NEGLEY Their purpose in life may have shifted but that doesn't mean these thoroughbred horses are any less important.
Instead of galloping around a race track with a trained jockey on their back they are now learning how to stay still, walk easy and interact with children.
The special group of horses will show off what they have learned during a new benefit competition at 8 p.m. Friday at the Simmons Equestrian Center in Negley.
In addition to raising money for various organizations, including cancer research, the Extreme Retired Racehorse Makeover Competition is giving horses a second chance at happiness.
A group of 12 trainers selected from across the country have been working with the horses they hand-selected for the competition over the last few weeks.
The task is to have them rehabilitated for regular riding within 100 days.
Laura Wiencek, owner of Win-Seek Performance Horses in Cortland is taking the task to the next level. Not only is she training a horse for the competition, but she has already brought other thoroughbreds to her own stables for rehabilitation.
Familiar with the personalities and riding styles of thoroughbreds, she knew it would be an undertaking to essentially reprogram their behavior, but the results have been astounding.
"Never in my wildest dreams did I think thoroughbreds would level out and be as calm and collected as they are. Right now I have three at my barn that these kids can play with, ride and enjoy. They have totally gotten off the track," she said.
Two other thoroughbreds are also at Win-Seek, but are not ready for riding just yet.
She plans to sell the rehabilitated horses to families at a reasonable price. In the meantime, they are being put to use at the stables and making a lasting difference.
A horse donated by one of the trainers at the Mountaineer Race Track has especially made a positive impact on a 16-year-old girl named Terry, who lost her dad to cancer last January, Wiencek said.
"They rehabilitate each other," she said.
The event in Negley is hosted by Dreaming of Three, and the founder, Jackie Harris, also lost her father to cancer, and her stepfather to a brain tumor.
Proceeds from the competition's race will go toward Bright Future Farms and Wiencek said any money raised by her horse Spade or collected by the girls she is riding for will be given back to Dreaming of Three Friday night. Any future money raised will go toward the American Cancer Society and St. Jude's Hospital.
Shortly after being chosen to participate, the trainers found each other on a Facebook blog and started discussing techniques.
Wiencek even went so far as to invite trainer Amelia Comar, of Jacksonville, N.C., to spend the last several days at her house so they could work together before the competition.
They both are rehabilitating horses they took directly off race tracks out of state.
The two purchased the horses and are now their rightful owners.
Comar took home "Cruise" after watching him participate in a race at the Charleston, W.Va., track. And Wiencek took hers from a track in Kentucky not far from Cincinnati.
"There have been a lot of ups and downs, but it's been an amazing experience over all.When they come off the track a lot of them have a lot of issues," Comar said.
After wracking her brain for solutions to breaking patterns of behavior, she finally figured out she could put some spare tires in a stall to keep him from constantly walking around in a circle.
"He was just so bent on walking around a track in a stall. I tried to get some tires so he would have to step through them, like an obstacle course," she said.
She explained the tires made him stop and think about what he was doing instead of habitually going in circle.
"He's gotten a lot better. Hopefully he will eventually break his habit completely," she said.
In the meantime, the horses and the trainers are learning a new way of thinking.
"It has really taught me a lot. I had to rethink how I usually train a horse," Comar said.
The trainers have not let go of their normal training, however, but because they are working with different kinds of horses, some adjustments are necessary.
The benefits are worth it.
Comar said she would do it again "in a heartbeat."