A Soft Landing for OTTBs: Meet Suzanna Norris, Founder of Hidden Acres Rescue for Thoroughbreds

Quite a few eventers take pride in restarting OTTBs to event, and Suzanna Norris is no different. I was fortunate enough to have a chat with Suzee about her love for the breed and her aftercare organization, Hidden Acres Rescue for Thoroughbreds (HART). Founded in September 2011 in Cocoa, Florida, HART is a safe space for OTTBs and has successfully adopted out 150 horses ot happy and healthy homes.

Q: What was your inspiration for HART?

A: I’ve been riding all my life and as a teenager, I always had a soft place for thoroughbreds. I didn’t understand that the horses coming off the track didn’t have a place to go, so I connected with an organization and started learning more about aftercare. I was compelled to step into action, so I started HART. I’ve always had a passion for thoroughbreds—horses for sure—but thoroughbreds have always had a soft place in my heart.

Suzanna and her first TB, Megsense (aka Webster) won the High Point Rider Award at the 1989 4-H show. Photo courtesy of Suzanna Norris.

Q: How did you get your start into riding?

A: I joke around with everybody, I think it was a genetic defect. My twin sister and I harassed my dad at an early age for riding lessons and my dad finally gave in and it kind of escalated from there. He kind of thought it was a phase and that we’d grow up to be engineers. So we did get engineering degrees but we ended up moving to the horse business anyway. I believe it’s my calling, honestly. I believe I’m here for the horses and I guess specifically for the thoroughbreds.

Q: How did you go from engineering to a horse business?

A: I come from a family of engineers and I’m kind of designed to be an engineer. When I went to college, I got a civil engineering degree but throughout college, I had my horses and I worked on a Trakehner breeding farm. When I graduated, I got a job as an engineer, but even on the side, I started a pony training business with one of my friends that I met on the Trakehner farm.

Finally, I was 28 years old and I decided to move into the horse world. It all just kind of evolved from there. I bought my horse farm in 2006 and eventually in 2011 is when we became a non-profit and started our aftercare organization officially.

Q: What is your favorite part about working with OTTBs?

A: I love the underdog. I like to get down to that horse’s level and learn who they are and help them succeed in our human world with our expectations. Of course, the most rewarding part of that is seeing them transform and become a horse that is more comfortable in their skin. Every day I get to experience a smile on someone’s face or a transformation in their lives because of their connection with the horses. There’s so much need for positivity that I just want to be a little part of that the best I can and these horses give me that ability to do so.

Comrade and Suzanna at Tryon International Equestrian Center. Photo courtesy of Tracey Butcher.

Q: Is there a specific horse you’ve worked with that has stuck out to you?

A: Of course they are all special in their sort of way. I had a horse that I adopted about three years ago and developed for the Retired Racehorse Project in 2017. He was a big 17-hand unicorn. His racing name was Ratnik, which is a Russian name for a warrior, so we named him Comrade in the barn as a spinoff of the Russian thing. He came to us from a good home off the track, but when he got to us he had a lot of abscesses. I was able to get him to the makeover even though we weren’t able to train as much as we wanted to because of some of the issues he had. I fell in love with him, but when I met Dana, who owns him now, I knew it was the right home and he’s been spoiled rotten! She does lower level eventing with him and he’s deserving of the best of homes.

Q: How has this Covid had an impact on HART this year?

A: You know, I feel like to get these horses in from the track and develop them, there’s always more to do than you can manage. This year has kind of felt the same. But we were a little worried when everything shut down in March so we buckled down and went after every bit of funding we could find. We got some emergency funds from the Thoroughbred Charities of America which was great. We were also able to get some funding locally through the government so that helped keep us afloat. There’s always more to spend and more to have so really just balancing the care of the horses with the money coming in is key.

HART’s wonderful volunteers are a big help! Photo courtesy of Suzanna Norris.

Q: What can the readers do to help?

A: Everybody can help in their own big or small way. To me, one of the easiest ways people can help is on Amazon Smile. You can just go on Amazon, choose Hidden Acres as your charity of choice, and every time you shop we’ll get a small percentage of it. Donating equipment and creating awareness is helpful too. There are reputable organizations like HART and other Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance (TAA) organizations. You can go on the TAA website and see other organizations that are held to high standards through the TAA. If you’re close to one of the organizations, you can go ride or clean stalls. At HART, a lot of people are there to learn and grow, so we offer opportunities for them to work with the horses. If you’re looking for a horse, look at HART or other organizations to see if they have a horse that might suit your needs.

Go Thoroughbreds. Go Eventing.