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Turning For Home and Maui Meadow Farm Help Retired Racehorses Find New Homes

They have trained to run like the wind for three to six years, competing against their peers on dirt or turf.

Suddenly, their careers end. Now what? While the best of the best go off to become parents of the next generation of Thoroughbreds, others can face an uncertain future.

Enter the Pennsylvania Thoroughbred horsemen’s  Association (PTHA), which offers programs to rehabilitate racehorses after their racing careers end. Turning For Home, a nonprofit program at Parx Racing in Bensalem. The horsemen support the second careers of their racehorses by sending them to farms for rehabilitation, retraining, and eventually rehoming. The Thoroughbreds start new lives as polo ponies, show jumpers, barrel racers, police horses, or pleasure riding mounts. It has placed more than 3,800 former racehorses.

“Thoroughbreds are so versatile and can do anything,” said Danielle Montgomery with Turning For Home. “Thoroughbreds are the most versatile, athletic, and intelligent horses.”

She noted that not only does Parx contribute to the program for retired racehorses but jockeys who ride there do, as well.

Maui Meadow Farm in West Chester, one of 20 Turning For Home partners, is Pennsylvania’s oldest working Thoroughbred farm. The farm’s Thoroughbred Retirement Rehabilitation and Careers (TRRAC) program is a nonprofit set up to help with the cost of the care for the horses during their stay, which can last for months or longer.

Maui Meadow owners Charles Lyman III and his wife, Nina, lovingly care for the 45 horses living at their 65-acre farm, along with Lyman’s mom, Erika, two full-time employees, and a slew of volunteers. Even their 5-year-old son, Kai, helps. Eleven of the equines are permanent residents, including Kai’s pony.

Nina Lyman takes R. Rajun Bull for a ride in Maui Meadow Farm’s training ring.

“The beauty about aftercare is we’re making sure the horse has all it needs,” said Nina Lyman. “We’re making sure the horse is relaxed. We’re making sure the horse is a good fit for the adopter. We want to have successful adoptions.”

The other horses welcome the newcomers into their herd.

‘We do get some support from the tracks. We require owners who turn horses in to pay a one-time stipend fee. Veterinarians see horses. We do a freeze brand and microchip them if they are not already microchipped,” she said. Their brand is a circle with an L in the center.

“We give the horse some light sedation (before branding). It’s very cold. It is registered with the state agriculture department. Still, many people on social media know that brand, so if that horse ends up somewhere it’s not supposed to or not being taken care of or stolen, that horse is easily identifiable,” she said.

They also accept privately surrendered Thoroughbreds that do not come from the racetracks. The owners must pay a fee for their care.

“We rehome them under strict contracts,” said Montgomery. “We’ll take any of our horses back any time or for any reason. And we probably take back one a month. Our horses are all over the country now.”

She said it can be expensive to take care of a horse, and sometimes people’s circumstances change, so they ask to return it.

Veterinarian Emily Rule examines The Big One while volunteer Brooke Henwood, 13, a student at Patton Middle School, holds the lead.

Charles Lyman’s grandfather, General Charles B. Lyman, and his granduncle were originally from Hawaii. After serving in World War II, they founded the Thoroughbred farm in 1946, hence the name “Maui Meadow.” It was originally 124 acres, but they sold part to fund the 12-foot-deep therapeutic swimming pool for the horses.

The pool helps horses rehabilitate or train without putting stress on their legs or muscles.

“We receive some of the hardest cases,” said Nina Lyman.

When a horse comes in, they are assessed physically and mentally,” she said. They are also evaluated for how well they perform for an ordinary rider.

Charles Lyman said it is a myth that Thoroughbreds are more nervous or hard to handle than other breeds once they are no longer in racing mode.

Nina Lyman also grew up on a horse farm and competed in the Devon Horse Show.

When horses are ready to be adopted, Nina Lyman makes a Facebook post and page on their website. The baseline fee is $2,500. They do have a program for older horses that is available for less.

Montgomery said, “If they can’t afford to buy their horse, how do we know they can feed it?”

“We’re always looking for grants and donations,” said Charles Lyman.

They follow up with the new owners to be sure the horses are well cared for.

A horse swims in the Maui Meadow Farm therapeutic pool.

Nina Shaffer is a trainer who helps train their horses and rides them to show to potential owners. Shaffer owns the nearby Grand Slam Equestrian and adopted three older horses through Maui Meadow Farm’s program.

The horses receive veterinary care, such as X-rays.

Emily Rule, VMD, with the University of Pennsylvania’s New Bolton Center, came to care for a bay mare named The Biggest One, who had previous surgery to remove bone chips in her leg.

As The Biggest One stood patiently while Rule took the sutures out and rebandaged her leg, Charles Lyman said, “She’s a well-broke, well-trained animal.”

Rule also used a portable X-ray machine to check Strong Magic, a bay gelding, who had previously had surgery to remove bone chips. Nina Lyman was concerned that he might be “a little bit lame,” said Rule.

Nina Lyman also takes her therapy horse, Liquid Aloha, to visit residents in nursing homes, hospice, and memory care facilities.

“He loved it,” she said about the first time she took him to a nursing home.

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Showing Appreciation for Workers at Parx Racing

If you have ever been to the racetrack or watched the Kentucky Derby on TV, you probably never thought about the hundreds of behind-the-scenes workers who make the event happen.

