By Jonathan Bergmueller
Photos by Kendra Tidd
An alumna gives back to the animals that have given so much to her
Hedy, a bay Thoroughbred from an impressive racing lineage, entered the world on March 18, 2010, at Adena Springs Stallions in Paris, Ky. Two years later, Kacie Oberholzer Bachman ’12 graduated from Wilson College with a double major in veterinary medical technology and equestrian studies. This is the story of how a racehorse at the end of her racing career was given a new start by an alumna with a passion for all things equine.
The Life of a Racehorse
As a foal, Hedy was destined for greatness. Her father, Touch Gold, was the winner of the Classic Belmont Stakes, while her mother, Salvadoria, was the offspring of Macho Uno, winner of the 2000 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.
Owners and breeders pin much of their hopes on good genes, so foals born from great bloodlines, such as Hedy’s, are expected to grow up to compete in races where millions of dollars could be on the line. Because of the finances involved, the pressure on breeders and trainers to produce successful horses is enormous. What many don’t consider is there is a lot of pressure on the horse too. A racehorse spends years training, exercising, building muscle and stamina, and eating a controlled diet. This exacting regimen is all for one goal — to race against competitors equally well-trained and prepared.
When Hedy reached her first birthday, her bloodline earned a bid of $40,000 at auction. After a further year of training, Hedy was auctioned off a second time for twice that. To put this in context, casual riding or companion horses are sold for a few hundred dollars at that age. As Hedy approached her third birthday, it was time for her to live up to the legacy of her parents.
However, on the racetrack, Hedy trotted along. She started six races, but from those, she only earned around $3,000. Imagine the disappointment of the investor who had paid $80,000 for her — not to mention the additional costs of training, boarding, and feeding her? Hedy’s owner permanently benched her.
Hedy’s involvement in the world of racing, however, did not end there. Her racing bloodline once again made her stand out from other horses that had not performed too well on the track. In 2014, Renee D. Nodine, VMD, purchased her as a broodmare — a female horse primarily used for breeding. Nodine kept her at Horseshoe Valley Equine Center in Annville, Pa., where she bore two foals: one in 2015 and another in 2016. When they tried to breed her again, fate had different plans. Hedy did become pregnant but miscarried. Nodine ran multiple diagnostic tests on her. Unfortunately, she couldn’t determine the cause of the miscarriage and decided it was best and safest for Hedy not to continue breeding her.
“It was time to find her a new home,” said Bachman, who works for Nodine as a veterinary technician.
Bachman also owns her own business, Bachman Equine, LLC, specializing in boarding mares in foal and rehabilitating horses — especially racehorses — and transitioning them from stressful careers on the racetrack to new ones. She decided to rehabilitate the horse and acquired her in 2018 when Hedy was about eight years old — less than a third of a typical horse’s lifespan.
Hedy’s final pregnancy had taken its toll on her. Bachman described her as having less muscle mass and fat than she should have had and said the horse was experiencing the equivalent of postpartum depression.
“I had to work on rebuilding some of her muscle mass and fat stores,” Bachman said. “[And] build her back to good condition.”
Hedy lived with Bachman at her farm for a year and a half, where she could rest, relax, and be pampered. The goal was to let her decompress and enjoy life as a horse with absolutely no job or expectations. Bachman groomed Hedy by brushing out her mane and picking dirt out of her feet daily and made her more comfortable with affectionate human contact to prepare her for a new owner.
In August of 2020, Emily Selvey of Prairie Fire Farms, Grantville, Pa., stopped by and decided to give Hedy a third, and hopefully final, job.
Selvey trains rehabilitated horses for different occupations depending on their temperament and physical condition. She keeps a horse for between two and six months before determining the best future for each animal. Some are adopted by families and spend their retirement as companion horses. Others start new lives as showjumpers, and some are trained to work with children, people with disabilities, or even veterans. Horses that are not suitable to be ridden again — because they have sustained injuries or are psychologically unsuited — Selvey offers them a retirement as part of a herd on her property with no expectations other than to be horses.
In addition to preparing retired racehorses for new homes, Selvey operates Reclaiming the Reins, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping veterans suffering with PTSD or traumatic brain injury (TBI). Through equine-assisted activities, the organization works to empower veterans to take charge of their futures by improving communication, self-awareness, trust, and interpersonal relationships.
