ST. MARY-OF-THE-WOODS — A unique event provided horse enthusiasts with the opportunity to adopt a horse and give them a good home and second careers.
At the stables of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College, 11 horses met prospective new owners at the Mari Hulman George Thoroughbred Adoption event.
The horses were owned by Mari Hulman George — daughter of prominent Wabash Valley businessman Tony Hulman — who is known for her love for horses and generosity toward higher learning institutions. The SMWC School of Equine Studies is also named after her.
At the event, 10 thoroughbreds and one quarter horse, with ages ranging from 2 to 12, were available for adoption. The animals had careers as competitive racehorses.
Dozens of potential owners from the area and even neighboring states attended and put in their bids for the horses.
A mother-daughter duo drove from almost five hours away in Buchanan, Mich., in hopes of adopting half-brothers The Glitter's Back, 7 years old, and That Kat Glitters, 8.
Karen Lukkarila and daughter Kaitlyn, 12, repurpose horses and participate in "show jumping."
As a project, they plan to "work with them this winter, teach them to jump and show them next summer," Lukkarila said.
And the horses were chosen partly for their friendly personality, which is Kaitlyn's expertise.
The Glitter's Back, in particular, "came right up to us," she said.
The adoption was a result of a partnership between SMWC and Hulman George.
"It was a natural fit," said Tom Bozarth, who manages Hulman George's horse operations.
The aims are twofold: find good homes for the horses, and get them a second career, Bozarth said.
"These horses can go on and make somebody happy," he told the Tribune-Star.
If successful, other similar events may be organized in the future.
"I hope it's something that we can grow," Bozarth said.
Dottie King, SMWC president, said, "It is a win-win situation."
Equine students at SMWC benefited from the experience.
"It gives our students an opportunity to work with horses" they would not otherwise be able to work with, King said.
The "hands-on experience for the students" is valuable, said Angie McMillin, operations and stable manager. The students worked with the horses for six weeks. They taught "them a different way of life" as they transition "mentally" from being a race horse to a second career (such as jumper, hunter, etc.), McMillin said.
Every half hour, prospective adopters had an opportunity to see some of the horses walk, trot and canter. SMWC students did some warm ups with the horses before riding them.
One student, Anna Gaffney, rode three horses.
"They've been the greatest gift to me," she said of horses.
"Showing horses for me is the biggest adrenaline rush in the world," the long-time thoroughbred rider said.
The first horse she rode was 7-year-old Check in Advance, with whom she has developed an attachment.
Gaffney said she chose Check in Advance to work with in class because of its eyes.
"His eyes are his best quality. They're soft, kind, and they have a story to tell," she said.
And Gaffney has become part of that story.
In addition to feeding and grooming Check in Advance, she also trained it for the past few weeks.
"I wanted him to walk away from me a mentally sound horse and confident in himself," she said.
It also taught Gaffney a few life lessons including patience and assertiveness.
"Horses are very humbling. They have a very calming way of bringing us back to reality," she said.