Every Friday, Horse Nation teams up with Ovation Riding to spotlight an individual or organization doing good work in the horse industry. Today, we’re recognizing CANTER Illinois.
The Communication Alliance to Network Thoroughbred Ex-Racehorses, or CANTER, is a Thoroughbred placement organization with multiple affiliates all over the country. CANTER Illinois was nominated for a Standing Ovation by reader Caroline Peppe:
I found my TB Six Gun Royal through their trainer listing, and I couldn’t be happier with him. I spent many months looking for my next horse and they were always up for talking over bringing home and OTTB as I hadn’t ever brought a TB home directly from the track. We discussed many different horses over the months who I looked at, they gave my recommendations for vets and shippers when I needed them. If I ever have a question or query they are always there. They even have a group on FB for all the people who have Canter Illinois horses to stay connected and talk about their horses. If I am ever looking for another TB I would hope to bring another CI horse home and I hope Jodi [Ladner] and Aletta [Martin] can come see the horse they helped place compete in KY in the Retired Racehorse Makeover Project, as Six Gun and I were accepted to this year’s makeover.
We spoke with executive directors Jodi Ladner and Aletta Martin about CANTER Illinois.
What is CANTER Illinois’ mission statement?
CANTER USA’s published and official Mission Statement is “CANTER is dedicated to providing Thoroughbred ex-racehorses the opportunity for a new life, home and career through rehabilitation, retraining and rehoming.” Although broad, these words encapsulate what it is that we at CANTER Illinois are trying to accomplish overall.
Can you describe the scope of your work?
Our roles as Co-Executive directors of CANTER Illinois are multi-faceted and change from day-to-day and from horse-to-horse. Generally speaking, we are the bridge between the backside trainers and buying public. However, sometimes this role expands or contracts based on the unique needs of the buyer or seller.
Because we are so small, pretty much everything you can think of when it comes to running a small 501(c)3 non-profit falls into our laps. Besides the obvious roles of semi-professional still and motion photographers, we also must dabble in accounting, we have learned IRS rules and how to issue tax receipts, we run marketing and social media campaigns and have had to learn WordPress and web-design and management.
As it relates to horses, CANTER Illinois has two programs, the first being the Owner/Trainer Listings that you see on our website and social media outlets. We visit the backside weekly, networking with trainers and owners. We spend time explaining the CANTER program to them, how it works and how we can help them. There are still people who aren’t exactly sure what we do and how it works, and we are happy to talk with them and help them find excellent homes for their horses post-racing.
For Owner/Trainer Listings, we take photos and videos of the thoroughbreds (and sometimes racetrack pony horses, Quarter horse racehorses, and even a donkey once) that are retiring from racing and post them to canterusa.org/illinois and to our social media outlets, most notably Facebook and Instagram for the buying public to see. Often buyers will message us with questions and to ask for assistance, which we area always happy to do.
Occasionally a trainer/owner will have a horse that they would like to surrender to CANTER to join our Phase 2 (Rehab, ReTrain, ReHome) program. From time to time, funding permitting, we will accept suitable horses into our Phase 2 program. These horses receive rehab, retraining and are rehomed into CANTER approved homes with Lifetime Conditional Bills of Sale.
How did you get started with CANTER Illinois?
Several years ago, Jodi found a big grey thoroughbred gelding advertised on Craigslist. He was at the racetrack, and being a bit intimidated, she asked her friend Aletta, whom she had just met at their youngest children’s preschool, if she’d be willing to go with her. Together, they went to see the gelding and saw first-hand the sheer number of horses living on the backside of Fairmount Park Race Track, which can be almost a thousand horses at any one time. Upon learning that there were NO aftercare placement agencies active at Fairmount Park, Jodi and Aletta started CANTER Illinois, which had been dormant for many years.
We had no idea what we were doing when we started, but we knew the first priority was to win the trust of the trainers & owners. We accomplished this by being present, transparent and successful so that the trainers & owners would share those successes with each other. We walked the backside week after week introducing ourselves and sharing with them what CANTER could do for them. Many weren’t sure that we could be trusted, or that our intentions were good, but eventually our hard work won and we have now helped to rehome over 500 retiring thoroughbreds.
How does CANTER Illinois operate, and how is it funded?
CANTER Illinois is 100% volunteer operated. CANTER Illinois is 100% funded by donations from buyers, owners, trainers and the general public. We are having our biggest fundraiser to date on Saturday August 26th — we are holding a Charity polo match with St. Louis Charity Polo at Southern Springs Polo Club in Eureka, Missouri! Please come out and join us.
If there was one thing you wish people knew about the work you were doing, what would it be?
A few things actually…. first, we wish people knew how time consuming the work actually is. Most people would be shocked at how all-consuming it is! Between the track visits and the website and social media work, it can take hours to get each horse listed for sale. But we love the work and will continue to do it for as long as there is a need. We spend from 10-40 hours a week running CANTER Illinois.
Secondly, it’s also important for people to know that CANTER is not a rescue. Most horses at the racetrack are very well-cared for, loved and pampered. And more importantly, most racehorses are not ”hot, crazy thoroughbreds.” Most of them are lovely, well-mannered horses who are eager to please.
Lastly, it’s important for people to know how challenging it is for us to raise money. They say that the most competitive business out there is the non-profit race to secure each donated dollar, and this has been our experience. Although we have thousands of Facebook “likes”, we have found that interest does not translate into donations. Our ability to help more horses is hindered by our lack of funding. All donations all fully tax-deductible and 100% of donations go to horses, as we are all volunteers.
Many thanks thanks to Ovation Riding for their support of both Horse Nation and individuals and organizations that are doing good work in the horse world. If you know someone who deserves a Standing Ovation, we would love to recognize them in a future post. Email the name of the person or organization along with a message about the good work they do to firstname.lastname@example.org. Photos/videos are always welcome, and include a link to their website if applicable.