S.D. program gives racehorses a second chance

Farm Forum

RAPID CITY (AP) — Dale Simanton had worked with horses all his life, but when the recession hit his thoroughbred-breeding business he had to find a new way to stay in the industry he loved.

He traded one of his yearlings for an old, gray racehorse named “Wicked Walt” — and transformed him into a ranch horse, which spurred a new business for Simanton: rehabilitating thoroughbreds.

For the past six years, Simanton and Dorothy Snowden, who co-own Horse Creek Thoroughbreds, have been running “Gate to Great,” a program that takes former thoroughbred racehorses and gives them a second chance to become working ranch horses, companion horses or show horses for future owners.

“We were broke and I just kind of wanted to stay in the horse business,” Simanton told The Associated Press on May 3, shortly before the Kentucky Derby. “It just kind of mushroomed.”

Many former racehorses that are no longer useful to their current owners are often sent to the slaughterhouse or are left to graze in a pasture. “Gate to Great” aims to teach them new skills and give them a new purpose and a new owner.

“I don’t think a useful horse belongs in the slaughterhouse,” said Simanton, who’s working with 15-20 horses at the ranch in Newell at any given time.

Snowden, who co-owns Horse Creek Thoroughbreds, told the Rapid City Journal that racehorses don’t often thrive without a job to do and falter if they don’t work with humans — they’re trained to work. So the program helps horses like Malibu Mystery, a thoroughbred that ran his last race a month ago and will eventually be introduced to cattle and ranch work.

Snowden is also vice president of the Spearfish-based Giddyup Horse Club, which recently announced that it will be offering a series of awards specifically for thoroughbred ex-racehorses that compete at its show series in 2014.

The effort is an extension of the “Thoroughbred Incentive Program” offered by the Jockey Club, the national organization that registers all thoroughbreds.

“I spent my younger years competing on thoroughbreds, when that was America’s first choice for sport horses,” Snowden told the Journal. “More recently, European imports have taken over and it is great to see programs like this from the Jockey Club that give people an incentive to reconsider what I feel is America’s greatest equine athlete, the thoroughbred racehorse.”