Cosequin Presents Aftercare Spotlight: Changing The World One Horse At A Time

by | 06.23.2016 | 12:46pm
Immortal Wink made his 142nd and final career start In summer 2016

It's truly amazing what a single person can accomplish when they really set their mind to something. Sometimes an individual's unwavering dedication to what they believe is right can change the world.

In the case of psychologist Michelle “Shelley” Blodgett, her dedication to what she felt was the right thing to do will soon change the world for one lucky horse named Immortal Wink.

Ten-year-old Immortal Wink finished fourth in the fourth race Wednesday at Puerto Rico's Camarero racetrack in what was his 142nd career start. A Florida-bred gelding, he competed stateside from ages two to eight, when he was sold by his owner/trainer to a Puerto Rican horseman.

“I am fairly new to being a horseracing fan,” said Shelley. “I joined Twitter for the sole intent of learning about racing. The people I follow are people in the industry that I learn from.”

One of the Twitter accounts she follows is @NotCloudyAllDay, which posts tweets from a daily blog published by the same author called “The Watch.” The blog, which can be found at www.eyesareon.blogspot.com, identifies and follows horses with significant numbers of starts, multiple starts in close succession, of advanced age and coming off of long layoffs and other similar scenarios. It has been in publication for a year.

“I saw a tweet about Immortal Wink in 2014 because he had a high number of starts and was going to be sold to Puerto Rico. His name stuck with me and I have just had this awareness of him the past year or two,” she said.

It was in May of this year when Immortal Wink was approaching his 139th start that Shelley went out on a limb and researched how to get in contact with his breeders to see if they were aware of – or cared – that he was running rather unsuccessfully in Puerto Rico.

“I wrote to one of the co-breeders and she forwarded it onto the other co-breeder, Kathy Von Gerhard,” said Shelley.

Kathy did care – and very much so – that Immortal Wink was still running and nearing the end of his lengthy career in Puerto Rico.

“She still has his dam on her farm, who is retired, and had his granddam as well,” explained Shelley. “She has been incredibly helpful and we talk daily, strategizing about his future and helping to make connections on his behalf.”

That strategizing included connecting with Florida TRAC (Thoroughbred Retirement and Adoptive Care), a Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance (TAA)-accredited aftercare organization that caters specifically to horses who raced at Calder or Gulfstream Park during their careers. Kathy also helped to connect with the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation (TRF).

Shelley created a YouCaring page titled “Save Immortal Wink,” in order to collect donations to assist with his purchase, transport and retirement from racing into a long-term home stateside. She has communicated updates nearly daily on the website, including the pending plans that are in place for the horse to be purchased from the owner, transported back to the United States and retired within the TRF herd to become a therapy horse.

“We did our due diligence and made sure we weren't going on a goose chase,” said Shelley. “I didn't want to start collecting people's donation money and making promises before we had a plan. I wanted to solidify where he was going to end up.”

Shelley Blodgett with Immortal Wink

Kellie Stobie with Immortal Wink

The more Shelley worked on and researched how to help Immortal Wink, the more his story was reminiscent of another horse's plight she's read about previously. The horse, Mynah's Boy, had also raced in Puerto Rico after being sold by the same trainer around the same time Immortal Wink was exported. She had even found videos of both of them online in the same shed row at Belterra Park and being handled by the same person.

Mynah's Boy had been successfully acquired and imported back to the U. S. through efforts and networking done by the R.A.C.E. Fund, and Shelley hoped they might be able to shed light on the situation and lend similar help to her.

She reached out to Marlene Murray of the R.A.C.E. Fund and Jennifer Moore and Diana Pikulski of TRF and asked for any advice they could offer in soliciting Immortal Wink's connections and returning him to the continental United States. They connected her with Kellie Stobie of Equi Blue Therapies, an equine boarding, physical therapy/bodywork and transport company for horses in Puerto Rico. Kellie is bilingual and also familiar with the racetrack, having galloped and performed physical therapy work on racehorses at Cameraro.

Working with Kellie, Shelley was able to make contact with the owner of Immortal Wink and present him with an offer to purchase the horse with the intention of retiring him from racing and returning him to the U. S.

“Kellie, as well as Greg and Linda Jackson of Horse Rescue Caribbean – Save The Horses, Inc., is doing incredible rescue and advocacy work down in Puerto Rico,” said Shelley.

The Future is Bright
Thanks to the combined efforts of Shelley, Kathy, Kelley, Florida TRAC, the TRF and supporters from around the U.S., Immortal Wink's future is blindingly bright and full of promise.

