2022 has been a very exciting year for us filled with ups, downs, and pivots. We bought the new farm in Kentucky this summer, Dyana retired from racing, we began the process for establishing Mareworthy Charities as a 501c3 organization, and we added three more mares, two donkeys, and one deaf puppy to the family.
With all the changes in 2022, we are even more excited for the future of Mareworthy and our little farm. Our experience breeding and racing Dyana taught us a lot, and now we get to take the lessons we've learned and build an even more exciting future. We look forward to remaining transparent about our experiences, and we will always keep equine welfare and education at the forefront of every decision we make.
Abraham Lincoln famously said, "The best way to predict your future is to create it," and that is exactly what we intend to do. We are dedicated to fulfilling our mission of ensuring all retired Thoroughbred broodmares and warhorse mares are protected from suffering and cruelty. Sean and I put a lot of research and thought into our decision to breed again next year, and we decided it was the right decision as part of our mission as ambassadors for Thoroughbred mares and the future we are creating for Mareworthy Charities.
How many mares should we breed in 2023?
With the purchase of Abastada and Empress Luciana at the Keeneland November sale and Dyana's retirement from racing, our broodmare options went from a single mare - Lady Macjazz - to four eligible broodmares. That meant the first decision we had to make was whether we are going to breed one or all four.
Some photos of Dyana for consideration of her conformation and how it will pair with a stallion.
Step 1: Should you breed your mare?
I have a mare, so that means I am obligated to breed her, right? HELL NO!!!!
It should come as no surprise that I have decided to breed Lady Dyanaformer in 2023, but before we get too far into this adventure I wanted to give a strongly worded warning about breeding. This is definitely NOT a decision to take lightly, and if you're considering it I highly recommend doing LOTS and LOTS of homework and thinking it over at length - I have experience breeding and have been contemplating this decision and continually educating myself ever since I first decided to breed Dyana's dam, Lady Macjazz back in 2017. The decision to breed your mare will not only be very costly but it also can be very risky, so it should never be taken lightly.
First and most importantly, TALK TO YOUR VET! Then seek out experienced breeders - not ones that have only bred a handful of horses but ones who have a strong professional reputation and a history of breeding foals that become successful athletes. If you're only breeding for temperament, reconsider your decision. You cannot guarantee anything about a foal, but you can confidently assess the temperament of a horse that is already alive and waiting to meet you. While I obviously take temperament into equal consideration with athleticism, I would never breed a horse strictly for her personality. It's important to assess health, conformation, pedigree and temperament equally.
In addition to speaking with your vet and professional breeders, I also recommend taking lots of time to research reliable sources such as this article from TheHorse.com
“Foals are cute and majestic, but foals will cost you $15,000-20,000 before you even know if they’re an athlete,” Espy says. “If you know the foal will be worth more than $15,000, then great. But if you’re looking for a $5,000 trail horse or kid-friendly horse, then you might want to go buy a 7-year-old gelding that has proven he’s got what it takes.”
Step 2: Goals for the Foal
Follow along as Dyana and I work through my proven 4 C's Training Model: Consideration - Communication - Connection - Confidence
Lady Dyanaformer, commonly known as Dyana, is my homebred filly who went on to be my very first racehorse. After working to help transition more than 100 off track Thoroughbreds FROM racing in my career, I decided to transition in the opposite direction of my horses and go INTO racing for several reasons. Primarily, I wanted to share the good I have seen in racing, but I also wanted to be involved firsthand so that I could better understand the language Thoroughbreds learn during their racing careers. I also firmly believe that you can never truly impact change without having personal experience and walking alongside the people (and horses) you want to support or influence to change.
After taking a very slow and thoughtful approach to Dyana's training and care, she ran her first race on June 15, 2021 at Belterra Park in Cincinnati. She won that first race quite impressively, and I was regularly reminded that a horse winning on her first try is the exception more than the rule - let alone a first time breeder who is also a first time owner. We were all very blessed and excited for Dyana's future as a racehorse.
I often hear that horse racing is unethical because it's all about money and making people rich, so I thought I'd do a fully transparent deep dive into the 2021 finances for Lady Dyanaformer to expose the real profits of horse racing.
