Michigan nonprofit finds new homes for retired racehorses

Laura Fitzgerald
Times Herald (port Huron)

Emmett – Gail Hirt and Jennifer Hubbell walked up to the fence of a small pasture at Beyond the Roses Equine Rescue and Retirement earlier this week. TeeTicket, a blind retired racehorse, walked up to the fence with a pony.

“Did you bring cookies for them?” asked Hirt, founder and executive director of the nonprofit.

“Yup,” Hubbell said, crinkling the treats’ plastic wrappers.

“Of course you did,” Hirt said.

Gail Hirt, founder and executive director of Beyond The Roses Equine Rescue, gives a treat to Diamond Monday, Aug. 9, 2021, at the rescue in Emmett, Mich. (Brian Wells/The Times Herald via AP)

Hubbell, who acts as the nonprofit’s secretary, unwrapped a treat and held it out to TeeTicket, who took it. The horse nuzzled Hubbell gently while Hubbell stroked her head. The bell on the halter of the pony jingled, which acts as TeeTicket’s eyes.

Beyond the Roses is a nonprofit that helps find new homes and careers for retired thoroughbred racehorses and other breeds to prevent the animals from being sent to slaughter or falling into homes where they may be abused or neglected, the Times Herald of Port Huron reports.

Hirt said many horses are sent to Whispering Pointe Farm, where they are trained and rehomed for other careers by trainer Martha Denver.

Horses line up at the fence Monday, Aug. 9, 2021, at Beyond The Roses Equine Rescue in Emmett, Mich. (Brian Wells/The Times Herald via AP)

Others end up at Beyond the Roses’ sanctuary on Hirt’s property in Emmett. The 11-acre farm has 14 horses, 10 of which are retired thoroughbred racehorses. Diamond, an 18-year-old thoroughbred mare, and Emma, an 11-year-old Irish Draught, are available for adoption as pasture or companion horses. All other horses will live out their lives at the sanctuary.

A lifelong horsewoman, Hirt started rescuing racehorses about 20 years ago, when she volunteered and was on the board for another Michigan racehorse rescue.

She said she felt burnout with the former nonprofit, but owners and trainers kept calling her with horses that needed new homes. So, she rescued her first two racehorses, Top Bunk and Twister, just before she started her own 501c3 nonprofit in 2012. Both horses are still living at the sanctuary.

Jennifer Hubbell nuzzles with Teeticket, an 8-year-old mare rescued by Beyond The Roses Equine Rescue Monday, Aug. 9, 2021, in Emmett, Mich. (Brian Wells/The Times Herald via AP)

Hirt has relationships with trainers and owners who send their horses to her to rehome or alert her to possible abuse and neglect situations.

Hirt said while there are many good owners and trainers in the racing industry who take care of their animals even after they are done racing, there are just as many who do not. A horse costs thousands of dollars to feed and house, so an animal that isn’t racing costs the owner money.

While horse slaughter is illegal in the U.S., thousands of horses are shipped to facilities in Canada and Mexico to be slaughtered each year. About 40,000 horses were shipped from the U.S. over its borders for slaughter for human consumption last year, according to the ASPCA.

Hubbell wandered through a pasture with three horses, stroking their heads and necks while they ate grass and flicked at flies with their tails.

Hirt said running the sanctuary and the nonprofit was more than just a 40-hour job for herself, her husband, Frank, and Hubbell, all retirees.

Besides the daily care of the animals, they must also fundraise and take care of the paperwork. The nonprofit runs completely off fundraisers, private donations and grants from their partners, which include the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance, the Equus Foundation and the United Horse Coalition.

Hirt said she got about half the number of donations during the COVID-19 pandemic than in a normal year, and donations have yet to pick up.

At times the work can be exhausting and frustrating, but then Hirt finds another horse that needs help and that she can’t turn away from.

“It’s just in your heart,” Hirt said. “It’s just something that’s in you.”