A horse rescuer who saves thoroughbreds headed to slaughterhouses
Near Philadelphia, Erin Hurley finds adopted homes for retired race horses, saving them from a trip to the slaughterhouse.
Little girls often fall in love with horses. Erin Hurley did at age 8 when she learned to ride. Her mother gave her a horse of her own when Erin turned 10.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
"My mom paid $200 for him," Ms. Hurley recalls. "Bucky was my first love."
Not every little girl, however, grows up to translate that first equine love into the kind of action that in the last two years has resulted in the rescue and adoption of more than 250 thoroughbred racehorses. The racing careers of these horses, mostly 3 to 5 years of age, ended for various reasons, including injuries. Through Hurley they're getting a chance at a good, useful life beyond the racetrack.
Though horse meat is rarely consumed in the United States, it is still widely eaten elsewhere, not only in developing countries but also in Japan and parts of Europe. Racehorses make excellent horse meat since they are in prime condition and very muscular.
Ending up on a dinner plate means a short and undignified life for these beautiful animals, in Hurley's opinion. "My passion has always been to rescue and retrain racehorses off the track," she says. "I have always been impressed by their athleticism and heart."
Hurley's whole working career has been with horses. She opened, and for 18 years ran, a therapeutic riding school called Unicorn.
"We had a hundred kids with cognitive and physical disabilities from four agencies here in southern New Jersey," she says.
During that time, Hurley was also competing in Three Day Eventing, a challenging contest for horse and rider that evolved from the training cavalry officers received. Hurley's horses in the competition were often those she had saved from the racetrack.
After phasing out Unicorn, she founded South Jersey Thoroughbred Rescue & Adoption (SJTR&A), a nonprofit group. With the help of her son, Jonathan, she created a website (www.sjtbadoption.org) where she posts photos of horses available for adoption, along with stories of those who have been adopted.
"I don't know what I would have done if I had not connected with Turning for Home," Hurley says. "I don't know how some of these smaller rescue and adoption outfits make it because [we were] constantly in the red until we connected with Philadelphia Park."
TFH has become a national model for keeping racehorses from the slaughterhouse. The track's management makes a sizable donation each year, and each owner whose horse enters the starting gate pays $10, which goes to TFH. Each winning jockey also contributes $10 and each second-place jockey $5.