For starters, it's important to point out that Dyana ran her first ever races in 2021, so it also was her first chance at making any money. There were obviously expenses in the years since she was born in 2018 that increased when she went into full-time training in June of 2020, but I'm only going to share the expenses from 2021 to show a full calendar year profit and loss.
Additionally, it's important to note that Dyana finished 2021 with a Starts Percentile Ranking (SPR) of 87. Dyana's SPR of 87 means her average earnings per start were greater than 87% of ALL 3-year-old Thoroughbred fillies in North America registered with The Jockey Club who raced in 2021. To calculate a horse's SPR, the horse's average earnings per start are compared to the average earnings per start of like horses (i.e. same sex, age and year(s) record). That means only 13% of 3-year-old female horses in North America earned more per race than Dyana in 2021 with the other 87% earning less per race.
Certainly we got very rich in 2021 having such a talented filly, so, here are the numbers....
This is not the post I planned as the first for the Mareworthy blog, but when does anything involving horses ever truly go to plan. No matter how hard you work to care for these magnificent creatures, they always seem to work even harder to teach you lessons about patience, hope, vulnerability, and resilience.
I am rarely at a loss for words, but I am finding it hard to express myself right now while I sit on a plane in the process of flying over 2,000 miles away from Dyana instead of being where I really want to be – in her stall telling her it will all be okay…correction, telling MYSELF it will all be okay. Instead it’s well after midnight and I’m sitting on a plane for another work trip crying in the dark about the punch in the gut I received today.
My baby girl needs surgery, and I won’t be there for it.
My heart hurts. I’m feeling sorry for myself. I’m feeling unnecessarily guilty. I’m afraid. I am anxious to read the comments from people judging me and unjustly accusing me of doing something wrong. But I will not let fear dictate my next steps. I need to be honest and vulnerable. I need to be proud that I always put my horses first. I need to know that Dyana getting injured was outside my control, and I need to know that the future is not defined by one day. I need to be patient for what is yet to come because maybe my sincerity is what someone else needs to read.
The future is defined by a collection of experiences and lessons – both joyous and painful.
In October 2015 I was in a similar situation scared about Freja and feeling sorry for myself about missing the Makeover so close to departure due to a minor injury. I had planned and prepared so hard for that Makeover, but it wasn’t meant to be and that’s okay. Freja healed and went on to give me a bigger prize than I ever could have won at the Makeover. She gave me the most beautiful, tenacious, affectionate (if she trusts you), powerful, dynamic filly I could ever want.
In my mind Dyana truly is Wonder Woman; she’s never supposed to get hurt. She’s always supposed to win, and I will never stop beaming with pride every time I see her. Dyana is so many firsts for me. She is my first homebred, my first racehorse, my first winning racehorse, and my first horse to go into surgery. In my perfect plan Dyana was supposed to be invincible and win more money to keep building for the dream of opening the Mareworthy Sanctuary for warhorse mares and broodmares in need. Of course that dream will still happen, but I’m a control freak who doesn’t like detours or traffic jams, so it’s taking me a little while to process that I may have to wait a little longer.
When Dyana won her first start, I immediately began planning for how her winnings would fund the Mareworthy Sanctuary. I jumped at the opportunity to take Secret Paradise from Caribbean Thoroughbred Aftercare to join Worthy as the “co-founders” of the sanctuary, and I began an aggressive Zillow search for the perfect farm in Kentucky. Did I put the cart before the horse a little? Yup. Do I regret that? A little. Am I adjusting course? Most certainly. Am I giving up? Hell no!
Of course I had hoped that Dyana would win another $20,000 (or more) this year to help kickstart the legal process for setting up the 501c3 and producing a beautiful explainer video to launch a Kickstarter campaign, and now it’s very unlikely Dyana will have any more races this year.
But that’s not what’s important. What IS important is that we discovered what was causing her mystery lameness, and it’s a VERY routine surgery being completed by one of the best equine surgeons in the country.
