The Final Furlong Thoroughbred Retirement program gives thoroughbred racehorses new homes and careers off the racetrack.
As a thoroughbred racehorse, Miss Dude’s career was short and, well, not stellar. She made 10 starts, notched one win, one second and banked $24,570. But thanks to Stephanie Brennan’s Ocala-based Final Furlong Thoroughbred Retirement program, Miss Dude was given the opportunity to have another career off the racetrack. Now known as Ermintrude, the 9-year-old mare is an eventing horse star, excelling in cross-country.
“The great thing about thoroughbreds is that they are very athletic horses that can succeed in various equine disciplines besides racing,” says Brennan, who founded Final Furlong in 2009 and has since re-homed more than 200 horses. “Just because they are bred to race doesn’t mean that’s all they can do or that they should be discarded after a racing career.”
Daisy Trayford, who owns and operates New York-based Exmoor Eventing with her husband, Richard, agrees with that assessment wholeheartedly.
“I’ve been around horses all of my life, including exercising thoroughbreds in Ocala, so I know firsthand about thoroughbreds,” says Trayford. “We’ve adopted eight from Final Furlong and have not been disappointed with any of them. Eventing horses have to compete in dressage, stadium jumping and cross-county over a three-day span. It takes a talented horse to do all three events. Ermintrude is a special horse and, if not for Final Furlong, she would’ve never had the chance to blossom as an eventing horse.”
Another Final Furlong graduate in Trayford’s stable is Patriot Game, a 5-year-old gelding who is a half-brother to 2013 Kentucky Derby winner Orb. Patriot Game did not display the same talent as multimillionaire Orb on the racetrack, not winning a race and earning only $16,664 in five starts. But today, Paddy, as he is now known, is thriving with Trayford.
“Paddy loves foxhunting and, going forward, the plan is to develop him into an eventing horse as well,” says Trayford. “Final Furlong is just a fabulous program.”
Based at Niall and Stephanie Brennan’s 20-acre farm off scenic Highway 225-A in northwest Marion County, Final Furlong Thoroughbred Retirement is as far from the hustle bustle of the racetrack as can be. In fact, it’s also a whole lot less hectic than Niall Brennan Stables (NBS), which is the couple’s 160-acre training facility located a few miles from the home farm. NBS, a perennial leading consignor of 2-year-olds-in-training, has broken/trained and sold hundreds of outstanding racehorses. A past NBS graduate is Orb. In 2022, NBS sold 47 juveniles for a gross of more than $8.8 million.
While the routine at NBS mirrors that of the racetrack, with horses going to and from the training track in the mornings, the Final Furlong home farm is an idyllic setting. There is an immediate sense of calm just driving onto the farm, replete with more-than-enough shade trees and lush green paddocks.
“The first step toward a new life for horses we get off the track is a change of scenery and that works wonders for their minds,” says Brennan. “Here at the farm, the only thing they have to do is just be horses out grazing.”
Fulfilling A Need
A native of Saskatoon, located in Saskatchewan, Canada, Brennan was showing hunter/jumpers by the time she was 8.
“I was your typical horse-crazy kid and just never grew up out of it. I kept right on showing straight through college,” notes Brennan, who has a degree in French and international relations. “But when I figured out that I basically had a useless degree when it came to job opportunities, I had to find a way to make money to support my horse showing. So, I started exercising racehorses at the racetrack to earn enough money to buy a good show horse. That’s how I became involved with thoroughbred racing.”
Brennan moved to Lexington, Kentucky, to work on a thoroughbred farm, where she broke yearlings for a while before going back to the racetrack in Canada. After getting hurt while exercising a racehorse, she moved back to Lexington.
“While I had that downtime, I decided to get another degree; one that would be more useful,” says Brennan with a small smile. “I got a degree in business administration and marketing. Then I moved to Ocala in 1998 and started working for Niall. Three years later, we got married.”
Shortly after, she began showing horses again.
