Cosequin Presents OTTB Showcase: ‘Turning For Home’ And Beyond by Jen Roytz|08.14.201508.17.2015|10:32am10:53am “It is our responsibility as guardians to give back to our horses once they cannot do what we ask of them as racehorses,” says Michelle With the early mornings, long days, and hard work from sun up to sun down, it is no wonder that when asked, most trainers will say they aren't in the game for the money, but rather for the love of the horse. Michelle Fortebuono is no different. Based at Parx Casino and Racing near Philadelphia, Pa., Michelle grew up taking riding lessons and eventually was captivated by Thoroughbreds. Her first job at the racetrack was as a hotwalker in 2003, and she took out her trainer's license in 2010. Her love for horses can be seen in everything she does. That's why when Aintnothinbutakiss, or “Kiss,” as she is known around the barn, started losing interest in racing and showing signs of minor soreness in her ankles, the decision came easily for Michelle – retire her now, before her minor issues become major, to give her the best chance at a long and successful life after racing. “She has been with me for four years and has been as good as gold to me,” Michelle posted on Facebook in a photo gallery she created to document the mare's retirement. “I want to chronicle her retirement not only for me, but for those who think track people don't care about the horses or their well-being. The first step was completed today – her entry into the Turning for Home program here at Parx.” Michelle claimed Kiss in 2011, just a year after she took out her training license. In the four years after the claim, the duo racked up five wins, and Michelle said the mare taught her valuable lessons about listening to her horses and being more in-tune with what they are trying to communicate. “Kiss has become my kindred spirit after four years. She knows when I come and go, and I think with her I have experienced the highest level of connecting with a horse,” said Michelle. “That's why I entered her into the Turning for Home program. I am confident in what they do and that she will be placed in an environment where she can go onto a second career that she will be well-suited for.” Turning for Home is a non-profit 501(c)(3) funded mainly by Pennsylvania owners, trainers, jockeys, the Pennsylvania Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association racetrack management, and the Pennsylvania Horse Breeders' Association. Since its inception in 2008, the organization has adopted out more than 1,600 horses. “We try extremely hard to help each horse donated to us find his perfect person, and that starts right from here with Turning for Home, trying to place them on the right partner farm,” said Danielle Montgomery, Program Administrator for Turning for Home. “We currently have twenty farms that we trust to help us properly rehabilitate, retrain, and rehome our OTTBs.” Each horse signed over to Turning for Home has its foal papers registered with the Jockey Club to be stamped and listed as “not for racing,” ensuring that no horse adopted out through the program ends up back on the racetrack. “We try to continually educate trainers with the help of our veterinarians to know when to give a horse time to heal, either to come back to race or when they should go on to a less competitive life,” added Danielle. “Many of our graduates' former connections track the progress of their horses and 'friend' the new adopters on Facebook. We love posting success stories, and we encourage our adopters to keep us updated with photos and stories.” Michelle said that like all of her horses, she always intended to retire Kiss the right way. While she probably could have raced her several more times and possibly earned a few more checks, she felt it wasn't fair or respectful to the big bay mare. “I wanted her to have a shot at a good quality of life instead of running her until her ankles rendered her as nothing more than a pasture pet, which would have made it a lot harder to rehome her,” explained Michelle. “It is our responsibility as guardians to give back to our horses once they cannot do what we ask of them as racehorses.” While Michelle's ethical compass and love for animals is the main catalyst behind her stance on responsible retirement, her off-track Thoroughbred, Stringtown Wonder, also plays a big role in her view on the subject. “I don't ride anymore, so the only interaction I have these days with horses off of the track is going to see my 14-year-old OTTB, Stringtown Wonder,” said Michelle. “I worked with him at Parx until he got claimed from the outfit I was working for. I tracked him down and bought him after his last race to ensure he would not end up in a questionable situation.” Stringtown Wonder raced 72 times and came out of his last race with an injury. He can no longer be ridden, but thanks to Michelle he is happy and comfortable in his retirement. Last weekend, Kiss made the journey from Pennsylvania to North Carolina, where she will be re-schooled in the arena and on the trails as a riding horse, enjoying lots of turnout time as she's prepared for adoption at a foster farm. “This morning I stood in front of Kiss's empty stall and I cried. For the first time in almost four years there was no nicker and her beautiful face staring back at me,” said Michelle. “I do not ever want a horse in my care to end up not being able to have the opportunity to be ridden and useful after their time on the racetrack is over.” THE DEETS: Name: Aintnothinbutakiss (a.k.a. “Kiss”) Born: March 15, 2008 Color: Bay Sire: Act of Duty Dam: Touching Melody Sale History: none Race Record: 35-6-6-6 Race Earnings: $131,070 If you have or know of a retired Thoroughbred with an interesting story to tell, we'd love to hear about it! Just email Jen Roytz ([email protected]) with the horse's Jockey Club name, background story, and a few photos. Jen Roytz is a freelance writer and marketing and public relations consultant for various entities, both equine and non-equine. She can also still be found on the back of an OTTB most days. Contact Jen on Facebook and Twitter.