On Wednesday, the Pennsylvania Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association and Pennsylvania Horse Racing Association held their first annual Pennsylvania Horse Racing Caregivers Appreciation Day at Parx Racing in Bensalem.

The workers—grooms, hot walkers, exercise riders—were treated to lunch in their community clubhouse, an area with seating, a cafeteria, pool tables, and a laundry. About 200 workers live in dormitories on the backside of the racecourse property. Another 100 commute, said Jeffrey Matty Jr., PTHA executive director.

He noted the workers start early in the morning, taking care of the 1,300 or so horses in all kinds of weather.


Groom Jonathan Diaz and trainer Daniel Velazquez

“Horses don’t understand what a holiday or a weekend is. They still need to eat, be provided fresh water, get their exercise, and be groomed,” Matty explained. “These men and women are out here daily making sure the horses properly care for and nurtured.  We appreciate all they do, and this is our small way of acknowledging their significant contributions to horse racing and, by extension, the state’s overall agricultural industry.”

The workers also receive the services of an onsite chaplain.

The Rev. Rick Bunker, a “very ecumenical” American Baptist, offers prayers, counseling and leads 12-step programs.

Groom Sean Fittipaldi said, “I think it’s great that people here recognize our hard work and dedication. They rely on me to be here every day and every evening.”

Trainer Kate Demasi and Fittipaldi took reporters on a tour of their Parx barn. Fittipaldi takes care of eight horses. Demasi trains 35 horses at Parx and another dozen at Penn National Race Track in Harrisburg.

Demasi started as a groomer and worked her way up to trainer. She said at first there were not many women in those jobs, but more women are at the track now. Parx recently debuted the first woman announcer, Jessica Paquette.

Both say they love their work and could not imagine being cooped up in an office.

Demasi grew up on a farm in Maryland and got her start with horses there before moving to Pennsylvania.


Groom George Diaz with Love Channel


“We think of ourselves as a big family,” at Parx she said. “You see everybody at their best and worst.”

“We have all our mares in Pennsylvania,” said Demasi with Pewter Stable. There are state incentives for Pennsylvania breeders paid for through slot machine revenue.

The purse for a given race is typically divided with 60 percent going to the winner, 20 percent going to second place, 10 percent going to third place, fourth place receiving 5 percent, and fifth place receiving 2.5 percent, according to Pete Peterson, a PTHA spokesman. Any horse that finishes sixth or worse receives splits of the remainder.

The breeder of a registered Pennsylvania bred receives an award whenever that horse finishes first, second or third in any pari-mutuel race in the state. For Pennsylvania-breds sired by registered Pennsylvania stallions, the state breeder award amounts to 50 percent for maiden races (which are limited to horses that have not previously won a race) and 40 percent in all other races of the purse earned. For those sired by out-of-state stallions, the award (non-Pennsylvania-sired breeder award) is 25 percent (maiden races) and 20 percent (all other races), he said.

“It pays to breed them in Pennsylvania,” said Demasi. “Breeding is not a cheap thing to do. You’ve got three years into a horse before he runs. You’ve got the whole gestation year and then two years to grow up,” Demasi said. That is “three years of putting money through the Pennsylvania industry.” There are different caretakers on the farms, veterinarians, and hay and grain producers. “This is one piece of a puzzle, the piece that can actually make money.”

One of her horses, Winning Time, recently won the Pennsylvania Nursery Stakes, a race for 2-year-olds.

Demasi is on the PATHA board and a member of its Hall of Fame, as well as chair of its Hall of Fame, said Matty.

Another Parx trainer, Daniel Velazquez, said, “I train racehorses for a living, and I think that’s really cool. It’s a hard business to be in but it’s really rewarding when a horse wins and you see him cross the wife.”

One of his horses, Brooklyn Strong, ran in the 2021 Kentucky Derby.

“It’s the greatest accomplishment as a trainer,” said Matty. Everyone at Parx was rooting for the horse, he said.

Velazquez has a trick. He bribes his horses with mint candy.

“They’ll sell their soul for mints,” he said.

Velazquez got his start as a jockey. He rode for five years, and his dad also trained horses at Parx for 35 years.

One of his grooms, Jonathan Diaz, works with the racehorses day in and day out.

“I come here at 4 o’clock in the morning,” said Diaz. “I come here every day. It’s a lot of hard work, but it’s rewarding.” His dad also worked at the racetrack.

“My dad, when I was 13, told me to get my butt to work,” he said.

Demasi said, “There’s no difference from zookeepers. Anywhere you have animals, you have to have someone there. Sometimes a horse might not seem like himself.”

Fittipaldi said, “You’ve got to read them.”

When horses can no longer race, PTHA offers Turning for Home, a nonprofit program to retrain and rehabilitate them and place them with new owners.

Danielle Montgomery, who runs the program at Parx, said horses race an average of five years and some as long as 10 years, but they live for about 30 years.

“We care about the horses,” said Demasi. Thoroughbreds make excellent jumpers, dressage horses, pleasure-riding mounts, and polo ponies she said.

Parx offers horseracing all year long. It is slated to have 151 race days in 2023.

At the luncheon, the caregivers received a winter hat and hooded sweatshirt from the Pennsylvania Horse Racing Association and the PTHA.

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