As I turned into the parking lot at the New Holland Horse auction, I noted a familiar old Ford pickup with a rusty stock trailer in tow. I know this rig. It makes my heart sink in a combined moment of sadness, fear and contempt. It was the “Zoo Guy” from New Jersey. I was told that he buys horses to feed the lions. While I understand that lions need to eat too, feeding horses to hungry lions is unconscionable and inhumane euthanasia. I tried not to look at the two sets of ears that were visible in that rusty stock trailer. I fought the urge to unload those horses, and steal them away from their fate. I am not a horse thief, and I can only save what can be saved so I ventured toward the auction house.
It was 11:30am, the auction had been underway since 10:00am. I had been there early that morning to meet two “Micro Rescuers.” These two woman had agreed to each take one horse to rehab and rehome. Equine Rescue Network (ERN) had approved them as qualified rescuers. At 8:00am, we met to assess the 200+ horses that stood closely together, tied to cement walls waiting to be auctioned to the highest bidder. New Holland Auction is held every Monday and attracts all types. There are private homes, rescue groups, Amish people and killbuyers, who purchase horses to ship to Canada and Mexico.
Any horse that sells for under $325 is in danger of being purchased for slaughter. Although prices vary depending on size and the principles of supply and demand. I have been to the auction in January. There were very few private homes, mostly killbuyers, and the prices were low. In April, with riding season in bloom, the New Holland Auction will be crowded with private homes looking for a summer project. The prices will be high. In the fall, the number of horses that run through auction will skyrocket as the summer camp horses are dropped off and individuals cull their herds to only those horses worth feeding for the winter. With more horses than buyers, the prices are low.
ERN had $625 in the “ERN Auction Fund” which should be enough to rescue two horses. We had carefully coordinated with the two approved “Micro Rescuers” to take the rescued horses. ERN has a formulaic strategy on how to rescue horses from auction. Part of the strategy involves limiting my time at the auction. I rarely stick to the “best laid plans” and end up with a sympathy purchase and an extra horse to contend with. Today was no exception.
I arrived with the sole purpose of paying for the two horses that had been purchased earlier by the micro-rescuers. Everything was going according to plan until, I rounded the corner to head to the office and saw a familiar face. The hair on my neck stood up and my stomach turned slightly as my mind processed who that might be. A slightly balding, red-faced, heavy set man, I had seen him before? Then it dawned on me; the Arabian yearling filly, a parking lot cash-deal, the rusty trailer. It was the “Zoo Guy.” I had bought a little Arabian yearling off his trailer last spring. Sweet filly, we had found her a nice home in Ohio.
The “Zoo Guy” stood talking to three younger black men. In the midst, of their discussion stood a gigantic dark bay gelding with a sweet baby face and kind eye. The gelding’s head hung low. He was very tall and very thin. I immediately knew the topic of their conversation. Sadly, I knew the end of the story. It was not the ending you think either. The story would end with me owning a gigantic bay gelding. And I HATE when that happens.
I lost complete control, walked purposely over, and injected myself into their conversation. I asked only one question “How much?” They younger of the black men, said “$500.” I pulled $300 cash from my pocket and flipped through the crisp $100 bills. Acting confident and gangster-like, I replied “I only have $300 in cash. I will only pay $300 in cash for that horse. Take it and I take the horse. Don’t take it and I move on to the next horse.” I knew how to play that game. I always carry cash in my pockets at New Holland. I had more cash hidden in my bra, but wasn’t going to pull that out unless I needed. Plus I really didn’t want to go digging in my bra in front of these men. Luckily, the deal was done at $300. The man grabbed the cash and handed me the lead rope. The “Zoo Guy” walked away, $300 is more than he likes to pay.
The moment of elation passed quickly. “Darn It!” (I didn’t actually use those words), now what? I have no home for this horse. No trailer. No plan. The poor big horse, I hadn’t even looked at him. His legs were clean, despite a slight swelling in both hind fetlocks. This was likely caused from spending the night standing on concrete. He had a large saddle sore on his back. Taking a quick glimpse at his teeth, I guessed he was 3 years old. He had a tattoo, so I assumed he raced.
“Jump and a net will appear” – Strangely this has been my experience rescuing horses. And a net did appear as if there was a guardian angel on my shoulder. A woman appeared from the maze of horses and people. She asked if she could flip the gelding’s lip and read his tattoo. She explained that she works with rehoming racehorses. I went on to say how I was emotionally incapable of letting the horse go to the “Zoo Guy.”
We found the tattoo number. She pulled out her cellphone and accessed the Jockey Club tattoo lookup. We found he had raced at Mountaineer in June, 2014. We also were able to get the contact information of his owner, trainers, and breeders. Finding a horse’s identity is a key ingredient to helping horses. Her next move was to call his former owner. She explained the horse that stood in front of me. The owner was horrified that his former horse was at New Holland. He offered to jump in his truck and come pick him up. He was four hours away, but he would leave right away.
Alrighty then, four hours and my problem of this extra horse would be solved. It was a cold and rainy day in New Holland, Pennsylvania. I sat holding the horse in the parking lot waiting. An hour passed, and a very tall woman approached me. She offered to hold him for an hour so I could warm up. The big gelding stood so quietly and patiently, I felt comfortable leaving him with a stranger while I went to the bathroom and ran warm water over my hands and sipped warm coffee.
I returned in an hour. From a distance, I could see the horse’s head hung low as she was gently scratching his ears. He was almost asleep and obviously enjoying his new friend. I thanked her for watching him, and sat back down on the trunk of my car. I thought she would leave. I assume she must be freezing too, but instead she said “While you were gone, I named him Moose” and she sat down next to me.
Her name was Allison. She had a plan. She was an experience horse woman from Virginia. She showed me before and after photos of several horses she had rescued in the past. She wanted Moose. When she explained her plan, it seemed logical. We were waiting in the cold to return this horse to the same owner who was inadvertently responsible for Moose almost being fed to the lions. If he were returned to his previous owner, he would just be another Off the Track Thoroughbred (OTTB) looking for a home.
Instead, Allison offered to arrange transport for him to her farm in Virginia, pay for all of his veterinary care and nurse him back to good health. As we sat there in the rain, I called her references, and she showed me pictures of her farm. I knew that is where Moose belonged. The adoption paperwork was signed, and off he went to thrive in his new home.
They key to this story was we were able to identify Moose because he was a racing Thoroughbred and therefore, tattooed. The best way to identify a horses is Microchipping and Registering that horse with the Nationwide Equine Registry. Learn more at www.EquineRescueNetwork.com.
IF every owner were to microchip and registered their horse, we would be able to help them like we did Moose.