Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Discarded Thoroughbred filly in critical condition a month after her last race

Dance Madam might not make it.

The circumstances are dire for the emaciated, dehydrated, strangles-infested thoroughbred filly who last raced exactly one month ago, finishing more than 23 lengths behind the winner of a $15,000 claiming race at River Downs on July 16th.  The four-year-old chestnut daughter of Dance Master hadn't hit the board in 12 starts since she'd broken her maiden for a $5000 tag at the same oval in June of 2010.

The filly's lackluster efforts on the racetrack apparently doomed her to the discard pile.  Less than three weeks after her last start, Dance Madam was spotted by a good samaritan at the Sligo auction in Kentucky on Wednesday, August 3rd, where she was being offered for sale with several other thoroughbreds, including the three-year-old St. L'Enjoleur filly Ultimate Proof, at a venue frequented mostly by kill buyers seeking to load their slaughterhouse-bound trailers for Canadian butcheries.  The two fillies were purchased for cheap money by dealer Charlie Harris, who then cooperated with a coterie of thoroughbred advocates who raised the funds for their ransom.  Bot the horses' troubles were far from over.

The Kentucky division of The United States Equine Rescue League (USERL) became aware of their plight, and contacted Melissa Kauffman, a sometime equine rescuer who agreed to open her heart, and the gates of her Middlebury, Indiana farm, to quarantine and care for them.  "I didn't know who they were or anything about them," Melissa said, "but I knew they'd given everything they had when it was asked, and they didn't deserve not to get it back."

But when the fillies arrived, on Monday, August 15th, Melissa was shocked at what she saw.  Dance Madam still had the sweat marks from the saddle she wore in her last race, and an unwashed poultice on one of her legs, suggesting to Melissa that "they literally pulled her out of the race and said, 'See you later.'"

The filly is so severely dehydrated that she didn't urinate for the first 48 hours after drinking her fill.  "If she were in the hospital, she would be in critical condition," Melissa explained.  "Her legs were so swollen that you couldn't even tell she had joints.  She has bites all over her body."  Dance Madam's caslicked vulva had apparently been forcibly penetrated by a stallion at one of the layover feedlots where she'd languished, and as a result, it is torn and infected and her urethra is grossly swollen.  Strangles are exploding like volcanoes all over her wracked body.

Melissa is doing everything possible to stabilize Dance Madam, but the filly's prognosis is guarded, at best.  "I've never seen this degree of evil," she said, angrily.  "It does not become real until a horse like this sets foot in your yard.  How can it be that within one month after racing, she's at death's door?"  Referring to Dance Madam's pedigree, which has the iconic thoroughbreds Mr. Prospector, Nijinsky II, and Storm Cat in her third generation, Melissa shook her head and asked, "How do we look into her eyes and say:  'You're worthless.'"