Hedy has adapted well and is such a gentle and kind horse that she has begun a new career — she has been sponsored by a 12-year-old girl on a Winnie’s Way Scholarship. The girl will get to look after and ride Hedy on Selvey’s farm for the next year. Congratulations to both!
From Wilson to Horse Rescue and Rehabilitation
Hedy’s transformation from a racehorse to a companion horse ridden by a child is just one of Bachman’s many rehabilitation success stories. Today she is an enthusiastic rehabilitator and dedicated to continuing this important work because she sees horses as more familial creatures than just work animals or pets.
“These animals are our children,” Bachman said. “I look into their eyes. They have these big, brown liquidy eyes. They provide peace, and they trust you, and you can build this bond. They have their own personalities. I learn something from these animals every single day. They can communicate to us — [they are] a mirror to me, a mirror to my soul.”
Bachman’s journey to the world of racehorse rescue began on a small family farm in Greencastle, Pa. — 20 minutes south of Wilson College. There, her family raised horses, beef cattle, and other livestock. Her father was a self-employed auto mechanic, while her mother was a housewife who helped with the family business.
Bachman realized at an early age that her passion lay with animals — horses in particular. At the age of ten, Bachman attended the Roads Grove Horse Camp, a summer program where campers ride horseback into the mountains of the Cumberland Valley, from Michaux State Forest to Caledonia State Park. She recounted how they would ride horseback for days at a time and how much she loved the program — so much that she had to volunteer. She helped staff the camp all the way throughout high school. Additionally, late in high school, Bachman began working at the Greencastle Veterinary Hospital, which she continued throughout her education at Wilson College.
Bachman entered Wilson College with an appetite for anything related to caring for animals. Although she chose to major in veterinary medical technology, she soon decided she wanted to major in equestrian studies as well. She approached her academic advisor, Deb Austin, about her ambition.
“That’s gonna be a lot,” Austin told Bachman. “You’re probably going to do it in five years,” Austin warned. The typical B.A. takes four years.
Austin was right about one thing: It was a lot, according to Bachman. She took four to six classes a semester while continuing her job as a veterinary assistant from high school. Meanwhile, she stayed active in her church, completed riding lessons, and ended her college education in the standard four years with three minors to boot.
“I like to be busy,” Bachman exclaimed.
Wilson gave Bachman the opportunity to expand her husbandry skills. She spent most of her childhood learning about backyard horsemanship — preparing hay, doing physical labor, and taking care of the horses — from her mother, books, and YouTube videos. Typically, Bachman rode horseback in a bareback or western style.
However, at Wilson, she said there was a much more formalized education around horses, which truly expanded her horizons and diversified her range as a professional. She learned about veterinary care, how to ride in English style, and even participated in the dressage, drill, and eventing teams.
Bachman never participated in competitive horsemanship because horse shows often took place on Sundays. “We went to church on Sundays,” Bachman said. However, at Wilson, Bachman had a unique opportunity to expand that part of her professional talent. She would go on to travel to and ride horses at Cornell and Centenary schools, while she helped host shows at Wilson. These fundamental experiences were the basis for the core skillset Bachman would go on to use in her career.
Bachman attended the College when it was still a school for women. So, Bachman said she did not meet many men in her classes until her best friend introduced her to her brother. Stephanie Bachman (now Fleck) dragged her brother, Brad, down to Wilson to meet Bachman. They hit it off immediately and began a long-distance relationship.
Bachman would go on to graduate from Wilson College in 2012 with both majors and within four years, exceeding her advisor’s expectations. Additionally, she left the school with minors in history, Latin, and religion, and having completed a 240-hour internship with a British veterinary association while studying abroad.
“I really enjoyed my time at Wilson College. I’ve been really blessed,” Bachman said.
Wilson has a tradition where students assign “roles” to seniors, which are then posted across the campus’ cafeteria. “I was dubbed ‘the dreamer’ — the most likely to have her head up in the clouds,” Bachman explained. “I’m always the ‘go big or go home; I’m going to make this happen’ personality.”
And that’s what she did.
Up until around her junior year, Bachman planned to go on to become a veterinarian. She enjoyed the part-time job as a veterinary technician at Greencastle Veterinary Hospital. What she did not enjoy was having the responsibility of a veterinarian and making the “tough” decisions. She much preferred the hands-on care of animal patients. So, she decided she would be content being a veterinary technician and pursue her dream of keeping horses on the side.
