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The Homestretch: CANTER Helps Retiring Racehorses Find Careers After the Track

A nine-year old bay mare available for adoption. Photo courtesy of Canterusa.

Jockeying for the position of being loved and cared for by an owner after life on the racetrack can sometimes be harder than jockeying for the position for the win for retiring Thoroughbreds.  CANTER, the Communication Alliance to Network Thoroughbred Ex-Racehorses, helps racehorses discover life after the finish line.

CANTER is a national nonprofit organization and has regional operations including locations close to Chicago. CANTER relies on dedicated volunteers to work with horses and trainers in a two-phase program. Phase one involves volunteers visiting the racetrack and examining the horses. The volunteers then take and list photos of the horses on the CANTER website along with the horse’s description and Jockey Club name. Phase two allows trainers the option to donate a horse to a foster home where the horse is trained, listed for sale, and the proceeds are returned to CANTER to cover the training expenses.

The Illinois Chapter of CANTER works primarily with Arlington, Hawthorne, and Fairmount racetracks. Jodi Ladner and Aletta Martin, executive directors of CANTER Illinois, described the experience that prompted their involvement with the organization.

“I was on Craigslist looking at horses and I saw this big, grey, beautiful Thoroughbred. I asked Aletta to go with me to the track and we were shocked at the number of horses there. The trainers had no one to turn to,” said Ladner.

Ladner and Martin are tireless volunteers who understand that they are helping horses and rescuing people as well. The need to establish trust and understanding with trainers is imperative to the success of CANTER. CANTER volunteers make certain trainers understand that they are not exclusive and are representing a national nonprofit organization.

“We want to get photos of the horses when they are looking their best, will attract positive attention, and have a good, positive jog,” said Ladner.

Horse listings are posted on CANTER’s website ( and their Facebook page. Ladner and Martin have noticed a trend wherein the majority of the interest generated is towards younger, big, geldings, specifically grays, then bays, and then chestnuts.  They estimate that about seventy percent of the horses are purchased for Eventing purposes and about thirty percent are purchased for Hunter and Jumper purposes. Others have also been purchased for various disciplines including Western pleasure riding.

“At any given time there are beautiful, sound, gorgeous horses on the CANTER website. Many of them really need our help. We need to be kind because they need us,” said Ladner.

The website and Facebook pages have generated viewers who visit the page on a weekly or daily basis in hopes of finding a new horse. There are interested buyers from all over the country including some who are willing to purchase sight unseen.

Cartlets is a thoroughbred success story. Photo courtesy of

“The horses are typically priced between $500 and $3,200. We suggest that the trainers price them in that manner and that the price does not exceed the horse’s career claiming rate,” said Martin.

Not all retiring racehorses are without injury, however, but CANTER has found connections to alleviate injuries and ailments along with medical costs. The Michigan Chapter of CANTER works with the veterinary school at Michigan State University to operate a surgery donation program. CANTER ships horses to the university and the veterinary students are able to learn from the surgeries and the university donates the surgery in return.

“You have to be open-minded and look underneath all of it to see what a horse could really become,” said Martin.

Martin described an experience involving an older trainer who had to find a new home for one of his beloved horses.

“It breaks your heart to see a seventy-year-old man crying but you know you’re helping them. We’re helping horses and helping people,” said Martin.

CANTER is always welcoming new volunteers and donations. Information about how to become a volunteer for CANTER or to find your new thoroughbred can be found here.