The Communication Alliance for Networking Thoroughbred Ex-Racehorses' Kentucky division took its operation to a new level this month when it opened its first official retraining facility in Georgetown. For both CANTER Kentucky executive director Amanda Graham and trainer Stephanie Calendrillo, the event marks the realization of long-term goals.
Graham has been saving money to open the chapter's own facility and retraining center since launching the Kentucky division of CANTER in November 2009. Currently, CANTER lists horses for sale by their trainers on its website and works to find placements for donated horses via 10 regional divisions. Until now, CANTER-owned horses were boarded and trained by volunteers wherever there was space for them across the state.
“We now won't have to rely on foster homes and can have all the horses at one central location that is in close proximity to all the racetracks we service in Kentucky,” said Graham.
There are currently two horses at the new barn, which has six stalls. A third is shipping in later this month, with more on the waiting list for March. The plan is to take the program's soundest horses to the facility and give them two weeks' rest followed by 30 to 45 days' training before adopting them out to well-qualified candidates.
“Our goal is to match the rider with the right horse so it's a win/win situation for the new owner as well as the horse,” said Graham. “We won't adopt the horses to just anyone. Part of Stephanie's challenge is not only to train the horses but to help market them to potential buyers and finding that perfect fit.”
Graham's challenge will be finding horses that are well-suited to such a quick turnaround.
“Some of the other CANTERs are associated with hospitals that will do knee chip removal surgeries for them using their interns, so they have that option,” said Calendrillo. “We don't, unfortunately, so we have to get horses that either have a really mild injury on the track or are just slow.”
Graham and Calendrillo became acquainted over email while the latter was hunting for opportunities to use her experience working with off-track Thoroughbreds.
Calendrillo, who manages Graystone Stable in Georgetown, has been on the back of one OTTB or another most of her life. One of the first horses she ever rode was Chauncey, a gray filly who bowed a tendon in her only start on the track.
When they started together, Calendrillo was six years old. Chauncey was three.
“She ran away with me pretty much every day,” she said. “I took her on her first trail ride and she ran away with me and went back to the farm. Occasionally I would fall off and go, 'Huh' and get back on. I thought it was awesome.”
Calendrillo says now it probably wasn't the best idea her parents ever had—buying a young horse for a beginner, but the experience made her a relaxed, balanced rider. It also piqued her interest in young horses.
“You don't know what they're going to do,” she said. “I love to see them figure things out. You can feel them figure things out in their brain. I like to wonder, 'Hey are you going to bolt or buck? Let's see what's going to happen.'”
Calendrillo spent afternoons and summers at Olympian Carol Blackman's Toy Box Farm in New Jersey in middle and high school, getting on as many horses as she could. Chauncey and Calendrillo competed in jumper shows as high as 3'9 before Calendrillo transitioned to eventing, where she found OTTBs excelled. Although she climbed to the one-star level in eventing (also aboard a Thoroughbred), her drive to train is much stronger than her interest in competing. She has focused her energies on the early stages of a horse's transition from the track to a riding stable, often buying horses from local training centers and selling them to competition homes once they have a few low-level shows under their belts.
“I like to give them a second chance when they can't race anymore,” she said. “I've got good friends who are like 'What are we going to do in the next level of eventing? We have to move up,' but I just like starting them.”
Calendrillo's barn at Graystone Stable is a testament to the breed's versatility. Thoroughbreds occupy most of the stalls, either as boarders or residents. There's Sport, the hunter/jumper and eventer-turned lesson horse; Nico, the star eventer and one of the more difficult horses she says she's owned; Hakkai, hunter and pleasure horse; there's Pepper, an unraced 3-year-old just learning to jump. The list goes on.
Calendrillo's first horse, Chauncey, is now 27 and also lives at Graystone, enjoying a well-earned retirement. Despite her age, she's prone to fits of occasional mischief, including breaking out of her stall every few months to graze in the barn yard. She seems intent to remind Calendrillo with a well-placed head toss or nip, not to forget where she came from as a trainer—or where she's headed.
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