrook was about halfway through an illustrious NFL career, preoccupied during the fall by piling up rushing yards for the Philadelphia Eagles.
In the offseason, though, he needed a hobby — a respite from the stressful grind of pro football. One day, Westbrook, a longtime animal enthusiast, took a trail ride with a horse and found the peace he was seeking.
"And at that point I made the terrible decision to buy a horse farm," Westbrook said with a smile. "Because I thought it was a good business. And it's not a great business. It's fun. It's enjoyable. Of course you're not going to make a lot of money doing it, but you're doing it out of love, and I love doing it. And I love the horses."
Westbrook spoke at the National Athletic Trainers' Association downtown Thursday, recalling his experiences with injuries in football and addressing ways to protect young athletes from the same setbacks. He took some time to talk afterward about his hobby, which serves as a contrast to his taxing nine-year NFL career.
The Fort Washington native retired in 2010 with 6,335 career rushing yards on 1,385 carries. He is a Hall of Fame nominee this year. Now 36, he still owns Westbrook Horse Farm in Upper Marlboro and sees it as a change of pace. He has always owned pets, so his venture is a good way to spend life after football.
Westbrook knew he had a lot to learn, though. Even during the offseason when he was still playing, he traveled to the farm every day for five months before he bought it. He cleaned the stalls, fed the horses and cut the grass, so that he knew what he was getting into with his purchase.
Since he bought it in 2006, he has expanded it from 25 acres to 50 and hopes to add more.
"I've had managers run it and things like that, but it's my overall vision and direction that I wanted to go in," Westbrook said. "We've done a good job of transforming a farm that needed a little attention, needed some work, into something that I think we're all very proud of."
The farm holds pleasure horses that owners can leave in the stables and come to ride when they wish. Westbrook's team provides full-service boarding, including feeding, stabling and exercise on nearby trails. Unlike some facilities in Maryland, Westbrook doesn't have race horses, instead opting for a more leisurely hobby.
Still, Westbrook admits that if he could go back in time, he would only own horses, rather than buying a farm. That would appeal to his love of animals without taking on the costs of maintaining the facility.
"But I love it," he said. "I absolutely love it. Now that we own it, I love it, love doing it, love riding the horses, love being around the animals. But if you're solely looking at it as a business, save your money."
Owning race horses can be even less profitable, depending on the horse, with the only big payouts going to the winners of the Kentucky Derby, Preakness or Belmont Stakes.
That's the cautionary tale Westbrook issues — but, he adds, "you do it because you love it."