Saturday, June 11, 2011

It takes a village to save Alydar's 29-year-old daughter

Promethia's infected right eye in May, 2011
Photo: Shon Wylie

On May 21st, a trailer pulled into a farm in Carlisle, Kentucky, carrying a trio of horses who had been sent, sight unseen, to a farmer who thought he was getting three full-bodied equines he'd be able to resell for a quick profit.  But when the trailer's door slid open, what lay within was a dead Quarter Horse, and an old, thin mare who, with a buckskin gelding, had fallen on the deceased horse during the ride from Lexington.
The mare was Alydar's daughter, Promethia, a 29-year-old thoroughbred by one of racing's legendary elites.  The pretty bay had been a pricey pearl of a two-year-old back in 1984, when Dogwood Stable purchased her for $360,000 for one of its partnerships.  Though she never excelled on the racetrack, Promethia became a queenly matron of the bluegrass, producing seven winners--including a stakes horse--to the cover of such well-regarded stallions as El Prado, Clever Trick, Distinctive Pro, Polish Navy, and Salt Lake.  She was owned for several years during her heyday as a broodmare by Peter Schiff's Fox Ridge Farm.
But now, she had clearly fallen on hard times.  One of her eyes was painfully bruised and swollen, in obvious need of urgent medical care; her ribs were showing, and her cracked feet cried of neglect.  In spite of Promethia's exalted paternal lineage, and the fact that she hails from a regal female family that produced Kentucky Derby winner Bubbling Over, as well as her graded stakes-winning half-brothers, Withholding and Champion Ztunami, her luck seemed to have run out.  The well-bred mare who had once hobnobbed in fancy auction hall stalls, and been bedded down in racing society's best barns, now found herself reduced to relying on the kindness of strangers, with no friends in sight.
But against all odds, a far-flung network of horse people quickly banded together to give Promethia the promise of better days ahead.  Jeanne Mirabito of Our Mims Retirement Haven learned of Promethia's plight on the day the mare arrived in Carlisle, and alerted thoroughbred advocate Deborah Jones, who immediately got busy on her behalf.  She contacted Shon Wylie, who lived nearby, and while Ms. Wylie worked to persuade Promethia's new owner to relinquish her, Ms. Jones scrambled to arrange veterinary care--and temporary stabling--so that the mare's troublesome eye could be treated before it got worse.
On Monday, June 6th, veterinarians from Rood & Riddle examined Promethia at Ms. Wylie's farm, and determined that the mare's infected eye was on the verge of rupturing; it required emergency surgery, they said.  Promethia's time was running out, and Deb Jones was running out of options.
But then she found an angel in the guise of Elise Handler, who not only works as a veterinary technician at Hagyard Equine Medical Institute, but also runs Handler Bloodstock at Pegasus Stud with the invaluable assistance of her assistant manager, Matthew Schering.  With the blessing of Pegasus Stud owner Melinda Smith, Promethia was picked up by shipper Roy Hudson on Tuesday, June 7th, and transported to the famous Lexington nursery.
Dr. Jamelyn Kyser and Dr. Jill Westerholm with Promethia
Photo: Matthew Schering
As daylight turned to dusk that evening, Hagyard veterinarians Dr. Jamelyn Kyser and Dr. Jill Westerholm arrived to remove Promethia's maggot-infested right eye, during a two-hour procedure that they performed on a pro-bono basis.  They believed that Promethia had no vision in that eye because of the extent of the infection, so they didn't expect her to experience post-op problems getting her bearings.  And so far, surrounded by new friends and well wishers, Promethia has been proving them right.  "She's doing absolutely fantastic," Elise said, with a smile in her voice.
Ms. Handler knew that in addition to shepherding Promethia through her surgical recovery, she'd have to concentrate on building her up and addressing some long-neglected maintenance issues, and she's been pleasantly overwhelmed at the way in which the Lexington community has generously rallied to help the gentle old mare.  Her blacksmith, Joe Lossen, arrived yesterday to offer his much-needed expertise in trimming and shaping Prometia's feet, and so did Dr. Rocky Mason from Hagyard's, who came to file the mare's overgrown teeth, and in the process, remove a fractured molar that had become infected and painful.  The farm's regular vet, Hagyard's Dr. Arnaldo Monge, will stop by tomorrow to do some acupuncture, which may act to stimulate Promethia's appetite and alleviate some of her age-related aches and pains.
As a gift from the retired broodmares she cares for at Our Mims, Jeanne Mirabito sent over a pink tote bag of goodies--including grooming supplies and peppermints--to help Promethia's spirit shine.  Gale Mott of Second Chance Equine Rescue and Sanctuary chipped in for a fly mask, which will be a much-appreciated accessory once Promethia's bandage is removed.  And Hillary Tucker at Producer Feeds in Paris has donated bags of Producer's Special Needs PROformance feed, probiotics, and supplements to help bring Promethia back to a healthier weight and condition.  Producer wants to continue to provide for the mare's nutritional needs for at least the next two to three months, documenting her recovery along the way.
Promethia grazing at Pegasus Stud on June 11, 2011
Photo: Matthew Schering
Now that Promethia's initial crisis is over, the pressing need is to find her a permanent home, one in which she can peacefully live out her days embraced by love and other horses, without fear of falling through the cracks again.  And so there's more work to be done.
Charles Nuckols III at Nuckols Farm in Midway, where Kentucky Derby winner Monarchos stands, has graciously offered to provide interim lodgings for Promethia if she needs a temporary place to stay en route to her eventual home.  And the Retirement Assistance and Care for Equine (R.A.C.E.) Fund has launched a campaign to secure annual contributions for Promethia's care, so that she, and the Quarter Horse gelding who has been her years-long companion, but who is still at the Carlisle farm, can retire safely to one of their affiliated nonprofit facilities.
Since its founding as a nonprofit organization in 2004, R.A.C.E. Fund has helped to secure permanent retirement for more than 100 thoroughbreds.  The group's president, Marlene Murray, believes that Promethia is the oldest thoroughbred they've ever assisted.
With the help of Mary Adkins-Matthews, R.A.C.E. Fund has recently set up a Facebook page to promote the cause of Promethia and her Quarter Horse buddy, with the goal of attracting 36 supporters who would be willing to commit to an annual $100 contribution for the care of the two elderly horses, for the rest of their lives.  Ms. Murray explained that this figure is based on the calculation that their care would cost approximately $5/day per horse, or a total of $3600 per year.
"There needs to be substantial, mandatory industry funding for the care of retired thoroughbreds," Ms. Murray emphasized.  "As long as there is racing, there will be a need for long-term thoroughbred retirement faciliteis.  Our ability to help horses depends on how much money we can raise.  We'd like to do more, but we firmly believe that it's an industry obligation, and shouldn't be left to the nonprofits."
"Promethia is writing her own story," Ms. Murray added.  "But we don't care who a horse is by, or who they're out of.  Our focus is strictly on getting a horse to safety."

