Thoroughbreds taking it easy at Montpelier

There are currently 41 Thoroughbreds in residence at James Madison's Montpelier. They are now under the care of a new local organization, the Virginia Thoroughbred Project. 

Forty-one retired racehorses are not leaving James Madison’s Montpelier after all.

That’s the happy news coming from the Montpelier Foundation and a new organization called the Virginia Thoroughbred Project (VTP), which is picking up where the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation (TRF) left off.

Montpelier announced in May that it was parting ways with TRF, a national organization that, at the time, oversaw 18 sanctuaries for 650 off-the-track Thoroughbreds across the country.

The cancellation of TRF’s lease at Montpelier came as a result of a breakdown in the relationship between TRF and its local board of directors. TRF had run the 150-acre horse haven at Montpelier since 2003.

Local TRF staff and volunteers helping with the horses had until Nov. 6 to get the animals off the property, although Montpelier indicated it would be open to the creation of a locally run and locally supported nonprofit haven.

Several members of the disbanded local board, led by Sue Hart, began working toward a solution to the problem. One backup plan was to disperse the horses to TRF’s other facilities.

In the end, however, the horses got to stay home.

“We are delighted that the horses, many of whom are advanced in age, are able to remain on the grounds of Montpelier, where they have resided for a number of years,” said Hart, chair of the VTP board of directors, in a formal announcement.

“The staff, under the leadership of farm manager, Crystal Wever, has been together for several years and has a solid, well-established and cooperative working relationship. We are pleased that they will continue as a unit under the newly formed VTP. Additionally, the new board includes several directors who have experience in the care of retired Thoroughbreds and will bring a great deal of expertise to this new endeavor,” she said.

Doug Trout, interim president of Montpelier, expressed his satisfaction that the horses will be staying on the property. “We’re very happy on all fronts. We’ve had great cooperation from all of the entities and are looking forward to a very good relationship with the VTP and are most happy for the horses.”

Hart credited Montpelier for its willingness to accept donations earmarked for VTP until the new organization has finished filing the paperwork necessary to qualify as a nonprofit group.

“This assistance has been instrumental in our ability to form the new foundation,” she said. “Without the help of Montpelier’s senior management and the mentoring of former Montpelier board member Arthur Bryant, who has acted as a liaison during the past few months, this project might have not reached fruition. The VTP board and staff are grateful for their unwavering assistance during the months involved in establishing a new entity.”

VTP will hold a public fund-raising event in the spring of 2020, with proceeds benefiting the horses. For more information or to make a donation, contact Sue Hart at

Hilary Holladay covers education and politics for the Orange County Review. The author of five books, she is currently writing a biography of the poet Adrienne Rich.

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