Eddie, A Horse Story

In the horse rescue business, there is a euphemism for when a horse at auction is sold to a kill buyer, who gets dollars for pounds for transporting horses to Mexico or Canada for slaughter.  We call it “getting on the wrong trailer.” In the United States last year alone, over 100,000 horses climbed on that trailer, many of them after successful careers as racehorses, ranch horses, dressage horses, jumpers or just plain family pets.  The old and the infirm are particularly at risk, since a horse who cannot be ridden is an expense many owners cannot afford.  Often these horses are transported over long distances without food or water, to be further injured en route to meet a terrifying end.

On Saturday night, one such old horse showed up at Mike’s Auction in Mira Loma, California.  He didn’t have a name, just a number—hip #245.  He was blind in one eye due to an old injury, and his other eye was cloudy.  The buzz floating around was that he had been a trained dressage horse, but no one knew for sure.  All of the familiar Southern California rescues were there, as they are the second Saturday night of every month, steeling themselves for that inevitable point in the auction where they run out of money or space, and the elderly, the lame, the unbroken and unwanted run out of time.

The morning after the auction, Forgotten Horses Rescue posted on Facebook that it had been able to save five equines from slaughter, one of which sold for the astoundingly low price of $40.  A supporter wrote in, “What happened to hip #245?  A quiet retirement home or the wrong trailer?”  Trish Geltner, who runs Forgotten Horses replied, “Sadly we were out of funds by the time his number came up.”  Denise Tracy, who owns Tracy Acres, a sanctuary for retired and otherwise unadoptable horses up in Vacaville, had worried about him all night after seeing his picture on the auction list.  When she learned what happened, she wrote, “On my way to church, tears streaming down my face.” Denise has had some trauma in her own life, and has a soft spot for blind old horses.  She offered him a permanent forever home at her sanctuary, if he could be found and retrieved.

Trish sprang into action.   She located the horse, frightened and already bloodied and bruised from being thrown into a pen with younger stronger horses.  She put out a call to Forgotten Horses’ Facebook supporters and within minutes funds had been raised to pay his “bail,” to transport him to a temporary foster and obtain veterinary care, and to pay his way to Vacaville and Denise’s welcoming arms.  At the time that I am writing this, he is on his way north.

It turns out, this horse’s name is Eddie.  He is 24 years old, an Irish thoroughbred, and was indeed a dressage horse.  The woman who brought him to auction cried when she left him, saying that he was a good horse and that she had tried in vain to find him a retirement home when she could no longer keep him.  A kind hearted person is always an optimist—surely she hoped that someone, someone with means, would step up and save him from certain death in a Mexican slaughterhouse.  In the end, just in the nick of time, a small village of horse lovers reached into their pockets while Denise Tracy reached into her heart.

At Tracy Acres, one of Denise’s horses has a sign hanging outside her stall.  The sign says, “A True Love Story Never Ends.”  Eddie is going home, and the rest of us are the better for having made it happen.

They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?

“I may not know a winner when I see one, but I sure as hell can spot a loser.”  Rocky

On Saturday night, thirteen horses were saved from kill buyers at Mike’s Auction in Mira Loma, California, by three rescue organizations—Forgotten Horses Rescue, Inc,  HiCaliber Horse Rescue and Joey’s Home Animal Rescue.  Here in the United States, we consider horses companion animals.  We don’t eat horses.  In other countries, that is not the case.  When a horse is used up—too many losses at the race track, or no longer fit for work, or too old, too lame or too tired to be useful, they go to auction.  Despite the withholding of federal inspection funds in 2007, when horse slaughter was essentially banned in the US–funds were restored in 2011, and three states including Missouri, Iowa and New Mexico have been trying to reinstate their slaughterhouses.  The result of the 2007 ban has been the unintended consequence that horses are now shipped to Mexico for slaughter, transported in crowded railway cars without food or water, and then, if they even survive the journey, they are bludgeoned to death with sledgehammers.  This is not death with dignity befitting a once beloved family pet, or a money winning race horse.  But it happens at Mike’s.  Once a month, on a Saturday night.   Do not blame the auction house—they, like all of us, are just doing business.  Blame the folks who treat animals as commodities instead of living sentient creatures.

My old horses, Dash and Norman, are now 30 and 27 years old.  They have lived a good life—one, Dash has been a children’s show horse since he was three years old.  He is lame as can be, but his old eyes still light up if you put a small child on his back and lead him around.  The other, Norman, was born and bred at Disneyland where a small breeding band of pure white Lipizzaners is kept to pull Cinderella’s carriage.   He didn’t take much to pulling a carriage, and was pulled off duty to be trained under saddle.  At age 14, the sorrel Quarter Horse Dash became my son Brandon’s show horse, competing in local western horse shows.  When he retired from the show ring, he became my trail horse, until finally by age 22 he could no longer be ridden without fear of stumbling.  Norman became my 12 year old daughter’s dream horse—trained to fourth level dressage, but plagued by a congenital bone lesion in his left stifle.  He too was retired a few years ago.  Both horses lived at home in my backyard as pampered pets until we moved to New Mexico in October.  They are now under the care of Dash’s former trainer in Del Mar, California, where they will remain at least through the winter.  I miss them terribly.

I never thought much about horse rescue until I got a letter in the mail five years ago from The Horses of Tir Na Nog, a San Diego horse rescue group.  Apparently, unbeknownst to me, my husband had given them some money.  He is not known for his charitable heart, so I figured he must have been on to something worthwhile and important.  So I kept giving them money, and then one day I saw a Facebook page that made me feel like I had been punched in the stomach—for Forgotten Horses Rescue, started by Trish Geltner when a starved horse named Spero came into her care.  Spero didn’t make it, but Trish vowed that he would never be forgotten, and she has kept her word.  Then I found HiCaliber, founded by Michelle Cochran, a formal San Diego Animal Control officer who got involved when she intercepted an auto accident involving a former racehorse.  Before that, she had “only” been involved in rescuing much maligned pit bulls.  It took me a long time, but I have finally realized that not every equine is treasured and treated to a loving life of retirement.  So I am doing my best to see that the old, the sick and the lame are spared a miserable death in a cattle car.   It is my small way of giving back, and being very thankful that I have the means to be the owner of 30 year old and 27 year old retired horses.

My heart breaks when I see starving, beaten and abused horses, dogs and other companion animals.  I know that yours breaks also.  So please, people—if you have a beloved animal companion warm and safe at home–a dog, a cat or if you’re very fortunate, a horse—find a local shelter or rescue and do what you can to support it.  It may not be much—a few dollars or a few hours of your time.  But trust me, it will mean the world to those you support.  Thank you.