top of page

Q&A With After The Races’ Founder Bonnie McRae

What inspired you to start After The Races?

Bonnie: After having worked in the Thoroughbred racing industry in a variety of areas from handling foals up to exercising racehorses, including one Eclipse Award winner, I found my calling in the care of racehorses in transition. Having an intimate knowledge of their lives at the track, and having a good background in starting and training horses really meshed well with my ability to care for horses in rehabilitation. At the time I started After the Races there were very few farms in the area equipped to take horses off the track in large numbers. I decided to try and fill that void and After the Races took off.

What are some of the common misconceptions about off-track Thoroughbreds that After The Races is working to dispel?

Bonnie: I think one of the biggest issues we face is the lack of knowledge out there when it comes to equine injuries. A lot of people seem to assume that if a horse had an injury at the track, it cannot be suitable for their needs. In reality, the majority of the injuries we see through rehabilitation have complete recoveries. This is especially true in many cases where horses have surgery to repair fractures with screws. We have horses in top level homes that have screws in both hind cannon bones, recovered from suspensory injuries, bowed tendons, slab fractures, you name it. Of course, not all horses will have a full recovery, but people seem to overlook the ones that do. 

Another common misconception about racehorses is that they're only left-handed, or that they'll "take off" for no reason. Most racehorses have both leads, and we have quite a few that prefer their right. When they're racing, jockeys strive to only keep horses on their left leads around the corners, and then generally switch them to the right lead on the straight. So not only are they used to galloping on both leads, many are often great at swapping leads, if you know how to ask them. Then, when it comes to "taking off," I ask my assistant every time someone brings that up. "How many horses have run off with you here?" She always looks a bit perplexed and says, "None." Racehorses are trained to brace into the reins. So if you have a green OTTB and you like to hold onto those reins for your own sense of security, you're inadvertently giving that horse a signal to go faster. Starting your retraining of the OTTB on a loose rein and using half-halts rather than consistent pressure on the reins will generally solve this problem.

As an aside, I understand that there are many people who aren't accustomed to riding horses directly off the racetrack, or even equipped to. It's important to know yourself, know your strengths but also your limitations. If you are someone who tends to be a nervous rider or wants to lean on the reins, you'll likely be better off finding a horse with more time off the track, or utilizing a good trainer to help you restart your horse.

Can you share with us one of your favorite off-track Thoroughbred success stories?

Bonnie: One of my favorite stories is about a horse called Wickedly Valiant. She was a small, almost-black, bay filly who came to us in 2017. She came to us underweight and with a habit of weaving in her stall. Her trainer reportedly said she was "too crazy to train," prior to sending her to our farm. There was nothing crazy about Wicked. Once she was turned out with other horses and transitioned to farm life, she quickly put on weight and condition and was pretty straightforward to handle. She did, however, still weave in her stall. To help her with this, we put a stall guard up in place of her door so she could always stick her head out into the aisle, and that reduced the weaving dramatically.

One day we had a visitor named Rachel who came to look at other horses, but as we talked she kept seeing Wicked throw her head around outside her stall. At one point Wicked even grabbed a halter nearby and threw it at us. At this point, Rachel was intrigued and asked to see her. We pulled her out and even though she had been putting on weight, she was still under muscled in her neck (ewe-necked would be the term) and a bit spritely. As soon as she came out into the aisle, Rachel was in love. She said, "That's the one." It truly felt like one of those stories where the horse picked her person.

Once home with Rachel, Wicked became Belle. She still weaved, so she let her be on pasture board, or out essentially 24/7, which led her to be much happier. As they progressed in their training together, Belle proved a quick and eager student. They even started riding bridleless. To this day they have done bridleless demos at the World Horse Expo and competed bridleless in jumpers, eventing, and even endurance! The trust they have in each other, and their incredible relationship, has always been an inspiration to me. 

So much for being "too crazy to train."

Wickedly Valiant, aka Belle Photo by Katie McIntyre
Wickedly Valiant, aka Belle Photo by Katie McIntyre

Do you remember the name of the first racehorse who came to After The Races?

Bonnie: Miss Fuzzi Diamond and Crystal Pleasure were the first two to come off the trailer at ATR. Crystal Pleasure was adopted by a lovely lady named Jamie who kept her until she passed away in her 20's. She was so incredibly loved and Jamie always stayed in touch with me. Miss Fuzzi Diamond had a bit of a different story. She was adopted by a young rider who really struggled with her. I even went to visit her in her new home to evaluate what was going on. After riding her around in my tack on a loose rein and even popping over some fences, the trainer pulled me aside to tell me it wasn't the horse, it was the rider. The girl decided to keep at it but eventually she was given to a neighbor who needed a companion for their old horse. Contrary to our agreement, they did not disclose to me she changed hands.

Years later, I received an email from someone asking if we could take her back, that their older horse had died and Fuzzi was now alone. I rushed out to the property with my assistant to check on her. I decided to get some pictures of her and digging around in a strange barn for something to clean her up with, I found one latex glove and a pocket knife. With these two items we pulled her mane, then found an old curry to brush her off and I took a few photos. I sent them immediately to an adopter of mine that ran a lesson program and told her if she could give her a good home, I'd transport her for free. It was a bit of a risk at that point. She was in her mid-teens and hadn't been ridden in a while, but she took the chance.

Fuzzi became a favorite of both the adopter and one of her students. In her mid-to-late teens, she started eventing and really rocking at her now third career. When the adopter unfortunately had to sell her farm and downsize, she chose to keep Fuzzi of all the other horses in her program. Unfortunately, just last year, she found herself in need of another home when that owner could no longer afford her, so we actually took her back at the age of 22. Fuzzi was a gift to everyone she met. She was a volunteer and staff favorite and we struggled to give her up again until the perfect person came along. That person was Katelyn who adopted her with the intention of giving her a final, forever home. I see pictures of them almost every day on Facebook, just loving each other's company. I'm truly so happy for her and like to refer to her as an example when I say we are always there for our horses. Even if they change hands, they always have a safety net here.

Miss Fuzzi Diamond
Miss Fuzzi Diamond

Crystal Pleasure, aka Ginger
Crystal Pleasure, aka Ginger

What are some of the biggest challenges facing After The Races, and how can people get involved to help support your efforts?

Bonnie: Right now our biggest challenge is that we are facing the loss of our home farm. On New Years Eve we found out that our landlord wanted to put the farm on the market. This is the first farm we've rented where we truly feel at home, and so we are doing what we can to raise the capital to purchase it and secure a permanent home for ATR. To date we've helped 900 racehorses in transition, and if we can secure this farm, we can help 900 more. For those who wish to help, they can visit our website and find several ways to volunteer or donate during this critical time.

After the Races is a 501(c)3, nonprofit organization located in Elkton, Maryland. 

Their specialty is rehabilitating retiring racehorses physically and behaviorally as they transition toward their next career.  After the Races incorporated in January of 2011 and they are very close to adopting out their 900th horse! They do our work in large part thanks to the support of a large network of volunteers, donors, and adopters.

Article submitted by After The Races



bottom of page