HART volunteers have soft spot for thoroughbreds

HART volunteer Renee Sawyer gives a treat to rescued racehorse Captivant, currently recuperating from racing injuries before she can be adopted.


Racehorses enjoy a pampered life during their careers, but not after their racing days are done. Many are shipped to slaughter overseas. The lucky ones find their way to sanctuaries such as Hidden Acres Rescue for Thoroughbreds, or HART.

“Most thoroughbreds are done racing by 3 or 4, but can live up to 30 years,” HART board member Donna Manfredi said.

When she retired to Brevard County, Manfredi, who owned a boarding farm in Wisconsin, was soon drawn to HART and its seven acres in Port St. John. 

A stable of volunteers such as Manfredi give their hearts, time and treasure to the racehorses rescued from tracks around Florida.

Renee Sawyer, who has two horses of her own at her place in Cocoa, volunteers six hours twice a week to muck stalls and exercise and groom the HART horses. 

“I grew up with horses and wanted to give back to the horse community,” she said.  

Some of the rescued thoroughbreds raced up to the day before arriving at Hart. Others, like Tech Princess, aka Rosie, had a life beyond the racetrack, but things didn’t work out. The 25-year-old Rosie ran her last race in 1999, but recently came to HART to find a forever home that will treasure a golden girl with a sweet temperament. 

Turning racehorses into companion animals requires patience but is necessary to increase their chances for adoption, the ultimate goal at HART.

The kings of the racetrack share stable space with more modest equines that include three mini horses, permanent residents that serve as pint-sized ambassadors for the nonprofit. HART stables also harbor five horses used in the riding program, which supplements donations that keeps hay in the stable. Young riders as well as seniors in their 70s are welcome to learn horsemanship.

Volunteers, the lifeblood of HART, also come in all ages. HART’s flexible volunteer requirements attract multi-generational families, couples and individuals. 

“We have grandparents and parents coming in with the kids, and we also have plenty of seniors coming alone or as a couple,” Manfredi said.

Susie Jones, who spends winters in Florida, volunteers at HART. 

“Cleaning stalls, feeding, watering, grooming and moving the horses out or in from pastures is good for my soul,” the Titusville resident said. 

Volunteers can help with the horses, or with administrative duties, grounds maintenance and special events. Seasoned volunteers will tell you that volunteering at HART is a two-way street.

“Volunteers tell us they came to help the horses, but find that the horses are helping them,” Manfredi said.

Volunteers and tax-deductible donations are always welcome at HART. Donors can choose to adopt a horse for themselves or as a gift for as little as $25. For more information, visit hartforhorses.org.