Once on the fast track, Sharla Sanders was running the broker desk at a major subprime mortgage lender and overseeing 45 employees before the economic sea change forced her to look for a second career.
Two years after her employer closed its doors, Sanders found a career helping ex-racehorse Thoroughbreds get new jobs after their racing days ended.
“I always had a dream that I was going to do something for racehorses, and then I lost my job. I consulted for another mortgage company for a year, but when that job ended as well I thought, ‘It’s now or never,’ ” Sanders says. “I decided to jump in. If I waited for all the lights to turn green, it never would have happened.”
In 2009, Sanders founded The Second Race, an Arcadia, Calif.-based corporation geared toward networking on behalf of ex-racehorse Thoroughbreds.
“We’re different. We’re not a rescue, and we work by facilitating re-homing or re-training by networking through our vast resources of layup farms, breeders, horse owners, trainers and even jockeys,” Sanders says. “This is a networking and marketing business. I have a 10-year business plan; it’s not just something I’ve done on emotion.”
Not that compassion hasn’t had it’s place in Sander’s new career path.
When in 2002, the longtime horseracing fan learned Kentucky Derby winner Ferdinand had been killed in a Japanese slaughterhouse, Sanders felt impelled to do something. “At that point, I wanted to help a horse—somehow.”
She started by sponsoring the retirement of an ex-racer through California Equine Retirement Foundation, and making monthly donations for his care. Later, she volunteered with an unusual and successful project to create and sell impressionistic “paintings” created by famous racehorses.
Using peppermint inducements, Sanders has coaxed some of the greats, including Zenyatta and Lava Man, to dip their muzzles in nontoxic, water-based paints and have at canvas a’la Picasso or Degas. Impressions in colors that match the racing silks associated with each horse have fetched as much as $1,500 for racehorse retirement.
When she started all this, not everyone understood.
“A very dear girlfriend let me know she thought it was very frivolous in light of all the starving children, or people with cancer,” Sanders says. “And I answer that by saying you have to choose your own niche, and follow your heart toward what your passion is.
For Sanders, although the world’s problems concern her too, there is something about helping horses that ignites that spark.
Recently, Sanders was rewarded for her networking and marketing efforts on behalf of California stakes winner A To The Z. The Thoroughbred won over $700,000 in 21 starts before his career ended. His owner, Paula Capestro, was determined to find him a new career that would challenge him.
“Paula didn’t want to give that horse up because he was kind of a barn pet to her. When she called me she insisted he be retrained for a performance career” because he was too talented to retire without a job.
Partnering with Hess Equine and Silks to Show Ring, The Second Race helped connect A To The Z with a next career, possibly in the show ring. After just three months of schooling trainers are calling the horse a “jumping savant.”
“He watched other lesson horses and he just kind of followed what they were doing,” she says, noting that A To The Z exemplifies the willingness and talent of many off-track Thoroughbreds.
As for Sander’s second career, the experience of going from hectic office to grassy pasture has brought its own happy end.
“When I worked for the mortgage company, racing was my stress reliever. Now I’m living the dream, and it’s taken off like a firestorm.”