She was fully aware that the biggest obstacle to owning horses was the expense. They live 20-30 years and need to be fed, vaccinated, shod, and more. It’s a huge commitment, and it is one that costs money. But horse husbandry was part of Bachman’s dream, so she had to figure out how to get there.
She crunched the numbers, did her homework, and passed the boards that certified her as a Certified Veterinary Technician. After college, she clinched a job at the veterinary practice, where she had been working throughout her schooling. On the side, she started boarding horses at her family’s farm in Greencastle.
“That was my first time in a horse business of my own, where I was bringing in money to pay for a hobby I loved. If I could make my hobby pay for itself, that would be awesome,” Bachman said. “Money isn’t the goal, but I need a bigger shovel to be able to dig myself out of the financial hole that horses could put me in.”
In the meantime, Brad proposed to Bachman in 2014. However, he had a job in Lancaster, and that was too long a commute from Greencastle. This meant Bachman had to give.
“In my life,” Bachman asked herself once more, “what do I want to do? How much money do I need to do the things I want to do?”
In 2014, Bachman earned an online master’s in business. She left her job as a veterinary technician to work at the Naval Depot in Mechanicsburg — a good deal closer to Brad’s workplace. Later she got a full-time position with the government, which allowed her to work four ten-hour days a week while living in Lebanon. This work flexibility allowed her to become involved in the equine world once more.
In 2015, Bachman started working, part-time, at Horseshoe Valley Equine — a horse-centered veterinary practice and a farm that boards mares in foal.
“It is very professional,” Bachman said of the practice. “I love working with them. We foal out about 18 mares every spring. Most will grow up to be racehorses and go to the Penn National Race Course or other racetracks across the country.” Some will go to Kentucky, while others will travel to Florida, New York, or Delaware.
“I never would have seen myself in the Thoroughbred world. You never know where life’s going to take you, and the opportunities are always endless,” Bachman said.
In 2016, Brad and Kacie Bachman bought several acres of land a few miles north of the racetrack with the idea of eventually boarding and breeding horses. Bachman renovated a barn and set up four stalls to house horses on the farm. In 2018, she opened her horse boarding business, and her first customers were owners of horses that came right off the track.
It was around that time that Bachman made a connection with the New Start program, an organization linked to the Penn National Race Course. New Start was created in 2013, and its mission is to work with foster farms to find qualified homes for horses that have been retired from racing at Penn National Race Course.
Because Thoroughbred horses are a very versatile breed, they can be sold or rehomed and can become anything from family pets to professional showjumpers. When Bachman receives horses from the racecourse, she has to allow them time to decompress. She compared racehorses to full-time athletes, who work at high intensity and in a fast-paced, busy setting. Horses, however, are not uniform creatures; some will have enjoyed the racing life and are being retired due to age or an injury. Meanwhile, others are being phased out because they like to go at their own pace. Bachman has to acclimate all those horses to a slower, calmer, and more relaxed life off the track.
“They are very well cared for and maintained at the track. These are prime athletes on high carbohydrate and protein diets,” Bachman said, drawing a comparison to full-time human athletes. “With a big life change like that (retiring from racing), you have to figure out how to bounce back.”
Bachman gives a lot of individualized attention to the horses she boards to help recondition them to life off the track.
“These are horses that sometimes need a soft landing for a couple of weeks until they can be rehomed,” Bachman said. “Our goal is to provide a safe environment, nutritious feed, and a steady hand, whether they are our own personal horses or a client’s horse.”
Since 2016, Bachman has had nine separate boarders, and most have been Thoroughbreds. Because some horses have stayed for extended periods (more than a year and a half), she has had to use her family farm down in Greencastle to host some and commutes between Greencastle and Lebanon to give the horses the care they need.
As ambitious as Bachman is for her career, she also places high importance on being a good citizen and maintaining a civic duty in whatever community she is part of. Advocacy for the humane treatment of horses is part of Bachman’s great passions. She is an active member of the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau and the Middle Creek Mounted Search and Rescue Team. She hopes to use the influence attained by growing her business to give back to horses — as she does through her rehabilitation work.
