Hidden Acres Rescue for Thoroughbreds Gives Retired Horses a Second Chance

Known for their strength, stamina and athletic prowess, thoroughbreds have long been the choice of horse breeders among the racing set. They are grand, majestic creatures with a lot of heart.

What a lot of people don’t realize, however, is that when retirement day comes around, great numbers of these beautiful animals end up in slaughterhouses. To make matters worse, many of them still have lots of life and spirit left in them.

It’s because of this that there’s a place in Cocoa with equal measures of heart, where retired equines can stay until they are adopted. It’s called Hidden Acres Rescue for Thoroughbreds, and it’s a refuge for discarded or unwanted horses whose “usefulness” is over within the racing community.

But anyone who has ever come into contact with most of these castoffs knows that that mindset just isn’t accurate. They may no longer be fit for the track or bring in accolades and trophies for their owners, but don’t count them out just yet; glue-factory material they are not.

Just ask Suzee Norris, founder and executive director of the rescue. She’s been riding since the age of 7 and rescuing and training horses since the age of 14. She knows a thing or two about the animals, and she’ll tell you their track days may be behind them, but they’ve still got a lot to contribute.

That’s why she founded HART in 2011. Her first rescue many years earlier was a thoroughbred in rough shape. Suzee, along with the help of her trainer, was able to develop the horse to the point that she and the animal would go on to win every event they set their sights on. This laid the foundation for everything to come.

Suzee is passionate about the subject. When asked what the biggest problem is regarding the plight of these creatures, she says lack of education and adopters. For a number of reasons, people aren’t aware of the animals’ fates. Even if they are, not everyone has the time, space and money for horse ownership—and it’s not something to be considered lightly.

Thoroughbreds are very loyal and give it all they’ve got, according to Suzee. Depending on the animal, they can race anywhere up to 8 to 9 years of age or retire as early as 3 to 4 years old. Thousands of young equine athletes retire early due to temperament or injury, and sadly many face slaughter as an only option, experiencing cruel conditions during transport and at the slaughterhouse.

Fortunately, the Racing Commission is also working on changing all that, and organizations like the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance have formed, so she and other owner/operators of rescue facilities are not completely alone in their concerns and efforts. But much more still needs to be done.

At HART, each horse is evaluated for physical and mental status upon entering the farm prior to beginning a training program. The group prides itself on its evaluation process, which helps create a plan for the animals’ “second careers.” And there are lots of options for them. For instance, difficult placements, such as older thoroughbreds, can make terrific therapy horses. The training is extensive and lasts as long as the animals are there. While most generally stay for three to six months, some horses are there for as long as two years. Training varies, according to goals, but the groundwork is undertaken first. That means no riding right off the bat.

Suzee says she lets the horses tell her when they’re ready to move forward through body language and other indicators, and it’s her job to listen. At times they may have as many as 20 horses on the property, but 10 is considered ideal. Most of them come from Gulfstream Park in Fort Lauderdale.

HART finds many potential adopters through Facebook posts, but the organization utilizes classified ads as well. So far, the team has placed about 150 animals in better situations.

6360 Arborwood Ave., Cocoa, Florida, 321.543.2924, HartForHorses.org