Barn Cats Not Forgotten When Horse Track Closes

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Not far from Miami, Florida, lies the race track called Gulfstream Park West, but which is better known to most horse people as Calder Race Course.

In April 2021, the old race track closed its gates for the last time.

After five decades as a racing and training track for thoroughbred horses, the property was scheduled for redevelopment.

No more racing.

No more horses.

No more barns.

The buildings must be demolished to make room for new development.

Felines & Equines

Since the horse was first domesticated by man, equines and felines have been barn companions.

Horses eat oats -- and so do mice. And so the humble cat is welcomed into a horse barn to control the rodent population.

When many horses are stabled at a race track, it is inevitable that a number of cats accompany them. The trainer that arrives with a group of horses may also have a couple cats. Those cats have kittens. When the trainer and horses move on to a new track, some kitties may be left behind to be welcomed by the next person who moves to the stables.

And so, over the years, the Calder Race Course included a community of more than fifty resident barn cats -- owned by no one. A few cats were friendly, but the majority were feral or semi-feral.

When the track closed, the cats were left behind.

Not Forgotten

Madeleine Sciametta and Allison Hickey are lifelong racetrackers who called Calder home for years. Each women was feeding separate colonies of felines on the property -- and so were familiar with the cats. Allison and her husband, trainer Bill Hickey, had always had barn cats wherever they stabled.

As the horses and their caregivers moved to new race tracks and horse farms, the two woman were concerned about the fate of the felines left behind. How do you find someone to take 50+ semi-feral mousers?

Madeleine & Allison Take Charge

Brown & white tabby named Buddy was the "Ambassador of Calder" .
He would often sit alongside paramedics during morning training
. . . and in the walking ring during racing.
Photo by Randy Halvorsrod

They knew something needed to be done to rescue and rehome the cats.

Madeleine and Allison waited to begin collecting cats until near the move-out date for fear of accidentally capturing someone's pet kitty.

As the deadline neared, however, they began setting traps. but without a concrete plan as to what to do with the kitties once they were captured.

So they posted to social media looking for homes. . . . or at least some help.

Most of the barn cats were already neutered or spayed -- the result of track workers who took it upon themselves to feed and fix the resident cat population at their own expense.

Sometimes the race track owners/corporations were part of a coordinated effort to neuter and spay their resident barn cars. Saratoga Race Course in New York has this type of program.

Senior citizen, Patty, lived for a decade in the same tack room.
Photo by Randy Halvorsrod


Through the years, the Miami-Dade County Animal Services had also trapped and spayed or neutered cats, releasing them back on the track afterwards to continue their "job".

The ladies easily found new homes for the friendly cats, but where do you find people willing to take on a herd of feral cats?

That was going to be the real challenge.

The Power Of Social Media

Madeleine posted another call for help with placing the feral cats on Facebook.

That's how Randy Halvorsrod became aware of the situation.

Randy owns Halvorsrød Farm in Wellington, Florida. Besides caring for dressage horses, Randy also fosters cats for Bella's Promise Pet Rescue in Boca Raton. Bella's Promise organizes foster care homes and works with local county animal control centers to find the cats homes.

Over the years, Randy had managed the stables for The Oaks Thoroughbreds at Calder. He had worked the auctions that were held at Calder for years. He felt connected to Calder -- and most importantly he wanted to help.

Bella's Promise

Rescue organizations usually prefer kittens, but when Randy called the head of Bella's Promise she immediately replied, "Take them in. We'll figure it all out."

Bella's Promise assumed the significant cost for dozens of cats to be examined by veterinarians -- a necessity before the kitties could be safely rehomed. But they still needed to find the homes . . .

Cats are loaded into a special van to travel to their new homes.
A Realtor Joins The Rescue

Desiree Barbazon is an Ocala-based realtor who specializes in selling horse farms -- so she has many connections in the local horse communities in Florida.

When she heard of the need for homes for the Calder cats, she posted on her Facebook page.

“Can't you open your heart to one cat?" she asked.

The people on Facebook responded,

Through Barbazon's connections with horse farms, Madeleine was able to find area stable owners who were willing to accept a new kitty or two into their barn. The feral cats were welcomed.

The Cat Taxi

But the cats still needed to get to their new homes.

Madeleine and Allison arranged for transport for 18 cats to the Central Florida area in an air-conditioned van hired by The Stronach Group of race tracks that owned Calder. The kitties arrived in style to assume their new mousing assignments.

Saying Goodbye To An Era

Despite all the upheaval of Calder Race Course closing forever, the cats of Calder were not forgotten. This plucky bland of horse people pulled together. They caught the cats. They found the cats new homes. They delivered the cats to their barn homes, adoptive homes, or to foster care.

For every horse person who came together to help the cats, it was a victory . . . and eased the sadness of saying goodbye to Calder Race Course . . and the end of an era.

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