As you walk through the barn, the horses turn their heads to see what the stranger is up to. Gazing at you while seemingly sizing you up as you pass, you stop, gaze back and find yourself drawn into the most soulful eyes. Eyes that look calm, serene, almost like looking into their soul.
Not all of the horses in this stable are that calm and serene, not yet anyhow. They are rescues. Thoroughbreds who have been tossed to the side by the world of horse racing.
Most were on their way to a slaughterhouse, but fortunately, they found their way to Holly Carter and The Winter Farm, OTTB Rescue & Retirement in Southern Pines.
Holly Carter is a remarkable woman. Having loved horses from a young age, her father finally got her a pony.
Holly Carter & Bermejo
“My family was very much into the arts,” said Holly. “My father could not understand why I was so interested in horses, but he finally gave in and brought home a pony one day.”
She loved her pony, but one day she had the opportunity to help with a friend’s thoroughbred, and it was love at first sight.
Holly competed in “A” circuit at places such as Palm Springs with thoroughbreds as an amateur but before long, work was taking more and more of her time. She actually had to stop riding altogether while she devoted her time to her interior design business.
After 15 years away from horses, Holly made the decision to return to what gave her so much happiness in her life, thoroughbreds. And she came back to Southern Pines, an area she loved for its beauty and equestrian life.
The Winter Farm is named for a wonderful horse that has meant so much to Holly, named Winter Escape. She found him through CANTER, who provides ex-racehorses with opportunities for new careers. The horse had raced 105 times in his six-year career, and he was not in the best shape with arthritis in his legs. She later got another horse from CANTER.
“I started getting these retired racehorses and would work with them,” said Holly. “So many of them can go things such as being jumpers, hunters, and eventers. I would get a couple and work with them and then sell them and use that money to buy more. At some point, I knew I needed to do this as a business, so we formed the non-profit rescue.”
And so, The Winter Farm, OTTB Rescue & Retirement began. OTTB is short for “off the track thoroughbred”. It is a non-profit thoroughbred adoption program dedicated to providing retired racehorses a second career and a healthy life. And it all started with a horse named Winter who is still on the farm today.
The organization is made up of a dedicated board of directors, and the farm would not be where it is without the volunteers that help care for the horses.
These horses, in many cases, owe their lives to Holly and her organization. The statistics are staggering.
Each year, 10,000 thoroughbreds will end up being sold and slaughtered for their meat. The U.S. Agriculture Department calculated that 92 percent of the horses sent to slaughter are healthy and could complete a normal life if they had a place to call home.
Volunteer Caitlin Potter & Robbie
This is why the mission of The Winter Farm is so important. The horses you find at the farm will just take your breath away. Many come in bad shape and are afraid of everything and everyone.
Holly and her crew of volunteers take their time and allow these horses to go at their own pace to settle in and to slowly take in their new surroundings, free of trainers and racing. Free of any demands at all, except to just be.
Slowly, when they are ready, they’re introduced to the world again. The horses are gently walked and exercised, slowly having tack and a saddle applied. And then once again, they are gently ridden. Each step slowly taken until they can become whatever they seem suited for. It could be a hunter, maybe a jumper, or possibly an eventer.
But they will never again be pushed past their limits on a racetrack for someone else’s monetary gain. They can just be horses, and what a wonderful world that can be for them.
If you would like to volunteer, make a donation, or find out more information on this organization, please click here.
If you happen to be in the area, call to arrange a time to see the farm and meet its residents. You may just find yourself gazing into the biggest, soulful eyes you have ever seen.
Photos by Sandhills Sentinel Apprentice Photographer Lauren Goodridge.
~Written by Sandhills Sentinel Publisher B.J. Goodridge.