“Niall’s daughter Kristin wanted to show, so it became something we did together for almost 15 years,” shares Brennan, who is involved in every aspect of NBS. “Showing again reminded me how difficult it is for good riders with limited income to find good horses. I realized that just by keeping track of horses that we had sold, there was a whole untapped supply of horses that could be re-homed. And that led to establishing Final Furlong in 2009.”
A 501(c)(3) charity, Final Furlong Thoroughbred Retirement was founded to focus on re-homing NBS graduates and those of NBS clients once their racing careers are over. But it has evolved to also re-homing horses who, for various reasons, never raced. Brennan contacts trainers and owners of horses that she tracks or vice versa. It should be mentioned that racehorses race in furlongs, an eighth of a mile, hence the program’s name, meaning the horse’s racing days are over.
“When we first started Final Furlong, it was almost always me reaching out to inquire about a horse to see if there was plan in place for after its racing career,” explains Brennan. “But now that we’ve been around for a while and have a good network, people reach out to us to either place a horse or looking for a horse. And I’m finding more people who have an exit plan for a racehorse at the end of its career.”
The owners of the horses put into the program are asked to make a one-time donation to Final Furlong equivalent to a month’s board on the racetrack. Final Furlong then assumes ownership and will handle expenses moving forward.
“We are very fortunate that many vanning companies, veterinarians, farriers, equine dentists and others in the horse industry are very supportive of the Final Furlong program,” shares Brennan. “We couldn’t do it without all of that support that is so very much appreciated.”
When a horse arrives at Final Furlong, it is assessed by a veterinarian for health and soundness issues. If necessary, a treatment plan is put in place.
“From there, the horse will begin what we call a ‘let down’ process where nothing is expected of it but to be a horse. Horses spend a minimum of 60 days at our farm,” says Brennan. “Before the horse is offered for re-homing, it must meet a four point criteria: Be relaxed, physically sound, carrying good condition that is easy to maintain and be safe to handle. Horses who do not meet that criteria become what we call a ‘lifer.’ We have 15 lifers at NBS now.”
Brennan notes that the horses do not receive any training toward their new careers at Final Furlong.
“We did try to do that at first, but it’s just too labor intensive,” she says. “And it’s best that the new owner starts with a clean slate toward making that horse be what they want.”
A case in point is Cluemaster, an unraced 5-year-old gelding who was adopted by professional equestrian performer Aurelius Loyal. Renamed Roach, the gelding now performs at circus-styled events such as this year’s Fantasia at Equine Affaire in Columbus, Ohio.
“Roach is the first thoroughbred that I’ve worked with and he has completely surpassed my expectations,” Loyal says. “He’s such a happy and natural performer.”
While donations to the Final Furlong program are always appreciated from prospective owners, there is no adoption fee. But there is a strict vetting process.
“I do a thorough interview with the person to find out if he or she is a good match for a horse,” Brennan notes. “I have to have a letter of recommendation from their regular veterinarian and farrier, and see where the horse will reside. If a horse turns out not to be a good match for a person, it can be returned to us. In fact, we want it returned to us. We have had horses returned and then been successful in finding them a new home.”
Even after a dozen years running the Final Furlong Thoroughbred Retirement program, Brennan has not grown tired of the mission. In fact, she has become even more involved in thoroughbred retirement. Earlier this year, she was elected to the board of the national Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation (TRF), which places retired racehorses at a system of prisons across the country, where they live out their lives while being part of equine educational programs for inmates. The Ocala-based Lowell Correctional Institute (LCI) is the base for the TRF Second Chances Farm, which serves as a home for retired Florida-bred racehorses and as a rehabilitation center for LCI’s women inmates. An equine care technology vocational program provides the women with hands-on working experience with the horses. Once released from prison, many of the women go on to work in the thoroughbred industry.
“Becoming a TRF board member meshes well with the Final Furlong mission. We have several employees at NBS who are graduates of the Second Chances Farm,” Brennan shares. “As for Final Furlong, it continues to be very gratifying to re-home these horses and hear the great stories of their new lives like Ermintrude, Paddy and Roach.” OS
To learn more about the Final Furlong Thoroughbred Retirement program, email email@example.com