Turfside Dining Room
Katie Larsen: Finding forever homes for racehorses
Katie Larsen is a familiar face on Fort Erie’s backstretch. On a typical morning, you will see her in the saddle breezing horses for upcoming race days at the border oval. In the afternoon, you might not see her, but she is hard at work connecting people with recently retired racehorses looking for homes through her organization, Southern Belle Thoroughbreds.
“My favourite part about what I do is seeing the horses thrive in their new careers. Horses have always been my passion, since I was a little girl. Having my hand in not only riding racehorses at the track, but also helping them find a new career after racing, is an overwhelmingly gratifying experience,” said Larsen, who started Southern Belle Thoroughbreds in 2017 at Fort Erie Race Track.
A horse lover at heart, Larsen has rehomed over 250 thoroughbreds to date. Over the last four years, Southern Belle Thoroughbreds has evolved not only through word of mouth and reputation, but also through social media. “I now have close to 6,000 followers on my social media platform and that number is growing every day.”
Once a thoroughbred is ready to hang up its racing plates, Larsen will post an ad on Facebook as well as Instagram and find the best possible home for the horse.
A great appreciation and understanding for these four legged-athletes, Larsen is fully aware that each horse is unique and will need to find the right home as they transition from racing to a new career.
“Thoroughbreds are a completely different beast; they have so much heart and talent.”
One such horse is Majestic Heist, who retired from racing last year. Majestic Heist ran 42 races, 16 of those races at the Fort and earned $69,000 over his five-year racing career. After saying goodbye to the border oval, Heist found a loving home with Alexa Kirkey.
Teaming up with Kirkey, the former racehorse and son of Majestic Warrior recently competed in the jumpers at an “A” show. Kirkey admits that she is impressed with the dark bay gelding’s transition into a new home and career. “He has been the absolute easiest horse I have ever owned. He learns quickly, and always tries his best,” said Alexa Kirkey.
Most recently, Majestic Heist has been off property schooling with Kirkey and showing off his athleticism in the 0.75 jumpers. After a recent show, the eight-year-old gelding pinned eighth in both classes out of 20 horses.
“You can truly feel how much he loves his job. After our first course he was practically trying to drag me back into the ring for more. This horse has a very promising career ahead of him in the jumper ring and we look forward to continuing his show career.”
Another former racehorse showing promise outside the racing world is Tizmatized.
Adopted through Southern Belle back in 2018, the gelding found a home with Terianne Tingely-Feetham and her daughter Kaycee. Tizzy, as he is affectionately known by his family has also transitioned into a career over fences. In 2019, he competed in the low jumpers at the Trillium shows on the south east circuit. Although the pandemic threw a wrench in last year’s show schedule, Tizzy has been flourishing with another young rider who is aspiring to do high level eventing with the former racehorse. According to Tingley-Feltham, Tizmatized and his young rider are attending clinics with Jen Hamilton and their goal is training level eventing by the end of this season.
While Southern Belle Thoroughbreds has its roots at the Fort, Larsen also helps re-home horses at Woodbine Racetrack. “I brought on a partner who gallops horses at Woodbine, Chelsea Clouter. She oversees the Woodbine rehoming market for Southern Belle and I base my services out of Fort Erie as I am here galloping on the grounds regularly,” said Larsen.
How has the re-homing market been affected since the pandemic started?
“COVID-19 did throw a curveball in our typical seasonal time line of thoroughbred adoption postings. Understandably with the uncertainty of a racing start date, we saw more trainers start to go the “re-homing route” earlier than anticipated with the horses who weren’t showing enough talent,” said Larsen.
While the season at Fort Erie forges on, Larsen continues to enjoy her time in the saddle working potential hopefuls for the afternoon racing cards. Yet, the exercise rider also remains keenly aware that every racehorse, whether successful or not at the track, will eventually need to move onto a new line of work.
“I love horse racing and I also have a deep respect for the sport horse world; being able to connect the two through my organization is what truly fulfills my soul. There is a very clear need for what we are doing here for these thoroughbreds in the racing industry and having the support of the trainers and owners who entrust me with their racehorses is the ultimate privilege.”
If someone is looking for a thoroughbred coming off the track they can find Southern Belle Thoroughbreds on Facebook and Instagram (southernbelle_thoroughbreds). Here is the link to their website as well: https://www.southernbellethoroughbreds.com/
First photo: Katie Larsen breezing a horse at the Fort. Photo credit: Mike and Laurie Langley
Second photo: Alexa Kirkey and Majestic Heist. Photo credit: Sunkist Media