Every so often the stars align and mysterious things happen, as if it were fate falling into place. This past weekend was one of those moments when I felt the stars align for Ellie and I.
It was only a few weeks ago when someone commented on my youtube video of Elegance, aka 'Ellie' and I had responded saying if she was ever not wanted I would gladly take her back. Little did I know what would happen in the weeks to follow.
Ellie was born March 28, 2003 as a Thoroughbred intended for the race track. She had some training before they realized that Ellie really isn't a fast horse and didn't have a heart for racing. She retired from racing, with no starts, and sound. I purchased her from a horse trader that had a connection at the track and helped to sell ex-race horses.
I brought her to the placed where I boarded, Reidall Farms. There I retrained her using natural horsemanship and we could do canter pirouettes and ride bridleless and play at liberty. From there we moved around a bit as I tried to find a farm that had everything I wanted... with a reasonable price. We boarded at Equine Oasis and Bellewood Equestrian Centre. It was along this journey that I also purchased Thetis. Thetis and Ellie became best friends.
Thetis and Ellie showed together and trained together. They were very similar, but Ellie was easier to ride because I'd had her longer so she was better trained, and also Ellie is naturally more of a pokey/slow horse which makes her easier.
I made the decision to sell Ellie because I needed to sell one of my horses to help keep paying the bills.... if you didn't know this already, horses are expensive! One of the ways I would both help cover my horsey expenses and help horses was to own a couple horses at a time, one of which would be a project to train, and when they could be safely sold I would sell... and then repeat the process.
I sold Elegance to Larissa, who wanted a calm show horse to gain her confidence on. Larissa enjoyed her for a year, and then contacted me when she wanted to sell Elegance and move on to a different horse. I was boarding at West Ridge Farm at the time, and already owned a few horses so I couldn’t take her back - instead I helped Larissa sell Elegance and find her a new home.
She was sold to a lady named Melanie, who with her coach Diane seemed to really know their stuff. I was convinced Elegance would have a happy life.
It wasn't until Friday January 18th first thing in the morning, when a former student and part boarder of Elegance saw her photo posted on Need You Now Equine (NYNE). NYNE is headed up by Tracey.
Basically Tracey takes pictures of some of the horses that come to the Ottawa Sales Barn for slaughter in the hopes of finding them new homes – if they aren’t rescued then they do go for slaughter.
Tracey posts the pictures to facebook with as much information as she can find out – some of these horses literally have days before they go for slaughter, so if you see a horse on NYNE you have to act fast if you want to save them. Tracey helps coordinate the sale of the horse - she helps you buy the horse from the 'kill buyer'. He charges the 'meat price'. All of the horses I have seen on NYNE are priced fairly cheap, with Elegance being the most expensive at $800.
When I saw Elegance posted on NYNE I acted fast. I restrained myself from texting Tracey every minute, but that was difficult... I wanted answers and I wanted to save Ellie immediately. I knew time was of the essence.
The picture and description mentioned Ellie was injured with a puncture wound to her hip and that she wasn’t sound right now.
Between texting, and emailing I was able to find out the information I needed. Tracey also told me about another person, Marina, looking to save a horse she knew, Moro Moo. I got in touch with Marina and we worked it out that we would drive down to the feed lot together to save our horses. I emailed the $800 money transfer to Tracey to pay for Elegance, and our plans were set.
Sunday, January 20th was windy and frigid cold. I was lucky to have my assistant coach Marcie to cover my lessons for the day so I could leave first thing in the morning (although bad weather meant they were canceled anyway). Marina arrived bright and early with Thoroughbred racing trainer, Marko.
We hitched up and rolled out of the driveway at 8:30am. The roads were actually pretty good until we got near Ottawa, then there were some ice patches and I literally was driving about 20km/hr. Surprisingly we only saw one truck in the ditch!
On the long journey I heard the story of Moro Moo - Marko really is a caring trainer, and Marina a loving former groom of 'Moo'. Marko had trained Moo and Moo had won many races, despite being a little crooked in the legs. Marko said he had given her away to be a broodmare, and was very shocked to find out she was headed for slaughter. Marko loves all of the horses he trains, and he is committed to finding good homes for them when they are done their racing career.
Marina was the former groom of Moo, and similar to me it was someone else that had shared the facebook photo of Moo with her. As soon as Marina recognized Moo she started contacting friends, family, and Marko to get Moo rescued and coordinated the whole effort.
We had a long journey with many stories shared, but as we approached closer to our destination the butterflies started turning in my stomach, and many questions filled my head: - What would this place look like? How injured would Ellie be? Would Ellie be able to load on the trailer because of her injury? What would we see?
As we pulled up the road, it was easy to see the right address despite no number visible at the end of the drive. Massive steel buildings with giant lettering spelling out 'live stock'. As we pulled in it was horrific to see just how many loading and unloading docks there were -just how many animals are at death's doorstep at this place?
Literally chute after loading chute, and barn after barn. Marko said 'this is a scary place I tell you,' and he was right.
It makes you think – the average person goes into the grocery store and buys meat, but doesn’t actually think about what that animal had to go through to get onto the dinner plate.
Tracey greeted us at the side of the building, which warmed the atmosphere a bit. We got the trailer ready and grabbed our lead ropes and blankets and headed into the barn. To my surprise our 2 horses were at a holding cell right at the entrance we came through - so we didn't venture through the depths of the labyrinth of barns and holding cells.
From what I could see, there were no other animals in sight, and when I asked Tracey about the other horses she said they were in the back barn. The space we were in was dark, but with clean shavings – but who knows what it’s like in the 'back.'
