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.

A Brief News Update From the Animal House

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know that I have quite a little menagerie here.  In my animal loving prime, when I had a lot more energy than I do now, we had 5 Scottish deerhounds, one Brussels Griffon, two cats, two guinea pigs and eight horses, at least one of which I kept a secret from my husband who I feared would think that perhaps things were getting a little bit out of hand.  One day at the barn, he spotted a horse that he just KNEW I would love, and he inquired of the trainer whether the horse was for sale.  She didn’t quite know how to tell him that I already owned that particular animal.

The zoo has been winding down a bit here, mainly because the kids are gone and I am less prone to temptation without their little voices clamoring for that kitten for sale in the parking lot at the grocery store.  The cat with nine lives, eighteen year old Timmy Tom, was put to sleep in August when we could not control his thyroid disease, weight loss and vomiting.  Many of the horses have moved on to greener pastures elsewhere, where new children could learn to ride from the safety of their well-trained backs, and some of the best have passed on to that great green pasture in the sky.  Stormin’ Norman, the little Lipizzaner who carried my daughter through many a dressage test, left in late June to be leased by a beginning dressage rider.  In August she called to say she wanted to extend the lease to six months.

So I was surprised yesterday to get a call from the trainer to say that they would like to send twenty four year old Norman home.  She said that no matter how much she fed him, she couldn’t keep weight on him, and besides, an old stifle problem was recurring.  Fearing the worst, I went over to the boarding/training facility last night to have a look at him.  Now, mind you, this is a horse who has lived in my back yard for the better part of twelve or thirteen years.  Always a personable animal, with a beautiful expressive face and eyes, he knew me as well as any horse can know a person.  So I was surprised last night when I approached him with a bag of carrots and I heard no welcoming whinny.  His head shot up, and if horses can glare, this one positively glared at me.  His expression, plain as day, said, “Where the heck have YOU been, and when are you getting me OUT OF HERE?!”  And then he munched on his carrots.  He looked a little thin, but otherwise fine.

Norman’s coming home to join twenty eight old Dash on Wednesday, and I must say I’m glad.  The two old souls deserve a nice retirement, despite the fact that they really don’t like each other. And Labor Day weekend I visited a friend in Albuquerque who had a litter of eight week old deerhound puppies– it was hard to leave without one but they were all spoken for.  One day soon, I might be hearing the pitter patter of new little feet around these parts. After all, what’s a new carpet for?

Moving Day

Two of my favorite people moved today. Well, actually one of them is a horse who thinks he is a person, and the other, my father. The horse, Norman, is a twenty five year old Lipizzaner who has been a family member for nearly seventeen years. Bred at Disneyland and born in May of 1988, Norman’s “fancy name” is Siglavy Deborah II, and he was raised and trained in a small but elite band of Lipizzaners stabled in Anaheim, California, their sole purpose in life to pull Cinderella’s carriage. When Norm was five or six, being a very smart horse, he figured out that if he leaned back in his traces, the other horses would do his work, and if he nipped at a guest, he didn’t have to go to work at all. And thus he was sold. He came to San Diego where he was retrained under saddle, which he evidently preferred. At her dressage trainer’s on a fine spring day, my daughter took one look at him with his pure white countenance and flowing mane and tail, and fell in love. What little girl wouldn’t want to be Cinderella? We’re still waiting on that prince.

 

My daughter grew up, and went to college, and then to medical school, and now is starting her internship in Internal Medicine in Boston. When she went away to college, we sold Norman with an iron clad buy back agreement to another young girl just starting her dressage career. When SHE went to college, we bought him back. At the time, having lost the paperwork, I couldn’t remember the price I sold him for. As it turned out, I paid more to buy him back than the girl’s parents paid for him. That joke was on me—but he was worth every penny. For the last several years, this highly trained dressage horse has been out to pasture in my back yard. He may be twenty five, but like my Corvette, he’s got low mileage.

 

A month ago my daughter finally agreed that his talents were being wasted, and we started to look for a person to be Norman’s person—to ride him, love him, groom him and fuss over him the way he deserves. She called her old dressage trainer, Tina Caldwell. Tina came over and rode him and despite his long vacation from saddle and bridle, he performed like the good little horse he has always been. Over the weekend, Tina called and said she had the perfect client who had just moved to town, and wanted to take some dressage lessons and have a nice horse to ride on the trails. She knew just the horse. Norman left today in an eight horse trailer, all alone in the big rig. He whinnied a few times for his buddy Dash, but loaded like a pro. He will never be sold again—he’s out “on lease”, but if he can make another person happy trotting down the trails and doing his rocking horse canter in the arena, he will honor all the years of his training, and after all, it’s not every day a girl, or a woman, gets to feel like Cinderella!

 

Coincidentally, today was the day my father had arranged for his movers to come. He has lived with me for the last six months, since my mother died and since he had an aortic valve replacement at the ripe old age of eighty seven. His condominium in Snowmass, Colorado is under agreement, and he has arranged to live at a lovely senior community very near where I work, called La Costa Glen. I am happy because he will be nearby, and given his recent health set-backs, this is a good thing. In horse years, my Dad is only a little bit older than Norman. Like Norman, Dad is far too young at heart to be put out to pasture yet. He is going to go where he can play a little bridge, a few holes of golf, and just possibly, take up painting again—a boyhood love put aside by the demands of an intense career in plastic surgery. Tonight I looked at the membership roster at La Costa Glen. It included four retired Admirals, and twenty five retired physicians and I pointed this out to my father, who decided immediately that it would be fun to do a weekly doctor’s lunch.

 

Though I will miss having them both at home, there’s life in these old boys yet!