LISBON — Tina Norris has spent most of her life around horses.
Norris, who grew up in Cedar Rapids, started riding when she was six, and had several friends who had horses. Her father also taught her about horse racing.
One fact she learned was that each year, about 31,000 thoroughbred horses are born, and of that number, only about 15 percent make it to a racetrack. The rest often are slaughtered.
“They don’t even really get a chance to make a career or transition into any kind of pleasure riding,” Norris said. Norris is now executive director of Unbridled Spirits Thoroughbred Retirement Ranch in Lisbon, founded in 2012, which gives retired racehorses a second shot at life. Each of the 16 horses there has a health issue or problem that prevents them from being trained for a purpose other than racing.
Thoroughbreds come to the ranch from across the country, Norris said. Each horse has a different background, origin and career status. When they first arrive, they are at first quarantined about a mile from the ranch.
“They get acclimated to a different life than what they’ve known and then they’ll slowly be introduced to the herd and taken down to the ranch,” she said.
The ranch operates through donations, Norris said. She is its only full-time employee. Student volunteers regularly spend time with the horses.
One of those volunteers is 14-year-old Reilly Gross, a student at Mount Vernon Middle School. She and other student volunteers groom the horses, ride them and help keep the stalls clean.
Reilly began volunteering at the ranch in August.
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“I just really like being with the horses,” she said. “They just have a calming way to me.”
Autumn Ralston, a 15-year-old student at Prairie High School, has been volunteering at the ranch for about a year. She, too, said she enjoys interacting with the horses and learning about their previous lifestyles.
“They don’t have such a good future after they’re done working, so to be able to help them just retire, that’s nice,” Ralston said.
On a recent afternoon, volunteer Richelle Brunner slowly brushed the hair of a horse named Bobby Kennedy, the ranch’s oldest horse. Bobby Kennedy, who is 28, transitioned through three careers, Norris said. The horse has stringhalt, a condition that affects the hind legs.
Brunner, who began volunteering in the summer, wanted to learn more about horses. She said Bobby Kennedy is her favorite. She plans to get her own horse in the future.
“The horses are really, really cute,” she said. “It’s just awesome.”
ON THE WEB
To learn more about Unbridled Spirits, go to facebook.com/unbridledspirits.