For Elizabeth Macdonald, life is good. She has turned a dream, nourished since childhood in Chapel Hill, into reality on her horse farm in Caswell County.
She has carried a passion for thoroughbred horses, unusual dogs and old houses for most of her 58 years. Now she possesses all three.
After a career as an art director in New York City, she returned to her roots in North Carolina and lives on 200 acres in the rural community of Blanch, 75 miles northwest of Raleigh. She shares her 18th century plantation home known as Melrose with her husband and a blue tick and a red tick coonhound.
Former race horses graze in pastures on both sides of the long drive shaded by oaks at Melrose. Macdonald saved these horses from slaughter after they were injured or didnt muster enough speed to make the big time.
Through her involvement with two horse rescue groups, Macdonald has placed 255 horses in new homes. She serves as executive director of Blue Blood Thoroughbred Adoption and Placement, a nonprofit organization that reaches horse lovers across the United States.
We take horses mostly from the Northeastern tracks, but we will take any race horse in need of a new career, she said.
Potential adopters must supply references and visit the farm to determine if they are a proper fit.
Every horse goes for a 30 day trial period, Macdonald said. If it is not a good fit, the horse comes back with no questions asked.
An adoption fee ranging from $750 to $950, based on the horses age, training potential, attitude and conformation is required. A $2,500 fee also is required from the person who places a horse with BB for adoption. This money is used to help maintain the horses. BB is a volunteer organization with no paid workers.
Macdonald, who fox hunts, rides each horse numerous times to evaluate its potential.
Weve placed horses for polo, dressage, fox hunting, eventing, trail riding, show jumping and Western pleasure riding, she said. Most of the horses will do anything you ask them to do. Weve placed horses with every age group, even an 80-year-old man, a long-time fox hunter, who has been around thoroughbreds his whole life.
We can keep as many as 30 horses comfortably on the farm, Macdonald said. They all live outside in pastures which have run-in sheds with water and hay. Theyre much healthier if they live outside rather than in a stall.
Macdonald draws volunteers from Averett University in Danville, Va., which maintains an equine facility in Caswell County for students in its equestrian studies program. Courses in retraining race horses will be offered at Mcdonalds farm this fall.
Estimates of the number of horses annually going to slaughter are in the thousands. Macdonald said only 2 percent of the 30,000 race horses bred annually have a chance to be winners. Even famous race horses such as Ferdinand, winner of the 1986 Kentucky Derby and the 1987 Breeders Cup, went to slaughter after failing to sire winning foals.
On the other hand, many failed race horses have a full life because of Macdonald and BB. The groups mantra is From starting gate to starting over.
Kellie Cochran, a Duke medical researcher who lives in Johnston County, has ridden her adopted horse to a grand championship over fences. The horse left the race world after a tendon problem.
Our most enjoyable outings have been on the trail, far from the confines of the arena, Cochran said. Louie is quite brave, and we venture out regularly by ourselves and have a grand time. He doesnt even mind when I ride him bareback, which most horses wont tolerate.
Renee Spaugh, a Realtor living near Charlotte, adopted a 13-year-old from BB after he bowed a tendon before ever racing. He now participates in fox hunting, dressage and jumping.
I got him home, and he settled right in and the first time I got on him he was just dead quiet and acted like Id ridden him all his life, Spaugh said. He is such an outstanding boy with a great mind and incredibly handsome, too.
Delores Kohut, a dressage rider living in southern Virginia, also adopted a lame horse that has grown in great strides.
I feel like a little kid opening up a present, she said. I just keep getting more surprises every ride on just what this horse can do This horse, every day, is a great experience .
Cymry Flood, a student at Elon University, adopted a red-headed mare she describes as sassy and bold. Her horse completed only four races before an injury ended her career.
Over the next three years we have made slow but steady progress and have formed a solid partnership centered on respect and hard work, Flood said. I was not in a rush to get into the show ring. Instead, I wanted to establish solid basics I could build on and a trusting partnership .
Not all the horses placed with Macdonald find homes, but they live out their lives on her farm.
We do have horses that cant be placed, she said. When we do, we raise money for their upkeep through sponsorships.