CARY, N.C. — A North Carolina horse has garnered national attention. 

A horse in Cary was named “Thoroughbred of the Year” by the Jockey Club, a title given to an outstanding horse that has excelled in a noncompetitive career. The horse that won is a former racehorse named River and while she’s not on the track anymore, she might be part of something even more impactful.


What You Need To Know 

River, a horse at a Cary nonprofit, was named “Thoroughbred of the Year” by the Jockey Club 

CORRAL is nonprofit that equips adolescent girls in high-risk situations through a long-term, holistic program of equine therapy and education 

The Jockey Club award came with a $5,000 grant to help the organization continue its work


“You kind of have to come in here with a clear mind. It makes it difficult if you're not clear-headed. If you come in here with a bad mood, they will not work for you,” Vivian Green, a riding academy participant at CORRAL, said.

Since 2008, CORRAL has served as a safe space for more than 400 girls.

“It's kind of hard to not be happy when you're here,” Green said.

Joy Currey harnessed her love for horses and helped start the nonprofit.

“We work with girls, teenage girls in high-risk situations, and we pair them with rescued horses. Ultimately, our environment is about really providing a rigorous academic environment with a highly therapeutic environment, so girls can access a bright future,” Currey said.

DJ Sinodis, a riding academy participant, is paired up with a horse named River. She is a former race horse that moved between homes after retirement until she landed here.

“I relate to her a lot. I was in the foster system. I moved homes a lot even before I got into foster care. I got adopted a couple of years ago, and so I know the feeling of moving because you're disruptive, you know? And moving because you don't fit in somewhere or 'cause you're abused or any number of things,” Sinodis said.

Sinodis nominated River for the Jockey Club’s “Thoroughbred of the Year” award. Low and behold, she won. The title also comes with a $5,000 grant for CORRAL.

“The money would help, and she deserves to get recognized as a horse that's changing the world, one person at a time,” Sinodis said.

The horses are essential to CORRAL’s mission, but the girls are also offered counseling, mentorship and academic support.

“That self-agency starts to build in them, and they realize, ‘Wait a second, I can do something. The effort, the work I put into it will produce a positive outcome if I put my mind to it.’ And so that's when I really feel like the change starts to happen and actually then transfers out into the arena when that I can attitude really starts to permeate through all of their life,” Currey said. “Now, all of a sudden they're looking at 1,000-pound horse, and they're thinking, ‘Well, I can do that, and I can do that.’ The self-agency they learn in both the arena and in the classroom are profound. I think that's what really shifts their outlook on life."

Green, who recently signed with the U.S. Navy, says the program has turned her academic grades around.

“When I first started here, like two years ago, I was getting maybe a C in math. Don't get me wrong, I've never failed class, but I did have C's [in] math. I actually just got a 91 on a quiz, which was first, then I also got a 90 on a test this semester, which was also amazing,” Green said.

The grades are nice, but if you ask Green and Sinodis what the best part of CORRAL has been, they would say each other.

“Probably the relationships I’ve made because I met DJ here, and that's my BFF right there,” Green said. “Also, the adult connections are really nice because before I didn't really have the proper parental person to guide me.”

“You get really, really close with these girls. Their achievements, feel like your achievements, and their struggles feel like your struggles. You pray with them, and you cry with them, and you laugh with them,” Sinodis said. “Confidence to love myself, to believe in myself, to believe in others, to try, to not give up. I'm still working on that one. I'm still working on the confidence one too.”

The girls enrolled with CORRAL participate for free and most of the nonprofit’s funding comes from donations or grants. It costs about $20,000 to put one girl through the program every year. The nonprofit currently has almost 20 girls enrolled in their riding academy in Cary, and a total of 131 girls across all their programs.