Win Place Home hosted its 7th annual silent auction to continue its work in rehoming retired race horses and opening its doors to new retirees on Saturday night.
There were a total of 12 horses benefitting from the silent auction to further support Win Place Home to provide the retired thoroughbreds with the necessary resources they need to live a stress-free life after retirement, and to bring in new retirees.
“We take retired thoroughbreds straight from the race track when they’re finished racing, either due to injury or because their career is over or they’re too slow,” said CJ Wilson, founder and lead trainer of Win Place Home. “If they’re hurt, we help them here and the money helps with rehabbing and then I retrain them.”
Since the organization was founded in 2015, Wilson and her team have successfully had 90 thoroughbreds adopted and homed 108. Some find new homes, while others stay at their facility and Win Place Home helps the retired professional athletes transition to new careers.
“It’s almost like a guidance counselor,” said Wilson. “Whether it’s trail or jumping, or if they just want to be a pasture pet … I sit them down and I’m like, ‘What would you like to do?’”
There are often misconceptions that race horses are hard to handle and are “high-strung, flighty or untrainable,” states the Win Place Home website. Due to these misconceptions, a lot of race horses end with a tragic fate: slaughter or abuse.
“Thoroughbred-racing industry sends an estimated 10,000 horses to slaughter annually, meaning that half of the 20,000 new foals born each year will eventually be killed,” states the website of PETA, an animal rights organization.
At Win Place Home, thoroughbreds get a second chance at life.
Bilbo, an 8-year-old retired race horse, was adopted in 2020 by his owner Michelle Stepanian. During the silent auction he was among the many horses saying hello to attendees. Due to a deep flexor tendon tear in his front right leg, Bilbo had a short professional career, only running a total of five races. Although his racing career was short-lived, he still generated a total of $65,736.
When he arrived at Win Place Home he was sad, skinny and his coat wasn’t shiny, said Stepanian.
“There was just something about him when I saw his sad eyes,” said Stepanian. “I would come up every now and then. I would call CJ to inquire about him to see how he was doing … that just started it. Me coming up maybe every four months to visit him and calling CJ every two months, turned into six months of me coming up here almost every weekend.”
“We just kind of bonded.”
Bilbo is now a trail horse who enjoys long walks, relaxed rides and hugs and kisses, stated a poster on his stable.
“I’ve gone through a lot of training … because they’re so set on racing that to transition them into … just to be a trail horse… it’s a whole different career,” said Stepanian. “We had to work on him just learning to relax and walk, going around turns. He would just dive into the turn when he knew we were almost done (and) he would go really fast to get to where I would dismount.”
Bilbo is one of many success stories at Win Place Home, which also allows individuals with no horse experience or background to adopt.
Veronica Alonzo began volunteering with horses two years ago. Initially, she worked with exotic animals, having a wildlife conservation background. During her journey of volunteering, she fell in love with horses. She then formed a bond with a 5-year-old retiree named Gandalf, named after the “Lord of the Rings” character.
With the guidance of Win Place Home, Alonzo wanted to make sure she was a good match to ensure Gandalf would be well taken care of. She went through the process of adopting and now provides for his boarding, medical care and other necessities the horse may need.
Although Alonzo does not have the space to keep Gandalf in her Sylmar home, “the great thing about staying here is that it’s a whole network of people where I can continue to learn how to best care for him, where I get his training, where I get my training more importantly,” Alonzo said. “We’re gonna house him here for the foreseeable future to continue to help him transition to life after the track.”
Gandalf was adopted in September of this year and retired from racing due to a suspensory tear in his left front leg. He raced a total of 10 races and generated $77,040.
“I think a lot of times we work so fast, life is just racing us by. We’re just kind of caught up very similar to what their former profession was,” said Alonzo. “I think in working with race horses, it has helped me slow down and just really work at what’s next. And we don’t have to run so fast through life. I think that my work here has really helped to reconnect that part of myself.”
“My favorite part is watching him grow. When I think about the first time I walked him to walking him now when I think about how much he’s grown in the last two weeks … Developing that trusting partnership, I’m excited to see where we will go and what it looks like year after year,” said Alonzo.
During the silent auction, guests could say hello to dozens of horses in their stables and learn a little bit more about them and their backgrounds while simultaneously enjoying food and drinks.