PARIS — Kim Rosier left home in Nebraska at age 13 and spent most of her life moving from one racetrack to another — grooming, walking, training, exercise riding, whatever needed to be done.
"It's a rough life," said Rosier, 53, who now has a bad back and other health problems because of her work. "When you get old ... they have no use for you. What are you going to do, die in a tack room?"
What Rosier did in April was pack her belongings into a suitcase, board a bus in Hot Springs, Ark., and move to Bethlehem Farm and the Center for Women in Racing in Bourbon County.
The non-denominational Christian ministry helps horsewomen who need temporary housing, pastoral counseling or help with medical, legal or substance-abuse problems, or a safe haven from domestic violence. Some of the women care for retired and rescued race horses on the farm.
During the past five years, 37 women have lived at the center, the restored 1830s Wright-Barlow House near Paris, founder Sandra White said. An additional 112 — from stable hands to high-level Thoroughbred owners — have sought non-residential help.
The Wright-Barlow House is owned by Bourbon County and is leased to the Center for Women in Racing. White's Bethlehem Farm is nearby.
"I developed a model to reach women who wouldn't normally be reached by the church," said White, who has a network of professionals to help with clients. "There's so much need, we couldn't begin to meet it."
White has ambitious plans, which she will discuss June 25 at Horses and the Hearts of Women, the center's fund-raiser. The event honors first lady Jane Beshear and includes a talk by jockey Otto Thorwarth, who appears in the movie Secretariat, which is scheduled to open in October.
White's eventual goal is to acquire more land and create the Center for Renewal in Racing, a self-sustaining rehabilitation center for men and children as well as women and horses.
Much of the financial support for the Center for Women in Racing has come from White, her friends and donors in the industry. The center also sells gifts, including official Kentucky Derby silk scarves. The University of Kentucky College of Agriculture is helping White to develop a long-range strategic plan.
White, who grew up in a horse- owning Texas family with Kentucky roots, would seem an unlikely missionary and social worker. A former public relations executive in Houston, she sold her firm in 1990 and moved to Kentucky. She had always wanted to live on a horse farm — and she felt God's call.
White earned a master's degree from Asbury Theological Seminary in 1993 and worked with the Rev. Bobby Aldridge, a racetrack chaplain. "I had to spend a lot of time at the racetrack learning what it was like for the girls because I had never been allowed to be there," she said. It was an eye-opening experience.
"It doesn't matter how well you do in life. Stuff happens," said White, a divorced mother of two teenagers and the incoming president of the Paris/Bourbon County Chamber of Commerce. "You may lose your business, you may lose your health."
White bought a 50-acre farm on Bethlehem Road in 1995 and created a non-profit organization in 2000. In 2004, she opened the center in the Wright-Barlow House, where as many as six women can live in three upstairs bedrooms.
Bethlehem Farm also is home to a rotating cast of retired or rescued Thoroughbreds, and a gentle giant of a draft horse, a Percheron named Abram. Caring for them is good therapy for women at the center. The love of horses is something they all have in common.
Some women even come with their own. "We don't separate girls from their animals, which makes us unique — and absolutely crazy," White said. "But for many of these women, all they have is their horse or their dog."
When White and Rosier showed me around Bethlehem Farm last week, it was a perfect summer afternoon: blue sky, plank fences and rolling meadows. Only horses, birds and our conversation disturbed the windswept silence.
Rosier said that living in such a peaceful place is helping her to mend her body and her spirit. "I feel safe here," she said. "I'm a runner, but it's like the first time in my life I haven't wanted to run."