(CNN) — Wooden Phone was never asked whether he wanted to race. Born in 1997, the dull-brown thoroughbred didn’t show initial signs of greatness, but the horse would net more than $800,000 in winnings during his career.
A warrior on the track, he kept coming back from severe injuries to beat likely champions. His temperament wasn’t suited for the highly stressful industry — trainers called him “difficult,” a diva.
After his racing career ended at age 9, retirement didn’t suit him either.
Easily agitated, Wooden Phone would pop his lip — the equivalent of a child sucking his thumb. He was nervous just leaving the pasture.
Anyone who has been around thoroughbreds will tell you that these horses love a job, and now Wooden Phone’s duties were outsourced to younger, stronger workers. Intelligent and sensitive with a drive to please, racehorses like him also crave human attention and care.
Unfortunately, when a racing or breeding career ends, thoroughbreds can quickly become useless to their owners. The injuries compound and when money and options run out, convenience leads them away from the stables and into the slaughterhouse.
“We have to improve the likelihood that a racehorse has more value alive after it is finished racing than dead,” said Alex Brown, former jockey and author of “Greatness and Goodness: Barbaro and his Legacy.”
The racing industry has worked to provide retirement programs and track policies that prevent slaughter. But Brown wants to see even more accountability: transparency of medical records from owner to owner, as well as support for programs that rehab ex-racehorses.
“I think all of us who make our living with horses have an obligation to give something back and provide for the welfare of these horses,” Dan Rosenberg, head of Thoroughbred Charities, said.
LOPE Texas is just one of hundreds of organizations across the country dedicated to rescuing and rehabilitating ex-racehorses for new homes and purposes.
Suzanne Minter, an experienced rider volunteering her time at LOPE, first met Wooden Phone two years ago. His personality captured her heart.
LOPE founder Lynn Reardon was surprised by Minter’s soft spot for the horse — Wooden Phone was not an adoption candidate after his many injuries. And then, there were the stress issues.
Ex-racehorses get a bad reputation for being aggressively energetic, although their “bad manners” come from training gaps. With the right rehab techniques, they can be gentle enough to work with veterans who suffer from PTSD and children with autism.