“I have the responsibility to give back and show good stewardship,” Bachman said. “As humans, we are called to be stewards over this earth and all the animals that dwell upon it, and we have a great responsibility to take care of that.”
Bachman hopes to continue giving back to the equine world, one horse at a time.
A New Start for Racehorses
Most racehorses end their careers on the track while still relatively young in horse terms — typically between five and nine. Some, especially the successful ones and those from prized bloodlines, may spend their retirements producing the next generation of racehorses. For many, however, retirement means finding a new career.
The aptly named New Start program is designed to help horses from the Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course make this transition.
New Start, created by the Pennsylvania Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association (PA HBPA) in 2013, is a rehoming program designed to pair ex-racehorses with new careers. Horses are donated to New Start, which first rehabilitates them to the slower pace of life outside the race track. Then, New Start pairs the horse with trainers to prepare them for showing, combined training, jumping, dressage, or being a companion horse.
“New Start’s mission is to place our racehorses, who have been retired from Penn National Race Course, with trusted foster farms who will then adopt out the horses to caring, knowledgeable horse people who can provide safe, enduring homes with suitable care, shelter and paddock space,” the program’s website reads.
According to Kacie Bachman ’12, who helps rehabilitate horses for New Start, the program is designed to give horses soft landings after the hustle-and-bustle of the Penn National Race Track. Bachman co-owns Bachman Farms, which is a foster farm for the New Start program.
To be eligible for the New Start program, the horse’s trainer must have made 50 percent or more of all North American starts at Hollywood Casino at the Penn National Race Course. Or, for horses with less than three-lifetime starts, they must have trained at Penn National with a minimum of three published works and must have received their gate card at Penn National. Horses with three to ten-lifetime starts must have made 70 percent or more of their lifetime starts at Penn National, while horses with more than ten-lifetime starts must have made a minimum of seven of their last ten starts at Penn National.
For more information about the New Start program, visit newstartforhorses.com.
Kill Pens: Horses Exported for Slaughter
Not all horses in this country have the soft landing Bachman provides when their work lives end. There is a dark side to horse ownership in this country too — horses exported to Mexico or Canada for slaughter.
Of the 9.2 million horses in the United States, the American Veterinary Medical Association says anywhere from 90,000- 130,000 are slaughtered each year. Rescue and rehabilitation facilities similar to Bachman’s do their part to save them, but nationally speaking, rescue facilities do not have enough capacity or resources to accommodate every unwanted horse. According to the Unwanted Horse Coalition, in 2009, 39% of rescue facilities were at maximum capacity and were, on average, turning away 38% of horses.
Many things can place a horse into the unwanted category and vulnerable to being sold to meat buyers. Many are old and sick or have been severely injured and cannot work anymore. Others become too expensive for their owners to keep, and these owners may unknowingly sell them to these buyers.
“The pain point for everybody is the slaughter issue,” Bachman explained. “A lot of horses end up in what we call a ‘kill pen’ and get picked up by a meat buyer for $400-500.”
Animal rights activists successfully campaigned for legislation to end horse slaughter in the United States. However, their success had unforeseen consequences. The slaughter operations simply moved to Canada or Mexico, where killing horses for meat or other byproducts is legal. Now, the buyers purchase horses in the United States and house them at facilities known as kill pens before shipping them across the border.
Ashley Francese, a saddle fitter and riding instructor at Smart Saddle Fit, described these kill pens as cramped and grim places, where horses are crowded together and given little in the way of food and water. From there, horses are transported via cramped trailers to slaughterhouses in Canada or Mexico.
Francese says race tracks, such as Penn National, go to great lengths to prevent their horses from ending up in these conditions. Oftentimes they will give away horses for free; alternatively, they will send them to rehabilitation programs such as New Start. However, just because a horse is saved from a kill pen once does not mean it has escaped slaughter forever. Horses may be passed from one owner to another a few times before ending up in a kill pen.
Bachman weighed in and said these horses are in transit for around 24 hours at a time without breaks, food, or water. “A lot will stagger off the trailer with wounds and gashes,” she said. “It is really inhumane this loophole has developed. We have no control or regulation over that.”
“Rescue and rehoming is preferable to euthanasia,” Bachman said. “We need to make sure there are laws in place to prevent this, and we need to make sure when we can’t rehome or rescue or rehabilitate, that we have acceptable methods of euthanasia.”