Racehorse Remix Spotlight: Melissa Porter

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Melissa & Mara's Story

I joined the Finger Lakes Thoroughbred Adoption Program (FLTAP), in March of 2018.  FLTAP is a nonprofit organization committed to caring for racehorses as they transition from being a racehorse to their second careers.  I was hired as a trainer to begin the process of teaching the horses basic skills for their new lives, and to help identify what second career would be best suited for each horse.  I worked alongside FLTAP’s Program Director Julie Smith, who was also a trainer for active racehorses at the Finger Lakes Racetrack. Because of the connection with Julie, I was able to travel to the back side of the track and watch her train her own racehorses.  

In late summer, 2018, Julie claimed a new mare named Marakovits.  Mara and I had an instant connection, and I joked with Julie that I would take Mara home when she was ready to retire.  During the last months of the 2018 racing meet I continued to travel backside to see Mara as much as possible. I was even able to watch her train a few mornings and of course always tuned in to her races.  Unfortunately, Mara was “off” and did not perform well and Julie made the decision to retire her and donate her to FLTAP’s program. Our program was full at that time, so I offered to keep her at my farm until a stall opened at the adoption barn.  When I brought Mara home she had abrasions on her left hind leg from overreaching and catching while racing, so she and I did a lot of hand walking through fields and bandaging legs to help in her recovery. In January 2019 a stall opened at FLTAP, with no horses on the waiting list, and Mara was able to come into the program.  This is also the same month I applied to be an official trainer for the retired racehorse project, and Mara and I began training for the 2019 RRP. We started with a lot of groundwork, working over the bridge, tarps, umbrellas, hula hoops and anything I could find that might cause a horse to spook. Mara was fearless. Not much startled her, other then the pin wheels spinning in the wind.  Mara and I had such a strong bond at that point that her trust in me helped give her courage.  

Once we were confident on the ground, which didn’t take long, we put on the western saddle and went to work.  Mara and I now take lessons with Courtney Vanderbrooke every other week to work on our show appearance and equitation as a team.  Mara gets massages from Equihands, and Chiropractic’s with Joe Connor once a month as well. We participated in our first show together at a small local farm and competed in the competitive trail division where Mara and I walked over bridges, opened and closed a rope gate, side passed and speared a fake bull. We placed fourth out of six competitors. Mara settled in quickly to the new surroundings and did well for her first show. Since then Mara has been on multiple trail rides, working on transitions in and out of water, and has been started on the barrel pattern. She is smart, brave, and eager to please, so is progressing quickly. 

We have also been working hard on reaching our goal for sponsorships and are about $1000 away from our goal. Mara’s Journey to the 2019 RRP is integral to the continued growth and success of FLTAP’s program.  To have one of our horses compete at a national level with a substantial audience will give us exposure on a huge stage. Our hope is that potential adopters will notice the quality of our horses and the work we do, and seek us out for their next horse.  We will also be able to increase Mara’s adoption fee with all her extra training and show experience which will bring in additional funding to care for the horses. Mara’s placement will be the hardest for me, as the trainer at FLTAP, but helping show the versatility and compassion of this wonderful breed is my passion and is the goal of our program.

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