Grant from racecar driver will rescue thoroughbreds

January 5, 2009
A group of thoroughbred lovers concerned about the horses' futures spend every weekend during the summer racing season at Hoosier Park. They're trying to line up buyers or adoptive owners for horses that could end up sold for slaughter.

Since Friends of Ferdinand Inc. launched in 2005, volunteers have helped place more than 250 horses through their back-of-the-track networking, President Sara Busbice said. Networking at a different track—Indianapolis Motor Speedway—helped the group land a $20,000 grant for the adoption of 10 at-risk horses.

The Tony Stewart Foundation, run by the Indiana-born NASCAR star and his family, made the grant in November, just in time for Friends of Ferdinand to rescue six unwanted horses from the end-of-season paddock sale.

"The minimum bid is $300—just above meat price for these animals," Busbice said.

FFI will use the grant to care for those six horses, plus four more to come, while they are at foster homes around central Indiana. "We're just waiting for stalls to open up," Busbice said.

The adoption program has placed a total of 34 horses, including those now dubbed "Tony's Ex-racers."

It was Busbice's fiance, FFI volunteer Robert Worland, who was invited by a friend to Stewart's suite at the Speedway during last year's Indianapolis 500 festivities. The friend introduced Worland to a representative from Stewart's foundation, which makes grants for critically ill children, injured race car drivers, and at-risk or endangered animals.

Soon Friends of Ferdinand was expecting the largest gift in its short history.

Foundation Executive Director Joni Thompson said the board of directors—Stewart, his mother, his father and his sister—readily agreed to make the grant.

"It was a well-written proposal, very specific as to how the funds would be used," she said. "To follow [the horses'] progress through rehabilitation was of special interest to us."

Thompson and Stewart's sister, Natalie Repenning, attended the Nov. 17 paddock sale. Later, Thompson watched one of the horses undergo rehabilitative surgery. "We've been pretty hands-on," Thompson said.

The foundation plans to give again in 2009 or 2010, Thompson said.

"Not only do they have a cause that was in direct synch with our foundation, they're an all-volunteer group," she said. "One hundred percent of the funds we gave went directly to the rescue of these horses. We enjoyed that as well."


Know of a gift that IBJ should feature? Contact Kathleen McLaughlin at kmclaughlin@ibj.com.
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