“A majority of the donations were generated via racing fans and horse lovers on Twitter,” said Shelley. “A person tweeted that she'd donate $1,000 to rescue Immortal Wink when The Watch tweeted that his 138th or 139th race was coming up. That is what got me thinking, and I reached out to this person to ask if she would, indeed, donate. She was the first one to do so when the YouCaring page went live.”

Immortal Wink's owner communicated with Shelley (through Kellie as a translator) that he would be willing to sell the horse for $1,000 after his final race on Wednesday.

Shelley has solidified plans for him to be transported from Puerto Rico to Florida to the Florida TRAC farm for some rest and rehabilitation. Once he is ready and has been evaluated for temperament, the plan is for Immortal Wink to be accepted into the TRF Second Chances program. Second Chances gives inmates at correctional facilities an opportunity to participate in a vocational program involving retired racehorses that teaches people employable skills they can utilize once they are released from prison.

On the “Save Immortal Wink” YouCaring page, Shelley has included all details about bringing the warrior racehorse home:

One-hundred percent (100%) of all money, except for the initial fees YouCaring or WePay collect, will go directly to help the horse (I and all the other individuals involved in this effort are doing this for free, as a labor of love).  We need to generate funds to:

  1. Claim or privately buy him. His owner is willing to sell him for $1,000
  2. Transport him from Puerto Rico to Mainland US. 
    • van him from racetrack to quarantine barn
    • blood work for quarantine in PR
    • nine-day USDA-required quarantine followed by air transport to Miami
    • If he cannot go straight into quarantine due to scheduling issues, will also have to pay ~ he will stay on a farm for care and feed until he can enter quarantine
  3. Once lands in US mainland, there will be expenses for veterinary evaluation and care, food, import fees, etc.
  4. Provide temporary home where he can “let down” (get any drugs out of system and learn to be just a horse). At this time,Florida Thoroughbred Retirement and Adoptive Care (TRAC; http://fltrac.org/) will provide this for Immortal Wink given there is availability when he arrives and other logistics. Florida TRAC is accredited by the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance (TAA; website: http://www.thoroughbredaftercare.org/), which attests to its high standard of facility and care. This will allow horse experts to evaluate his health, temperament, and abilities to see what long term situation would suit him best (e.g., full retirement with herd of geldings, a second career in English or Western sport, therapy horse, etc.). 

“We have been very careful to be respectful of Immortal Wink's trainer, owner, groom and all involved. We posted a video on his Facebook page taken earlier this month, which is linked to his YouCaring page, and I was so happy to see how good he looked weight-wise, how well he walked and how gentle his groom handled him,” said Shelley.

Kellie met with Immortal Wink's owner at the racing office at Camarero Thursday to complete the sale transaction. There are still several details that must take place before Immortal Wink can head back to Florida, according to Shelley's post on the YouCaring page Wednesday afternoon:

  • Blood drawn to test for piroplasmosis (this is rare at racetracks in PR, but USDA requires testing on all horses being imported to US mainland from PR; see:  https://www.aphis.usda.gov/publications/animal_health/content/printable_version/fs_equipir.pdf
  • Needs “pass” to be taken off racetrack grounds.
  • Then, will be transported to farm for quarantine (start date to be determined; he may be set-up in stall at farm (part of rescue group) until able to start his nine-day quarantine)
  • His Jockey Club papers will have to be changed (new owner) and notarized (Saturday at racetrack).
  • Other paperwork (e.g., Health Certificate, Coggins)

This info is not complete; it's just an overview so everyone can see that there are lots of details to attend to. We're lucky that the PR rescue folks are well versed in this!

I was given advice by a good friend once that just because you can't save them all and change the world doesn't mean you shouldn't help the ones you can and change their world. Thanks to those involved in all facets of the above efforts, Immortal Wink's world will most definitely change, and who knows what other good will come of it.

To follow Immortal Wink's progress and pending trip back to the continental U. S., and to support efforts on his behalf, go to https://www.youcaring.com/immortal-wink-578383. There, you can find a chronicle of all efforts and progess that has been made through daily updates, as well as photos and videos of Immortal Wink as a foal, yearling, racehorse in the U. S. and racehorse in Puerto Rico.

Jen Roytz is a marketing, publicity and comprehensive communications specialist based in Lexington, Kentucky. A native of Cleveland, Ohio, her professional focus lies in the fields of equine, health care, corporate and non-profit marketing. She holds board affiliations with the Make a Wish Foundation, Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance and the Retired Racehorse Project, among others. While she currently has no plans to build an arc, she is the go-to food source for two dogs, two cats and two off-track Thoroughbreds. 

Email Jen your story ideas at [email protected] or connect with her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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