Old Friends Home for Retired Racehorses

It is well-documented that many racehorses end up at slaughter auctions within a week of their last race. ASPCA

The Thoroughbred-racing industry sends an estimated 10,000 horses to slaughter annually. PETA

I went to the farm of retired racehorses, 
long necks reaching over the
planks to snap at the air, or cribbing 
at their fences with long hot faces, graceful, 
tired, and irritable in the June-hot summer. 
I walked into the fields, feeling
shy as the youngest boy in our group, 
only four-foot-tall and urged by his dad 
to hold the carrots out in his 
shaking flat hand—loving in spite 
of myself his fat dad, in army pants 
and impenetrable shades, for the way he 
stroked their faces, stood up to them when 
no else would, suggesting a life lived 
with animals, confident and exact,
like a man surprising his wife, asking
her, after decades, to dance. 

I went to the farm of retired racehorses,
listening as the guide told us of how
they’d been kept in stalls twenty-two hours per 
day so they’d confuse speed with freedom
as they bolted down the track—how, 
no longer able to race, they’d been                                                    
sold for slaughter, then saved 
by a journalist from Boston who had 
an idea: to give them these green-
brown fields, this long afternoon. 

I went to the farm of retired racehorses, 
and was glad I had come, loving how 
I’m Charismatic leads blind and biting
Rapid Redux to feed, how violent Amazombie
is given two goats like two wives to 
shush and calm him, to precede
like an honor guard as he steps from the 
truck, how Silver Charm—their most 
famous horse—runs up to the fence with 
a halt and flourish to greet us, like a boy 
on a motorcycle showing his skill, 
or a freedom fighter after liberating his 
people, torn still between strife and this 
moment in which he can’t quite believe 
this sighing in the grass and nothing to do,
his shadow stretched thin and riderless.

Georgetown, Kentucky

ADAM SCHEFFLER grew up in California, received his MFA in poetry from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and his PhD in English from Harvard. His first book of poems, A Dog’s Life, was selected by Denise Duhamel as the winner of the 2016 Jacar Press Book Contest. His poems have appeared in or are forthcoming from The Yale Review, The American Poetry Review, The Cincinnati Review, Rattle, Plume, Barrow Street, Antioch Review, Sewanee Review, Verse Daily, and Academy of American Poets Poem-a-Day. He teaches in the Harvard College Writing Program. You can find him at adamscheffler.com