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.

Long Ago and Far Away

I got a call a few days ago from Sandy Arledge.  Sandy is semi-retired now, but when my kids were growing up she was the owner of a magical place called Far West Farms.  Just a few miles from the ocean, between the strip malls of Del Mar Highlands and the housing developments that crowd the coastal cities of Southern California, Sandy managed to live out her girlhood dream.  In her thirties she gave up her lucrative law practice, bought one of the last remaining tracts of ranch land in Del Mar, and set out to establish the premier Quarter Horse breeding and training operation in California.  In doing so she turned an entire generation of children, including my own, into cowboys and cowgirls.

The reason that Sandy contacted me, long after my last kid hung up his spurs, was that she had received a call from a horse rescue group up in Los Angeles.  An older horse had been abandoned in Baldwin Park, starved nearly to death.  A rescue group took him in, and after feeding him and getting cleaned up, they noticed a brand on his left shoulder, a simple five pointed star known internationally as the brand of Sandy Arledge Quarter Horses.  Thinking he might live, they christened him Winston.  They photographed his markings and notified Sandy to ask if she recognized him.  She thought she did—that he might be Romeo, a handsome dark bay colt I bought sixteen years ago today, the day he came out of his mother Jinny Jiggs who was the closest thing to a saint on four legs that ever lived, when it came to teaching the young’uns how to ride.  Romeo’s registered name was Justa Believer, which fit right in with my line of optimism.  When Romeo was three years old, I mistakenly decided I had too many horses (can one EVER have TOO many horses?) and I sold him.  I’ve made a lot of less than smart decisions when it comes to horses, but considering what I kept, that one was one of the dumbest.

When Sandy described the horse’s markings to me, I realized with a great deal of relief and a twinge of sadness that it was not Romeo, and I confirmed that when I got home from work that evening since I had kept a copy of his papers.  Relief because I would be mortified to think that a horse that I sold in good faith could end up like that, abandoned and unloved, and a twinge of sadness because had he been my long ago colt, I would have brought him home.  As I searched for my copy of his registration papers through old files containing pictures of horses long past, the memories of Far West came flooding back—my oldest son getting his first horse Harmony for his eighth birthday, my daughter trying to convert old Rosie from a pony hunter back into a Western trail horse, my youngest son, chubby and five years old proudly perched on an equally chubby mare holding up his ribbons at the Del Mar National Horse Show.

Sandy sold Far West Farms in 2006 to play a major role in the American Quarter Horse Association, and to travel and consult.  But like the true horsewoman and the responsible breeder that she is, she never stopped caring about the horses she bred.  She will find out who Winston really is, and she will make sure he never suffers again.  As for me and my grown up children, we’ll never forget the lessons and the trail rides and the horses we loved there near the ocean, the sea breezes blowing us the smells of salt, sweat and love.  Thanks again, Sandy, for Far West Farms.