Cooling Out With … Allie Conrad
Allie Conrad is the executive director (Mid-Atlantic division) for CANTER (Communication Alliance to Network Thoroughbred Ex-Racehorses), a nonprofit organization that works to help thoroughbreds transition from the racetrack into new careers.
A Maryland native, Conrad, 36, moved to Southern Pines last year and lives on her Aberdeen farm with eight horses, two dogs, two cats, six chickens, and one indulgent fiancé.
Q: Have you been involved with horses since you were a kid?
A: It’s funny. My parents weren’t horsey at all, but I was one of those horse-crazy kids. My parents shuffled me off to take riding lessons when I was seven.
I worked my butt off in high school to afford my own horse. Since then, they’ve just been a huge part of my life.
Q: Have you always been a racing fan?
A: As soon as I could drive I’d toodle to Pimlico or Laurel, for some of the bigger races.
I always watched the races on TV.
What really got me following racing were a few of the Triple Crown bids. I loved Point Given (the 2001 Preakness and Belmont winner). That’s when I really started following it.
I’d always been kind of an amateur fan. I’d bring my $40 to the track, lose it, and still have fun.
Q: How did you become in involved with CANTER?
A: The idea for it started when I was about 22.
I decided, in my eternal 22-year-old optimism, I was going to save a racehorse. The Internet message boards were really taking off during that time, and before I knew it, I had borrowed a truck and trailer and was at the New Holland (Pennsylvania) auction.
The horse I came home with — a big, 17.1 hand chestnut named Clever Ma who’d run 58 times — completely changed my life; I started CANTER at Charles Town Racetrack (in West Virginia) in 1999.
Q: The New Holland auction is one of the biggest vendors for Canadian slaughterhouses. What was it like to go there?
A: I will never go back there.
My horse was so messed up — he had lymphangitis on all four legs, a huge knee. His Jockey Club papers were with him at the auction, which is unusual.
I called the people listed as the owners, and the woman began crying hysterically. They had given the horse to a friend who had promised to find him a good home.
Here were owners trying to do right by the horse, and he was taken to New Holland the very next day.
We’ve actually become very close friends — they’re like grandparents to me. They always send packages of carrots and mints, and I’ve helped place all of their horses.
Q: Do you still have the horse?
A: I do! I call him Phinny. He’s 17, and I ride him all the time.
Q: How do you approach trainers on the track about placing their horses through CANTER?
A: When we go through the shedrows, we try to come across as extremely “pro racing.” We say, “We’re not here to rescue your horse; we’re here to help you transition your horse if it’s not running well.”
Q: What percentage of the horses coming off the track are sound enough to become sport horses?
A: Two years ago, when the economy really tanked, I realized I couldn’t financially stay afloat and take in horses that couldn’t be transitioned to a second career. I had to stop taking in the cripples, and I really struggled with it. It caused a lot of grief and angst having to say no. But we were putting down so many horses.
From now on we do not take catastrophically injured horses unless there’s a prognosis for a full riding career. Gone are the days where someone wants a pretty thoroughbred to stand in a field.
Q: What are your favorite success stories?
A: We have some really good ones.
One of my favorites is Anthony Patch, who was 11th at Rolex this year. His racing name was Alex’s Castle Dream. He was a crippled 3-year-old who had clipped heels in his last race. They brought him out of the stall and he limped down the aisle. But we knew he just needed some time and care.
We have a really neat horse cutting cows in Delaware. We have a ton of event horses competing in Area II, and a lot of dressage horses.
Q: In 2008, after the fatal breakdown of the filly Eight Belles in the Kentucky Derby, Congress held hearings on drugs in racing. What was it like to appear at those hearings?
A: It was big deal to get anabolic steroids banned on the track. They were keeping the horses glued together half the time, barely.
So many of the changes made in racing are just lip service. You’re not allowed to call a jockey’s whip a “whip” anymore — now it’s a “crop” because the word “whip” is upsetting. So ridiculous.
Q: You also spoke at the Racehorse Welfare Summit in Lexington, Ky., this year. What issues did you address?
A: I think a lot of people don’t like that I speak my mind. It might be unpleasant to talk about things like euthanasia, but I can’t stand to watch horses limp around all day.
The sessions outside the symposium were most interesting because I felt for the first time we were making a difference. Alex Waldrop (chief executive officer of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association) said to me, “I want you to know before the (Congressional) hearing I had no idea how bad steroids injections are, but because of your testimony, now I do.”
That showed me that somebody is paying attention.
Q: If someone wanted to volunteer, what are your needs?
A: Really, what we need is treat feeders! These horses come in with an “I’m mad at the world” attitude. They’re sore, they don’t trust people. We need to let them know that people are good. They need to be touched in a way that’s loving. And they all come around.
To get more information about becoming a CANTER volunteer, contact Conrad at (301) 980-0972.
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