Horses and Hope Sees New Era of Growth

By Remy Sisk

The Kentucky Cancer Program has a more than 20-year history of working with Kentucky first ladies to develop breast cancer initiatives for the Commonwealth. Their programs have regularly been successful, but when Steve Beshear came into office, First Lady Jane Beshear began development with the Kentucky Cancer Program on an initiative that is still having a significant impact now, 10 years later.

Horses and Hope launched with the mission of increasing breast cancer awareness, education, screening and treatment referrals among Kentucky’s signature horse industry workers and their families, many of whom are uninsured and underserved. But over the course of its existence, the organization, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary this November, has developed into so much more.

The Horses and Hope Mustang was the pace car for the 2011 World Sprint Cup and now travels the state for special events. It is here shown with breast cancer survivors at a weekend retreat.

“When Jane Beshear and her husband came to Frankfort, we sat down and discussed what she’d like to do,” relates Kentucky Cancer Program Director Connie Sorrell of the initial conceptualization of Horses and Hope. “And because she loves horses and has been a rider her entire life, we decided to do something around horses. She pulled together a group of people – her friends, some jockeys, horse owners and farm owners – and we formed the Pink Stable, which to this day has been our advisory group.”

In 2008, Horses and Hope started having special race days at tracks across Kentucky. The events consistently sold out and saw attendees dress in all pink and get to watch a special race in honor of survivors. Those breast cancer-specific programs were important progress, but in recent years, the organization has widened its scope beyond breast cancer.

This new era of growth began just as Beshear’s term was coming to an end. “Before the Beshears left office – she was with us for eight years – we were talking about what she wanted her legacy to be, and she said, ‘I would love to have a new Horses and Hope cancer screening van,’” Sorrell recounts. Jane Beshear went on to work with the James Graham Brown Cancer Center, KentuckyOne Health, the University of Louisville and the Kentucky Cancer Program to raise $1 million toward this newly equipped cancer screening and education van.

“It goes to the backside of the tracks – we go to Keeneland and Churchill Downs – and it doesn’t just provide mammograms – we’re also providing services for men and women,” Sorrell emphasizes. “We provide education and screenings for seven different cancers. So it’s moved beyond breast cancer with women to multiple cancers and men and women.”

Indeed, today, Horses and Hope is actively traveling from racetrack to racetrack offering mammograms, yes, but also specific education on various cancers and moreover, screenings for multiple types of cancer. Year by year, Horses and Hope is improving both the awareness and knowledge of people at risk and affected by cancer, and it’s clear there’s no end in sight. “It is a program that was founded in Kentucky for Kentucky around Kentucky’s signature horse racing industry,” Sorrell maintains. “So we were able to create something totally new for our state based upon the local needs, the local interest and the local resources. There are a lot of very prominent national organizations, but Jane Beshear had a vision to do this for the people in Kentucky.”