Ellie looked so defeated, injured, and so weak. Moo was the opposite - she seemed to know where she was and wasn't having any part of it - as soon as she saw the daylight of the entrance open she tried to dart through. Marina and Marko tried keeping her steady as they haltered her and blanketed her.
Ellie seemed dead inside and stood there. She still had her auction number “2589” glued to her side, a rack of ribs, her pelvis, hip bones and spine outline completely visible, and yet all 4 of her shoes still on. Her back legs so stocked up, and her injured leg so swollen with the puncture wound oozing a yucky yellowish pus.
I had to rip Ellie's auction number off of her body - it was glued so hard to her body that I couldn't take the number off her body without ripping off some of her fur. Ellie was so dead she didn't even move. I tossed her blanket on her - the same cooler I used for her when I owned her a few years ago.
I had a chance to ask Tracey some of the questions I had been dying to know. She explained that every Tuesday there are auctions at OLEX, an auction place in Waterloo. This past Tuesday there were 54 horses that went through auction. Of those, 17 were bought by the kill buyer she knows (another 25 were bought by another kill buyer and direct shipped to the meat plant. Of the 17 horses that went to ‘Tracey’s Kill buyer’ there were 7 that seemed sound/sane and had a reasonable chance of having a second chance so she took their pictures and posted them to facebook.
Of those 7, Ellie and Moo were rescued, and another Standardbred was to be picked up Monday. Tracey said she's been doing this for a year. She has a respectful relationship with the kill buyer - she doesn't cause problems for him, she just posts the pictures and if someone wants the horse they pay the meat price.
Out of respect for the relationship that Tracey has with the kill buyer, I won't disclose the address of the kill buyer's feed lot.... because if he feels that people are coming uninvited or causing more trouble than they are worth, then Tracey won't be able to take pictures of these animals and save the few she can.
Tracey explains that this particular kill buyer does care about the horses – so unlike most kill buyers, he allows Tracey to try and sell them first, but if they don’t sell they go for meat.
Tracey then said that Ellie got injured on the way from auction to the feed lot - which isn't surprising based on the loading and unloading methods I've seen from auction houses.
As we went to lead the horses out of the loading chute to our trailer, a stock trailer with cattle was starting to back up to unload. We had to ask the driver to wait a couple minutes so we could take the horses out.
We led the horses out to the trailer - Ellie barely could walk and nearly fell, and Moo was so desperate to get out of there that Marko had to hold her tight.
As we loaded our horses onto the trailer they positioned the stock trailer to the chute for unloading.
Moo walked right onto the trailer, and settled - as if saying "phew, this looks like a real horse trailer, I must be going somewhere safe now." Ellie struggled with the trailer - she was trying but her back legs were very weak, sore, and stocked up.
Just beside us they started unloading the cattle by beating them with a cane and zapping them with an electric shock stick. There was no patience or respect for the animals - and this was all with unfamiliar and public eyes watching.
I could see Ellie give a huge effort and she forced herself up into the trailer - luckily she loaded.
Both horses were attacking their hay bags - who knows if they were being fed or what sort of conditions they were in for the last few weeks.
As we went to pull out of the driveway another stock trailer was pulling in - that place really is busy and deals with a lot of animals.
The experience was a big eye opener for me – I never really thought about what my hamburger had to go through… but perhaps I should.
The drive home was slow, but filled with more excitement of our success and rescue mission. We didn't arrive back to Partridge Horse Hill until 10:30pm. We unloaded carefully and Ellie struggled her way into the barn. We put the girls into stalls where they started eating hay right away.
We took a few photos, exchanged some hugs and best wishes. Moo will be picked up later by a new loving home that promises to keep her forever and treat her like a princess.
Tracey also gave me Ellie's passport. From the passport I can see that Ellie was passed around a couple times and was owned by Joseph, a coach/trainer, and then ended up with one of Joseph’s students. I was able to get in touch with Kylie, Ellie’s last listed owner on her passport.
Kylie told me that she bought Ellie to show the hunters, but fairly soon after she purchased her, Ellie kept going lame after jumping. Kylie said it was really inconsistent, they could ride her and jump her and she’d be fine, but then after a couple times she would stop, not want to go, and then be lame. They tried giving her a couple months off, x-rays, and injecting Ellie’s hocks thinking it could be arthritic but the vet couldn’t diagnose Ellie.
Kylie ended up giving Ellie to her trainer, who gave Ellie to a rehabilitation centre at the end of November, 2012. It is unclear what exactly happened after that, because the rehab centre didn’t keep in touch about Ellie, and Kylie was just as shocked as I was to see Ellie posted on NYNE just 2 months after Kylie gave Ellie away. What’s worse is that Kylie says Ellie was in good health when she was given way – she even went with her winter blanket and rain sheet, but now Ellie is severely under weight.
Kylie said her trainer followed up with the rehab centre after seeing Ellie posted on NYNE – she didn’t speak to the rehab centre directly, but seems to think that they did do some tests and found something with Ellie that couldn’t be cured so they sent her to auction…. Apparently the rehab centre said they had a high reserve bid of $1000 to ensure she wouldn’t go to a kill buyer…. But I guess that didn’t happen since I bought her for $800 from the kill buyer, and the kill buyer definitely wouldn’t sell at a loss.
I am still in the process of finding out more from Kylie to see if I can get in touch with the rehab centre to find out what tests they did and what they found out – I will keep you posted!
These girls have no idea how close they came to death's doorstep... or maybe they do.
Stay tuned for an update on Ellie's recovery – check Ellie’s page at http://www.partridgehorsehill.com/Elegance.html
Thank you Tracey, Marina (former student who spotted Ellie), Marina (Moo's former groom), and Marko!
See pictures at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/lfequestrian/sets/72157628811786377/