LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) - Helmut Graetz wasn't looking for a great
athlete, just a good horse that could leap the coffee makers,
toasters and mattresses he had assembled as part of a makeshift
The 83-year-old was shopping for his new recreational pet
Saturday at the Kentucky Horse Park during an equine adoption fair
honoring the late John Henry, a thoroughbred great despite his
relatively humble roots.
"There's a horse for everybody," said Graetz, a native of
Germany who now lives in Lexington. "It just depends on what
you're looking for."
That's exactly the message rescue groups and the horse park were
trying to stress as they attempted to place two dozen formerly
unwanted, neglected and in some cases abused horses being held in a
barn next to the park's new arena. Most were saved from starvation
or slaughter and trained to be adoptable pets, show horses, trail
walkers or jumpers.
Susanna Thomas, director of the Maker's Mark Secretariat Center,
which aims to re-school former racehorses, said the need is immense
- especially in a down economy where horses can create a financial
burden, even for responsible owners.
"These horses just know how to go fast and to the left,"
Thomas said. "Chances are you might want to go slow and to the
The fair also provided a chance for about 10 rescue groups to
spend a day with one another and compare notes on how best to
address the problem of unwanted horses, particularly in Kentucky -
the self-proclaimed horse capital of the world.
Ginny Grulke, executive director of the Kentucky Horse Council,
said moving horses from a racing career to something else has grown
more challenging. Although the rescue efforts are better now, the
number of animals needing homes also has grown.
"Five or 10 years ago they would have been resold and they
would have been fine," Grulke said. "But now with the financial
situation the way it is, you go to resell a horse and it's awfully
hard to find anybody who wants to buy it."
The adoption fair, which also featured several dogs and cats, is
the third at the horse park since the death in 2007 of John Henry,
the two-time Horse of the Year who is buried at the Hall of
Besides being one of the most successful racehorses in history,
he also was one of the most popular largely because of a pedigree
that was more modest than those of most racing greats.
"We decided the ultimate thing we could do in John Henry's
memory would be to help find homes to other horses kind of in a
similar situation - horses that had been passed around from owner
to owner, looking for someone who was going to take care of them,"
said Cindy Rullman, associate director of marketing at the horse
The numbers of horses up for adoption at the fair have grown
each year, and Rullman said more than 75 percent have found homes.
On Saturday, a woman from Jefferson City, Mo., signed adoption
papers on the first one before the event even started. While she
had initially identified another potential horse by browsing the
Internet, Thomas introduced her to a stablemate she thought would
be even more suitable. It was love at first sight.
"I invited her in the stall to meet the horse, and that was all
it took," Thomas said. "She saw him and said, 'He's talented.
He's smart. He's wonderful."'
(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)