In saying goodbye, our resolve grows stronger
We owe it to the horse to tell his story.
In early May, we were contacted by a group that networks Standardbreds through many of the Facebook “kill buyer” groups. We really didn’t have space, but he was extremely thin, he was young, and our director offered to quarantine at her farm to get him out of where he was.
To be clear: This horse was not in danger of shipping to slaughter. No. He was caught in the network of auction to auction, trader to trader, all the time them knowing that the brand on his neck made him more valuable as a ploy on Facebook than what they would make price-per-pound through slaughter.
Do Standardbreds ship to slaughter? Absolutely. But not Standardbreds in this condition, 250 pounds underweight and covered in wounds. A horse in his condition would be rejected at the border or likely die along the way.
What we know of his history is scattered until the end of April. He was sold to a racing home as a yearling, then sold in a large Ohio driving horse sale as a 3 year old. He turned up at the Knoxville horse sale on April 27, owned/sold by Brian Moore, owner of the Shippensburg, PA kill pen. (See above – worth more to pass along than to ship for per-pound.) He was bought in Knoxville by the notorious Stanley Brothers, owners of the Cleveland, TN kill pen, which is where the Standardbred group caught up with him.
Ironically – just to tell you a little more about the rip-off you get into with these Facebook kill pen groups – we initially got the ‘wrong’ horse. We got a black Standardbred gelding with a different freeze brand. One who had been committed to go to a sanctuary home in Alabama. The horse we were to get – whose breeder had stepped forward to assist – had been at that Alabama farm since the day after we were contacted to help. Without their freeze brands, no one would have even known the difference. So, how many times do you think someone pays for one horse, but gets a different animal? If they say “oops” over 2 horses that carry their names in the numbers on their necks, they surely wouldn’t bat an eye over a plain bay or sorrel with one sock.
A trip to meet the sanctuary owner to swap horses, so that we could both honor our commitments, and $1,000 later, exorbitant “bail” plus the cost of transport to middle Tennessee, he arrived home.
This unraced son of the immortal Dragon Again, sire to the richest Standardbred in history, Foiled Again, was a complete mess. 250+ pounds underweight, still carrying bits of his winter coat from his malnourished state, covered in scrapes and bites, one loose shoe and hooves with several MONTHS of overgrowth, and a deep wound on his neck that we immediately began to treat under veterinary direction. He had obvious lameness issues, but we were hopeful that with TLC and good nutrition and rest, he might come sound.
Fresh grass, 3 meals a day, and regular grooming brought a shine to his coat and his eyes. He gained weight easily; almost back to normal within the month. He nickered for his feed and looked forward to turnout and brief ‘walks’ on the lead line for exercise. But his issues kept growing.
He was able to lift his front feet for cleaning, and to pull his loose shoe. He could not stand on his left hind to pick up his right hind. His right hind fetlock was swollen and warm under the stress of lifting his full body weight, as his left stifle was, quoting the vet, “completely destroyed.” He would lay down to nap or enjoy a roll and then struggle to rise, having to rearrange himself on his right side or just “sit up” as he could not push himself up off his left. He would stumble in turnout; start out running and then fumble to a stop, even falling a couple of times. We texted the vet photos and videos so regularly she probably got tired of the updates.
We discussed options. A year of turnout. A stay for therapy at Equine Performax. Injections, surgery. How could there be nothing that could be done for this just-turned-5 year old horse that should have his entire life in front of him?
Watching him after flunking his neurological exam, it was crystal clear there was no other answer. Turning him out to just be a horse would likely result in him seriously injuring himself; either falling and breaking something or impaling himself on something, or laying down and not being able to get back up. None of which we wanted. We were too late. There was no telling how long he’d been like that; no treatment options that were likely to make any impact. The combined effects of his issues were a death sentence.
He’d been shipped more than 800 miles in cramped trailers, a victim to men’s greed, completely vulnerable.
He had not known love in a long time, but he knew love in his time here. He was fed, brushed, his stall cleaned twice a day, he even enjoyed grazing the Bermuda grass in the yard for a few hours each night. We found that he loved carrots and enjoyed apples and bananas, as well. He had shade and fly spray and all the things he had probably not enjoyed since his first home. He was kind and intelligent and he deserved so much better.
Instead, he was sold out of racing when he wasn’t talented enough to compete, to someone who chose to use his young body up and then throw him away when he needed them most.
Instead of having a little girl to love him for the rest of his life, he is buried under an ancient oak where he can overlook the pasture and creek.
He did not die in vain. We will continue to be advocates for Standardbred aftercare – for options after the track that include a safety net and second careers other than auctions and being ‘used cars’ for the Amish. We will continue to advocate against Facebook “kill pen” groups and the scam they embody. We will continue to be passionate supporters of the SAFE Act, the PAST Act and other legislation that protects American horses from slaughter, abuse and neglect. We hope that you will raise your voice with us.