Best of America

Erin Hurley: Rehabilitating Former Racehorses

Erin Hurley: Rehabilitating Former Racehorses© 2011 Erika Larsen/Redux

Our hero: Erin Hurley, 49
Where she lives: Medford, New Jersey
How she helps: Rehabilitating former racehorses

Erin Hurley began horseback riding as soon as she was big enough to climb into a saddle. She owned her first horse at age nine and has ridden competitively ever since. These days, her equestrian passion has a new focus: the plight of former racehorses. In just six years, Hurley’s group, South Jersey Thoroughbred Rescue & Adoption (SJTR&A), has rehabilitated and trained hundreds of retired horses for adoption, sparing them pitiful existences, perhaps even saving some of them from the slaughterhouse.

“It’s just amazing how many horses are finished racing at age four and have their whole lives ahead of them,” says Hurley.

She was startled to learn about the fate of many former racehorses when she purchased Thoroughbreds in her previous job as director of an equestrian program for special-needs kids. Eventually, she decided to devote herself full-time to rescuing the cast-off animals. She also learned how much it costs to care for them.

“Horses are not cheap by any stretch of the imagination,” she says with a laugh. “It’s a challenge to keep your head above water.” In the first few years of the adoption organization, Hurley often dug into her own pocket to provide food and shelter for the dozens of animals she took in. Finally, in 2007, she began working with a Philadelphia racetrack to help keep costs down.

Now she can afford to house and train up to 15 horses at a time on Stillpond Farm in Moorestown, New Jersey, where she oversees a small paid staff and volunteers who groom the animals and perform daily chores. Her own horse farm in Medford is used for training as well. Many of the horses are considered too old or slow for racing, and some injured horses have also taken up residence. A local veterinarian and veterinary surgeon provide their services at reduced costs.

Hurley plays matchmaker when riders come in to adopt. “Sometimes you can see a special bond between a horse and a rider,” she says, “a connection when things are going to be good.”

The group averages 150 to 200 successful adoptions a year. “It’s truly nice when people decide to come to us. They get a great horse without spending huge amounts of money, and these horses get a second chance,” says Hurley. Unfortunately, racetracks are still full of horses that won’t. “We’re doing our part, but I wish it were more,” she says. “These are beautiful animals, and they deserve better.”

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