RHAME, N.D. — Richard Bowman shares his home with 150 red angus cattle and 87 thoroughbred race horses.
When he steps out of his house and walks a couple hundred steps his backyard turns into a sea of once expensive race horses. Farther along on the horizon his cows can be seen grazing or sleeping.
“I’ve been in love with the thoroughbred horses since I was a little guy,” said Bowman.
“I think they are the most graceful, magnificent creatures that ever walked. I like the way they look.”
He started working as a veterinarian at Canterbury Park race track in Shakopee, Minn., 30 years ago and close to 20 years ago he took home a couple of the race horses at the end of the season when the trainer no longer wanted them.
Canterbury has a no-kill policy so trainers or owners cannot take their horse to the slaughterhouse when they have become unfit to race.
“At Canterbury Park, if you send a horse to slaughter as a trainer, you don’t get stalls again, you won’t race there,” said Bowman, who instead rehabilitates them to be adopted. “It’s a good deal for the horses. I just thought they deserved better than to be put down when they are done racing so I bring them home.”
For over 15 years Bowman did all of the work himself with adopting out and maintaining the horses.
The seasoned veterinarian administers all of the vaccinations, worming medicine and medical needs to his horses as well.
While he adopts on average 40 horses a year, only 20 get adopted out, according to Bowman. At one time the vet was giving away the horses for free to try to get them to good homes, but after he discovered that people were taking them to auction to turn a profit, he started adopting them out anywhere from $600 to $1,500.
However, there is a stipulation on the horses adopted — they can never return to racing.
Tess Ehli, president of Bowman Second Chance Thoroughbred Adoption, said that some of the horses that come through the adoption were bought for as much as $120,000.
Ehli along with other officers in the group spend as much time as they can taking photos and videos of the horses for interested adopters.
She said it’s also about placing them in the right fit with an owner, whether that is someone interested in barrel racing, dressage or having a pet.
“They all have value in different areas that we place them,” she said. “We evaluate them to find out where they need to go. Some of them that leave the track don’t run very fast, but that’s because they don’t want to. They would rather be out on a trail enjoying the scenery even though they are race horses.”
Most of the group of volunteers make the trek to Bowman’s house from Dickinson — around 90 miles one way.
Sometimes those volunteers even walk away with a horse or two of their own.
Jackie Austin volunteered with the group, going from Regent to Rhame twice before deciding she had to take home one of the horses there.
After seeing Holy Keoni on a video more than two years ago, she knew he was the horse for her.
“He has a lot more potential than I’m used to,” Austin said. “I just decided that this was the next step.”
Austin said volunteering gets her out of her comfort zone of riding by trying to ride all different types of horses with different personalities.
While it’s not an easy day of work on the ranch, Austin said she enjoys it.
“It’s hard work but you’re having so much fun that the day just goes by so quickly,” she said.
Finding volunteers, funding
Ehli said the two biggest hurdles for the group are finding volunteers and getting more funding.
“There’s so much expenses to maintain that level of horses,” she said. “We need more volunteers. It’s so tiring for the ones that keep going and going and going.”
Bowman estimates that it costs $100,000 a year to keep everything going with the organization, but with the group recently getting its 501(c)(3) non-profit status, more donations are possible.
“The horses are always easy to get but the money isn’t always easy to get,” said Bowman. “We have some people that send $10 and we have some that send thousands. People in the United States are probably the most giving people in the world. They do it in a big way for this operation.”
Bonding with the horses
A few lucky horses will get to live out the rest of their lives with Bowman on his homestead.
“Some of them I really, really care for,” said Bowman. “I can’t keep them all obviously. I’ve had close to maybe 500 or better that have gone through this deal. Some of them I get attached to, and some of them I keep, and even if they aren’t sound enough to ride, I keep them because I like them.”
Lump in My Oatmeal will likely never be ridden again, from injuries, but he shares an unbreakable bond with Bowman.
“He’s just a wonderful horse,” he said. “I just love him. When I come out here (the field) he’ll come from a long ways away to just come stick his head in my lap and just say hi.”
Officer Big Man is one of the only stallions on the ranch.
“He’s a horse I just like. He’s a gorgeous animal, and he and I kind of just bonded a little bit,” said Bowman. “He lives here.”
Some of the horses need time to adjust from racing and to heal from their injuries. So most of them stay with Bowman for six months to a year before finding their next home.
But while they are there, affection is never lacking.
“I had never had any interaction with thoroughbreds before I came here four years ago and joined this group,” said Ehli. “They were so polite and so respectful of our space. And they all just wanted you to pet on them and love on them. They were just big teddy bears.”
Bowman said he frequently goes out to the fields when the horses are out grazing to just stop by and spend some time with the beautiful creatures he brings home. While it’s bittersweet to see some of them come and go, he said he’s always happy to see them go to the right home.
“I pretty much got the horse in mind most of the time, so I am pleased when they get a good match with a family,” said Bowman.