Oklahoma non-profit works to rehab, retrain and re-home Thoroughbreds

Lynn Sullivan works to rehabilitate Thoroughbred horses. (KOKH)

It’s the most exciting two minutes in sports. Thoroughbred horse racing is big business and the training involved only teaches the horses one thing.

"They're taught how to go fast and that's all they want to do.” Trainer Lynn Sullivan said.

For 30 years, Sullivan was a successful trainer.

“They like to be told they're doing well and shown they're doing well,” she said. “They're very easy to get along with.”

But once those racing days are over, Thoroughbreds face an uncertain future. Unless they’re champions, many are sent to Canada or Mexico to be slaughtered.

“The greatest issue facing the future of Thoroughbred racing today, is what's happening to these horses,” said Dr. Joe Alexander, a veterinarian who works with Sullivan.

But thanks to a champion race horse named Zee Oh Six, things are changing. His owner had a vision that included partnering Zee Oh Six with Sullivan.

“John Smicklas, who everybody in Oklahoma knows, was really the person that convinced Lynn that this should be her life work after she finished her career on the race track,” said Alexander.

Sullivan’s life work is Thoroughbred Athletes, a nonprofit formed to rehabilitate, retrain, and re-home Thoroughbred horses. Zee Oh Six is the group’s ambassador.

“We take that flight instinct that's very sharp when they leave the track and tone that down into a workable, manageable animal,” Sullivan said.

The horses first two months are spent coming down from what Sullivan calls their “racing high” or getting healthy if they’re close to death. A Thoroughbred named Eugene Star arrived in very poor condition in June. A few months later he was a healthy horse ready for training.

Most horses are trained in a variety of sports: Hunter, Jumper, Dressage, Barrel Racing, or Polo. Others are trained to become companion animals to their new families.

Sullivan does it all with volunteers.

“My volunteers are awesome,” she said.

Girls between 13 and 25 are taught teamwork, responsibility, confidence, and service to others.

“They help me do all the training and the riding,” Sullivan said. “They are a big part of what we do.”

Volunteer McKenzie McCaleb says the horses let you know when they’re ready to go.

“You can see a change in their personality,” she said. “It's an amazing thing.”

Fatima Jaime has been volunteering for three years and working with Eugene Star. She admits parting ways will be tough.

“It's really hard to say goodbye, but then again I always think about they're going to their new loving families that are going to love them for the rest of their life.”

That’s the goal. Thoroughbred Athletes wants to find every horse it’s perfect forever home.

“If you take the time to know your horse, take the time to find out what that person is actually looking for and what they expect of the horse, the success rate of them hanging on to (the horse) is really great,” said Sullivan.

If you'd like more information on Thoroughbred Athletes, please click here.

close video ad
Unmutetoggle ad audio on off