by Victoria M. Howard
There are many organizations whose goal is to help horses. Fortunately, for the horses of harness racing there is the Standardbred Retirement Foundation. The oldest standardbred rescue group, SRF gives horses dignity and a chance beyond the oval.
The angels that are responsible for this award-winning, wonderful organization are two women named Paula Campbell and Judith Bokman. Both ladies are no strangers to the sport. Paula’s husband is John Campbell, one of harness racing’s top drivers; and Judith’s husband is equine veterinarian Dr. Bokman.
“In 1988, Paula and I had a one-minute conversation that led to the birth of SRF. It was the first time we ever met, but we both had the same goal: to help these horses. SRF is the only standardbred-specific organization that has 190 retirees under its care and nearly 400 trotters and pacers under its expense. How it differs from other organizations is that SRF actually protects every horse for life. It never relinquishes ownership, so if an adopter can no longer provide good care, the horse must be returned to SRF. It also follows up semi-annually for the life of each horse, requiring a report from the veterinarian.
“We recently had a case, a horse named Letter Kenny Lad N, came back to us from a therapy program. He was a 32-year-old senior. Had we left it to the adopter to move the horse on, where would he be?
“Relinquishing these horses defeats the good use of support from donors and puts these horses at risk. It makes no sense. In our care, Kenny lived another year and today he is pain-free living in peace, racing his friends up there.”
Judith rode horses as a young girl every Sunday on the beach. After graduating from college with a Bachelor’s degree in Education, she worked as an international flight attendant. That is about the time she met Paula and together they founded SRF.
Judith owned a racehorse at one time, but when she was forced to race him in claiming races that was enough for her. She put a saddle on the New Zealand-bred pacer while he was still racing and found the perfect horse.
“At SRF we have two adoption coordinators, one herd manager, one caretaker, one fundraiser, a part-time social media and graphic designer, and a part-time bookkeeper. Remember, we manage 400 horses, and follow up on thousands,” Judith said.
“I oversee the staff, help in fundraising, compliance with the state and federal government, the budget, consult on all issues of managing the large herd, and the semi-annual follow up. I am the ‘go to’ person for all medical issues as there are problems after problems with lameness, shipping, quarantine, non-compliance by adopters… and the list goes on and on.
“Our biggest hurdles are fundraising and horse management. Fundraising is extremely difficult and the cost of care, training, veterinarian and blacksmith expenses, the adoption, and the follow-up process are great. Think about what it would cost a day to care for 400 in a racing stable? SRF has no endowment and no farm. There are no government grants and no harness racing grants. SRF’s funding comes primarily from donations, kind hearts, the general horse loving public and folks who have owned racehorses or still do and step up to help.”
At SRF, there is no special preference on the care one horse gets over another. They are all treated and cared for equally.
SRF has had the Hambletonian winner Shiaway St. Pat and still has Swinging Glory, and many more. But they are all special to this wonderful program — no matter their pedigree, age, sex, etc.
“The worst part of my job is seeing so many racehorses crammed in kill pens,” Judith said. “People think selling to dealers who come to the tracks and training centers and turn around and sell to rural communities is a good thing. I say, ‘Come to SRF and see the abuse and neglect these horses have endured there, and that’s if they didn’t already run through the livestock sale and ship for slaughter.’
“We get a great many of these trotters and see only about one per cent in adequate condition. The others are emaciated, have suspensories dragging, are sick, their feet and teeth have been neglected and much more. I am at the point where I can deal with humane euthanasia, rather then see them suffer.
“Working with SRF I have met the worst and greatest people. Our donors touch me for they are so special. Our foster homes are fabulous and we are lucky to have so many wonderful adopters. When we get an abuse or neglect case I hear the staff whisper some tough language, but there are other days where the ‘oohs and ahhs’ are tremendous. These horses touch and change a lot of lives. It’s so sweet.”
*To make a tax-deductible donation to SRF, please contact:
Judith Bokman at 609-738-3255 or go to AdoptaHorse.org.