'Matchmaker' Works to Find Homes for Retired Maryland Thoroughbreds

By Jonathan Mummolo
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 27, 2009

Although Maryland racetracks have rules against selling thoroughbreds to slaughterhouses, such sales still occur from time to time, veteran horse trainer Kimberly Clark said.

Sometimes trainers will sell horses to meat houses and later claim ignorance of the buyer's intentions. Other times, hucksters looking to turn a quick buck will misrepresent themselves when making an offer on a horse, only to turn around and sell it at a slaughter auction, Clark said.

After decades in the thoroughbred business, Clark, who owns an Upper Marlboro horse farm with her husband, aims to save as many horses as possible from similar fates. Her nonprofit group, Thoroughbred Placement and Rescue, matches ex-race horses -- mostly from Maryland tracks -- with potential buyers. She said she helped find homes for 150 horses last year and has done the same for 80 this year.

"I'm almost like a matchmaker," Clark said. "It's the best thing I've ever done."

Clark, 46, got nonprofit status for her organization in March. She posts pictures and information to her Web site on horses whose trainers are looking to find them new homes. She weeds out illegitimate e-mail responses -- people without the means to take care of a horse, or the occasional 12-year-old who longs for a pony of her own -- and puts potential buyers in touch with the trainers, relying on her years in the industry for contacts.

The venture, which cost her $47,000 last year, has taken over her life, she said. She's up at 3:30 a.m. to post pictures and manage the 100 or so e-mails she gets each day. She spends much of the rest of her time riding and tending to the former racers, helping them make the transition to being pleasure or show horses.

One of Clark's favorite matchmaking stories occurred in March 2008, when a New Jersey woman contacted her after purchasing a horse she had seen sold at an auction to a kill house. The woman bought the horse, Tiptoe With Me, and boarded it with Clark, who quickly found that it could jump 3 feet 9 inches, "which is talented," Clark said.

On top of that, the horse had a joyous, bubbly personality, much like her friend Kathleen Coyle.

Clark invited Coyle to her farm to see the horse, now known as Tippy, knowing full well they would end up leaving together.

"I knew if she rode him she was going to love him," Clark said. "They were meant to be together."

She was right, Coyle said.

"From the time I met him, it was all over," said Coyle, a doctor who lives in Silver Spring. "I was sold."

It turned out Tippy's days of competing weren't over. The horse recently took fourth place at a triathlon in Laytonsville.

For horses that are sold for slaughter, the window for rescue is narrow, Clark said. But even when a horse has suffered an irreparable injury, slaughter should never be the answer, she said.

"The saying is, 'Stable to table in seven days,' " she said. "I think if the horse is so damaged, humane euthanasia is the thing to do."

Clark said she has begun to receive donations and hopes for the adoption operation to pay for itself by the end of the year. And although she can't save every horse, for owners like Coyle, Clark's impact has been immeasurable.

"He's just the nicest horse, the sweetest horse," Coyle said of Tippy. "That anyone would want to kill something like that is just beyond comprehension."

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