Hartley Hansen spent a recent Sunday morning thumbing through the pages of one of her favorite books.

“This book is called ‘Maybe’ and it’s really cute,” Hansen said as she held up the book’s hard cover.

What You Need To Know

  • Since the Unbridled Thoroughbred Foundation was started in 2004, the organization’s founder says they’ve found homes for several hundred retired racehorses

  • Founder Susan Kayne says every year, an estimated 80,000 American horses are shipped to Mexico and Canada where they’re slaughtered

  • Kayne says they hope to raise awareness and protect horses from potential slaughter by sharing the animals’ stories to visitors at the farm’s open houses

As she read each page, the nine-year-old girl’s audience seemed to hang on every word.

“With some of these sentences she’s like ‘yes, that is true!’ ” Hansen said. “It’s so funny.”

Hansen was reading to a 15-year-old retired racehorse.

"This is Elle; she's probably one of my favorites,” Hansen said. “I don’t know why, I just love her so much.”

Along with about 20 other horses, Elle lives at the Unbridled Thoroughbred Foundation’s farm in Upstate New York, where children are invited to “Read to the Rescues” at each weekend’s open houses.

“It’s just really fun to read to them because they’re just so sweet,” Hansen said.

A few stalls away inside the barn, 16-year-old Caitlyn Lackie gave some much-appreciated attention to one of the other horses living at Unbridled, where she volunteers.

“I absolutely adore them,” Lackie said as she pet a horse named Lovey. “Lovey is our only Arabian. As you can see, she loves her butt scratches, it’s like her favorite thing.”

Lackie says Lovey and the horse in the stall next to her barely made it to Unbridled alive.

“She came in, she was in one of the lots, one of the kill lots,” Lackie said. “It’s heartbreaking because they did nothing wrong.”

Unbridled’s founder, Susan Kayne, says stories like these are tragically common in their own barn and across the country.

“It’s absolutely devastating,” Kayne said. “It is approximately 80,000 horses a year that are sent across American borders to slaughter in Canada and Mexico.”

Kayne is a former owner and breeder of thoroughbreds. By sharing the stories of the animals she’s rescued, she’s now aiming to bring about reforms like getting excessive drugs out of racing and preventing horses from being neglected and slaughtered.

“We are really, really focused on social change,” Kayne said. “It’s a hard discussion for a lot of people to have but we are starting to see strides of change.”

Since Unbridled was founded in 2004, Kayne says the non-profit has rescued and found homes for a few hundred horses.

“You know, it means the world to me,” she said. “I have completely changed my life for this work.”

For young volunteers like Lackie, Unbridled offers a chance to help animals in need.

“It’s really important because not only does it raise awareness about this type of stuff but it helps all of these horses try to start over and have a better life,” Lackie said.

To even younger visitors like Hansen, connecting with these animals is an experience to hold dear.

"I feel so glad she's here at Unbridled and probably likes this book, because she keeps nodding her head about it," she said.