When Dyana’s ankle swelled a few weeks ago we jumped straight into cautionary diagnostic mode. She stopped training and was limited to hand walks. Initial x-rays and ultrasound revealed everything was normal, and the effusion resolved so we slowly started her back into work with easy jogs. She started improving but more slowly than we liked and something still had her trainer and me scratching our heads. Instead of blazing forward we decided to schedule an appointment for her at Kentucky Equine Hospital to see Dr. Wes Sutter for a lameness exam. Going into that exam I was working under the hopeful hypothesis she had simply bruised the ankle banging it in her stall and it was just taking longer to heal – as is typical for her. I kept a positive outlook that what we would find would be something simple that wouldn’t require surgery. Well, I was partially correct. The solution is relatively simple and routine but it is surgery.
After doing multiple nerve blocks to isolate the source of the lameness, Dr. Sutter narrowed it down to her front left fetlock. His team took new x-rays of the ankle, and it revealed a chip. Now at this point I could waste energy trying to figure out how it was missed on the previous x-rays or try to determine if it actually wasn’t there a month ago, but that won’t solve anything. So, instead, knowing I had to board a plane to leave Louisville in only 2 hours, I avoided hesitation and decisively agreed to Dr. Sutter’s suggestion to surgically remove the chip. Other options would be to give it time and hope it heals on its own, but surgery gives Dyana the best chance at a full recovery in the shortest time possible. Surgery should remove the source of the pain so she can experience relief sooner, and making my horses thrive is always more important than having them simply survive.
So I called her trainer to let him know the update and said goodbye to Dyana to rush to the airport. On my first flight from Louisville to Minneapolis, I felt sorry for myself. Then at the Minneapolis airport on my layover I aggressively Googled “fetlock chip surgery recovery” while sitting at the wine bar. And now I’m working to fight back tears on an airplane headed to Portland.
On Wednesday morning Dyana will undergo arthroscopic surgery, and if all goes as expected she will be back in her stall at High Pointe by Wednesday evening for the beginning of her recovery and rehab. Thankfully since I flew out of Louisville that means I will also be flying back into Louisville on my way back home to Ohio at the end of the week, so I will be able to see Dyana Saturday morning.
It's now Tuesday afternoon, and I have had 24 hours to process everything, and here is what I hope you will take from this post. We often project our hopes and expectations onto our horses. We have dreams of ribbons and trail rides and winner's circle photos. Our horses are happy to oblige and many of them even thrive helping us fulfill those dreams. Our horses don't feel regret for coming in second place or even last, but they do rely on us to always put them first. They need us to be their voices, and they need us to be patient and never greedy.
I can admit that when Dyana won her first race I added more weight to her back. I unfairly put the weight of financially supporting as many mares in need on her back. She is my Wonder Woman, but she still needs me in her corner. I got greedy. I expected her to perform without missing a step. I got disappointed when she came in third in The Cincinnatian. I felt regret because I expected her to support my dream for the Mareworthy Sanctuary, and that was wrong no matter how good my intentions.
This injury is a much-needed reminder that each day is precious. I can plan for the future all I want, but I have to be content in the here and now. I have to listen to my horses. I have to prioritize the qualities or abilities that merit recognition and acceptance by a female horse - I have to be mareworthy.
Being mareworthy means I collaborate more than I command. Being mareworthy means I defend my herd. Being mareworthy means I am not afraid to be labeled sensitive. Being mareworthy means you can always count on me to have your back if you've earned my trust. Being mareworthy means I value community, companionship, and simply being silent in the pasture (or stall) in awe of the fact that I have a relationship with a half-ton being who could carry me into battle but still depends on me to treat the tiniest cuts.
I want Mareworthy to become a brand that exemplifies qualities of community, genuineness, and trust, and I want the Mareworthy Sanctuary to become more than just a location. I want it to be a way to create safe spaces for horses but also a virtual community that provides sanctuary and support to humans in need.
I have been so blessed by everyone who has banded behind me to support Dyana since before she was even born, and I am so glad to know that same community will still be there to help make the Mareworthy Sanctuary a reality without putting the full weight of that responsibility on Dyana’s back to carry. If you'd like to help support my dream for a sanctuary dedicated to OTTB warhorse mares and retired broodmares, please reach out and stay tuned for more details about ways you can help support the mission of this dream.
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Mareworthy Charities is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Its tax identification number is 88-4420958
Kyle Rothfus (aka Kyle the OTTB Mare Guy)