TAA Aftercare Partner Beyond the Wire Program Evokes a Sense of Community

Beyond the Wire's Jessica Hammond, photo - Jim McCue

Less than halfway into its third year, TAA aftercare partner Beyond the Wire is evolving into more than just a safe, reliable, and successful bridge to find and place retired Thoroughbreds into new homes.

Launched by the Maryland Jockey Club in conjunction with the 142nd Preakness Stakes (G1) in 2017, Beyond the Wire has developed a groundswell of support around the industry —from previous connections to the facilities where horses have gone and the people that got them there.

“It’s nice because we all keep in touch with each other. We call the facilities and we check on the horses and they tell us how they’re doing and then I forward the information to owners and trainers and have conversations as I’m setting up shipping,” Beyond the Wire program administrator Jessica Hammond said.

“There’s definitely a sense of community and it’s just a really positive thing to be a part of,” she added. “I think I have the best job in racing.”

Housing more than 100,000 horses within its borders, Maryland has more horses per square mile than any state in the country. Combined with a legacy that dates back to 1743 and counts Presidents George Washington and Andrew Jackson and Declaration of Independence signers William Paca and Charles Carroll among its past members, the MJC expanded the reach and responsibility to its horses with Beyond the Wire.

“It’s very important that horses find a forever home once they leave the racetrack,” said Georganne Hale, who monitors and leads philanthropic efforts as Vice President of Racing Development for the Maryland Jockey Club. “Beyond The Wire has done an incredible job working with horsemen across North America in making this happen. We are committed to making sure that every horse lives a happy, safe, and fulfilling life once their racing career is over. We have zero tolerance for anything short of that.”

To date, Beyond the Wire has retired more than 250 horses to various Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance-accredited facilities, including MidAtlantic Horse Rescue, Foxie G Foundation, New Vocations, Akindale Thoroughbred Rescue, After the Races, and Life Horse at Breezy Hill Stables.

Starting with two facilities at its founding, Beyond the Wire now works with eight TAA-accredited facilities spread out from upstate New York to South Carolina.

“I think the numbers speak for themselves. We’ve been in existence only two years and we’ve already retired about 225 horses through the program,” Hammond said. “It’s been very positive feedback from the owners and trainers, and people trust the program. So, even with other options available to retire horses they’re still choosing to retire them through Beyond the Wire because of the safety that using TAA facilities provides us. They’ll take back any of their horses at any time.

“It’s fantastic. First and foremost, I am a horse lover above all else. I love racing. I was an owner. I’ve been working in racing for years now, but before racing I am a horse lover,” she added.

“To see this program be so widely respected and used among our horsemen makes me feel fantastic and makes the board of Beyond the Wire very happy. This program was created to make sure we had safe and responsible retirement for all of our racehorses in our industry here and Maryland, and I think we’re accomplishing that.”

Recognizing its importance and impact in a relatively short time, the racing industry has embraced Beyond the Wire. A total of 16 veterinarians from the Maryland Veterinary Group, Racetrack Veterinary Associates, and Chesapeake Equine Veterinary Practice donate their time and services.

“When we first started, I came up with the name of one vet because he’s my personal vet and he works here at the racetrack. I thought, ‘OK, I’ll go talk to Nick Mettinis and I’ll see if he’d be willing to do these evaluations for us and donate them. Of course he said yes,” Hammond said. “Then I realized quickly as the program started gaining momentum that we were going to need more vets. It has now turned into literally every single vet at the track donates their services to do the evaluations. There’s no vet that practices at these racetracks that isn’t involved in Beyond the Wire.

“They do an initial evaluation of the horse with me to kind of give and overall picture of their health and physical condition. A lot of the times they provide X-rays that they’ve already taken,” she added. “If they need to take new X-rays, Beyond the Wire always offers to pay for them and none of the practices charge us. I have had a couple facilities after the fact that have gotten horses of ours that have contacted the vet directly because their phone number is listed on the paperwork, and they’re always happy to answer questions down the line if need be if it’s going to help the horse get them to where they need to be.”

Hammond also has high praise for Jodi Rauso and Jesse Purcell, who are contracted to transport horses donated to Beyond the Wire to their new homes.

“She is kind of in a funny way my right-hand woman. We have so many horses going through this program. I have horses leaving Laurel and Pimlico, sometimes more than one at a time, and it can be a little complicated to keep organized,” Hammond said. “Jodi and Jesse do discount their shipping for us.

“She helps keep the flow of horses moving out of the tracks to where they need to go, and she’s also another set of eyes to see the facilities when I’m not there,” she added. “I try to go and see all the facilities when they have fundraisers and activities so I know where I’m sending horses. They’re accredited by TAA, so I know they’re good places, but Jodi gets to see all the facilities weekly and report back to me how things are looking and how things are going.”

Beyond the Wire and the TAA are beneficiaries of America’s Best Racing’s annual Pre-Preakness Party, which brings together the racing and local communities. The always well-attended event has become regarded as the unofficial kickoff to various Preakness week festivities.

Most recently, seven Beyond the Wire graduates participated in the Retired Racehorse Project’s Thoroughbred Makeover at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington Oct. 2-5. The annual event features competition in disciplines such as barrel racing, dressage, show hunters and jumpers, field hunters, polo, eventing, ranch work and competitive trail riding. (Read more about the TAA grads at the 2019 edition)

“While I was there, in real time I’m texting and sending pictures to trainers of horses that they retired through the program so that they could see what they’re doing now, and it was a high being there,” Hammond said. “I get to see these horses when they’re 2- or 3-year-olds sometimes and they go off and fill out and they’re participating in these sports at an upper level.

“Then you communicate with the trainer or the owners and they’re so excited and then the shipper remembers shipping the horse and the vet remembers the horse from the track, so everybody is excited about where these horses are going and what they’re doing,” she added. “The donations to the program have picked up from owners, so I think that is indicative of people being pleased with where their horses are going and the program itself.”

The success of Beyond the Wire has its board actively discussing bringing more TAA-accredited facilities into its network as it looks to the future.

“We’re definitely working on expanding; we need more space. We have so many people using the program, and I don’t think we had a real way to predict how big the program would get and how frequently it would be used,” Hammond said. “We started out with two facilities. We now have eight, and we need more. Our last board meeting focused on how we were going to get more space and I’m sure that’s what our next board meeting will focus on as well, so that we can keep horses moving through quicker.”

Hammond is especially pleased with the inroads Beyond the Wire and similar organizations have made, both in the industry and with the general public.

“Aftercare is paramount in the survival of racing right now, and I have no problem with that. I think that it should be. Things have changed over the past 20 and 30 years but for our sport to continue on and to continue to be accepted by the mainstream, we have to show and prove that we are taking care of our horses,” Hammond said.

“Having programs like Beyond the Wire is one of the ways that we do that. We put lots of money and lots of effort and time into taking care of these horses, and that can be seen,” she said.

“They can count the numbers, they can look at our website and see how many horses we’ve run through this. I can’t stress enough how important aftercare is in racing now.”

Photo by Jim McCue/Maryland Jockey Club

Read more about Beyond the Wire in the BloodHorse Daily and in the annual TAA magazine.