File under: Striving for Balance in the world of animal rescue.
Saturdays can be especially challenging for a horse-loving person like me. Saturdays are "auction" days all across the country, and hundreds of horses will load on huge tractor-trailers for their final ride to a slaughterhouse in Mexico or Canada. Just because it's illegal to slaughter a horse in the U.S. doesn't mean it's illegal to SELL one to BE slaughtered in another country.
A few times in my life, I've managed to attend a local auction and pull one horse that particular Saturday. Save ONE life. It's an incredible feeling and every emotion a human can experience is involved.
You pull up to the auction house and you want to throw up when you see the row of tractor trailers parked behind the auction house. Almost out of sight, but not really - they are merely parked by the loading chutes, ready to load the night's haul. That's right: horse auctions are typically conducted on Saturday afternoons, so the horses not lucky enough to be purchased by individuals can be loaded up and transported during the cover of darkness. The slaughter industry understands how disfavored their business is within the overall American culture, so they drive their truckloads - of the healthy camp horses camp management is too cheap to feed through the winter, the young horses a breeder was too busy to invest enough time to teach manners, the old horses that have reached some magical-horrible age at which their owner feels they have no additional value nor does said owner feel they owe said aged horse a kind retirement, the broken horses with navicular or that stiff hock that makes them unrideable, in sum, the unwanted ones - at NIGHT, so folks going out to a nice family dinner on Saturday evening won't see that hauler full of someone's no-longer-wanted-but-once-cherished Christmas pony, headed to die a horrible death. (I won't add pix here, but you can google it up if you want to see how horses are slaughtered.)
The best and wisest horse owners understand we cannot save them all - it's like tossing a handkerchief in the Pacific Ocean and thinking one can absorb all that water. Impossible. So we do what we can. We share out pix, and thank God for social media, because that one tool alone saves hundreds of horses each and every week. We donate a few dollars when we can. We volunteer and donate time to local horse rescues. Every person who loves horses - even if you don't own one - can help share out posts and etc. to try and help these horses find a forever home and stay off that TRUCK.
And then, back at the auction, you walk into the holding pens, and see the dozens upon dozens of animals at that particular auction, on that particular day, and the notion of the looming loss of life is truly overwhelming. The thought goes through your head, "I can only save ONE." One of three hundred!! And you know you have to find the strength to wander through all those pens, and look at all those faces, and all those pleading eyes (horses are incredibly intelligent and most of them know EXACTLY where they are and what is happening to them). You walk past the cute Haflinger who asks for treats, the stately palomino Tennessee Walking Horse that comes to the pen rail for a friendly scratch, the bay American Quarter Horse who moments later shows off his reining training on the auction scale and you wonder how in the world such an awesome and well-trained animal winds up here, the American Paint mare - who comes with her registration papers, her handler brags - and who also comes with a four-day old colt at her side, and you hope and pray that baby doesn't get ill from the germ-infested stench that is an auction house.
And in the very back pens, crowded together sometimes 15 to a pen that is designed to hold 1 horse safely, you see a youngster that is getting the crap kicked out of him by the older and bigger horses. Fresh injuries and blood and the terror in his eyes. And you can neither walk away nor walk past him. And you walk up to him and whisper, "no matter what else happens this day, YOU are coming home with me."
And that is how the choice is made. There is no rhyme nor reason. It comes down to one soul that simply cannot be ignored that day.
And somehow, God gives you the strength to move your leaden feet back past all those other eager faces and pleading eyes, and you go sit in the auction rows.
And you die a little each time another horse is run through, bid on by no one - including you - except the kill buyers. They have those trucks to fill, and horses go cheap on the hoof with no one else bidding.
The Haflinger is fat from good pasture, so he's a top candidate for the kill buyers - great weight-to-hoof ratio. He is lost forever and will load on that truck tonight.
The palomino TWH gets lucky; someone outbids the kill buyer and that someone will be riding the TWH on trails tomorrow. Hallelujah.
The paint mare and foal get lucky, too - bidding is fierce because she is loud colored, she brings a "2 for 1" package, and, sadly, because, as a mare, the new owner "can always breed her again and get another baby to sell." Or another horse to load on those trucks in a few years, if there is no "Happily ever after" for that as-yet-unbred baby. But one must hope the new owners will do right by this mare, and at least she is not going on that TRUCK parked out back. And neither is her baby. Miracles do happen.
The bay Quarter Horse comes in to be bid on, and he's obviously well-trained, quick, and handy. He spins away from the handlers (who whack the horses on the rump with whips and cattle rattles to "drive" them where they want them to go . . .) and outwits them at every turn. Sadly, his luck has run out. A kill buyer is the only one who bids on him. Tragically, the handlers are spitefully angry with this beautiful athlete that so easily outmaneuvered them, and, when it's time to open the exit door, the guy operating the door seems to take great pleasure in slamming the door ON the horse - again and again. I scream, "STOP" and hide my head as I hear a foreleg snap.
The auctioneer laughs and the door finally stay open and the bay limps out.
Seconds ago, he was whole and fine and fantastic. Now, nothing lies ahead for him but one very painful last ride. In that truck. At that moment, I truly despise humanity - including myself. Why can't I have more land? Why can't I have more money? More means to save another one? I want to vomit.
More horses come through, and my soul dies a little more with each one . . .
Finally, the little bleeding, lame, terrified youngster comes through the entry door. The auctioneer starts the bidding, and a kill buyer raises his hand. And I raise mine, growling under my breath, "that is MY baby!!!!" Several bids later, that baby is indeed mine. MINE. I don't remember nor care what his final price was. No truck for him. Not today. Not ever.
I am terrified of a marking error, or a loading error, or some paperwork screw up, so I jump up and say a quick prayer of apology for the remaining horses to come through the bidding that day. I must go keep eye contact with my baby so nobody takes him away. He's a flashy black sabino paint. He's also a 3 on the Henneke scale. I presume he is 6 months old. I will learn at his first vet visit - 36 hours hence - he is actually 18 months old.
He is so stunted and so very sick. He runs a temperature of 105 for an entire week. But he finally turns the corner on his illness and his injuries and starts getting better, stronger, fatter, and more trusting and loving.
Now, two years later, that baby is at this very moment contentedly grazing with my other horses on 12 acres without a care in the world. I am grateful he has forgotten his pain and his terror.
But as I sit here, on a lovely sunny Saturday afternoon, I know there are auctions today. Some of my FB friends are, as I type, working feverishly to outbid and rescue some discarded Standardbreds. They have outbid the kill buyers for one, so far. More to come, I hope. But one mare is safe.
What a sacred word.
So, with the steadfast conviction of doing what I can, and ALL I can, I am turning my little Tennessee farm into an animal sanctuary. I have a cadre of excellent attorneys working with the IRS to make this happen as soon as possible.
Starlight Farm Animal Sanctuary.
Similar to the elephant sanctuary in Tennessee, and a "big cats" sanctuary in North Carolina, Starlight Farm Animal Sanctuary will be a private place of peace and refuge for the unwanteds.
As God provides opportunity, resources, and wisdom, we will add additional horses, pull individuals from the slaughter pipeline, and/or donate resources to assist other rescue organizations in saving equine lives.
But, for now, we focus on obtaining 501(c)(3) status from the IRS. TO that end, all prayers of support are welcome.
I cannot save them all. But if each of us, and every one of us, do what we can do, we can change the world for the better.
One life at a time . . .