Group provides home for retired horses, saving them from the slaughterhouse

BY Lauren Wanko, Correspondent |

His registered racing name is Shake Baby Shake. Though at the Standardbred Retirement Foundation, the horse is known simply as Baby, and he’s developed a reputation for being a bit of a showoff.

“Well when they’re done racing there’s nowhere for them to go. There’s no outlet at all. And the outlet that’s been the common one for all these years is in the end they’re slaughtered, so it’s not acceptable,” said Judith Bokman, co-founder of Standardbred Retirement Foundation.

Bokman once owned a racehorse and her husband is an equine veterinarian. She says she was deeply disturbed to learn that after many of the horses’ careers ended, either in racing or as workhorses, they were sent out of the country to slaughterhouses.

“So, yeah, their lives can be cut very short,” said Bokman.

Twenty-nine years ago, Judy and her partner Paula Campbell,created the Standardbred Retirement Foundation. Since then, the organization has made more than 3,000 adoptions. Some have joined law enforcement’s mounted units. Others are now in therapeutic riding programs.

“There’s a group of volunteers that we work with called Save Our Standardbreds from Slaughter, it’s SOSS. And what they do is they go to what they call the kill pens to see the horses that are being held, the Standardbreds being held to ship to Canada and Mexico for meat. They trace the horses through their tattoos, and contact past owners and breeders, and they solicit support, and they get some from them, but they also get from the general public. And when they raise enough money to get the horse out of the kill pen, some get adopted right from there, and most we just take in,” said Bokman.

The organization leases two farms in Monmouth County, and boards some of the aging horses out of state. Some of the animals arrive healthy, while others are frail and sick. Judy’s husband provides the medical care for the animals, while Equine Farrier Eric Robbins pampers them a bit.

“An equine farrier is a modern day blacksmith who specializes in maintaining horses’ feet. It’s a manicure that most people don’t get on a six-week basis. Every six weeks, they get a whole other manicure with me personally,” said Robbins.

The Standardbreds are used to harness racing, yet many of those looking to adopt want a horse they can ride. That’s why Brielle Roman trains the horses to become comfortable wearing a saddle, taking a rider, learning to canter and more.

“You have to kind of show them that not all human beings are bad, too. Training is a relationship thing, because you’re working with the horse and getting the horse to trust and work with you. It’s a partnership,” said Roman.

The foundation relies on private donations. They’re caring for almost 400 horses. The rideables typically cost anywhere from $500 to $800 to adopt.

Fourteen-year old Fisher Move is about to head to a new home soon. The foundation screens every potential new adopter thoroughly. They must have experience caring for and riding horses. Judy says she wants to protect all the animals, which is why the foundation maintains ownership of them after they’ve been adopted. But they say as long as the animals are healthy and cared for, they can live with their adopters for life.

“When someone adopts a horse, they have to stay in touch with us twice a year. Their veterinarian has to come out and check that horse, and we need to see that the horse is doing well. They submit a form from the veterinarian. If the horse is not being cared for, that horse has to come back to us,” said Bokman.

Although some do come back to Judy, the majority of the horses spend their lives in their new homes.

“So many people adopt them and treat them like their child,” said Bokman.

Although Judy has two teenage sons of her own, she too considers these beautiful creatures her extended family.