If you'd like to help bring Promethia and her Quarter Horse companion safely to a permanent retirement facility, you can make a tax-deductible donation to this cause through R.A.C.E. Fund, by earmarking it "For Promethia and her Quarter Horse Companion."  Monies can be sent via PayPal to:

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The faces of neglect

Wee Bit Special on the day he arrived at Circle E Ranch.
Photo: Gayle England
On January 16th of this year, Gayle England anxiously awaited a trailer that she knew would deliver two retired thoroughbreds for whom her rehabilitation facility in Stroud, Oklahoma was their last, best hope.  Each had been living at nearby Rafter G Ranch, where they had been kept under the auspices of the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation (TRF).
But she wasn't prepared for what she saw.  One of the horses, a 20-year-old chestnut gelding named, Wee Bit Special, was so weak that he had fallen down twice during the 12-mile ride to her farm.  The first time, the driver was able to get him back on his feet, but now, he just lay on the floor of the trailer, with no will or strength to rise.
"He doesn't stand a chance," Gayle thought.  "Four of us pulled him off the trailer and onto the ground, at which point he laid for approximately 10-15 minutes, after which we were able to get him up.  He was horribly shaken and was never able to recover.  Unfortunately, I was unable to help him and turn him around, and on February 11th, he died in our barn when the vet euthanized him."
It was a sad and piercing loss for Gayle and her husband, who own the 500-acre Circle E Ranch, which also cares for rescued thoroughbreds from The Exceller Fund and the Oklahoma Thoroughbred Retirement Program.  "The only comforting thing about this experience for me is that Wee Bit Special died with a full belly and I know he had all he wanted to eat and drink," Gayle recalled, sadly.
Wee Bit Special had arrived at the Circle E Ranch with a much more famous companion, the multiple graded stakes winning Clever Song (a son of the celebrated Clever Trick), whose illustrious pedigree and race record didn't protect him from having suffered the same neglect.  Now 29, Clever Song had long ago thrilled racing fans with his exploits on the turf, winning or placing in 21 of his 27 starts while earning $586,097.

Clever Song at the Circle E Ranch on March 20, 2011
Photo: Gayle England
But the once strapping athlete was now withered as a result of having received marginal care and inadequate nutrition for an extended period of time, and Gayle feared that she was going to lose him, too.  Two months after his arrival at Circle E, she reports that Clever Song is slowly regaining his weight, his strength, and his spirit.  "He's still a little wobbly, but he's trotting around now," she said, and added, "He has a long way to go and at age 29, it will take determination on his part and a watchful eye on mine.  However, he now walks with a spirit of life in him that he didn't have when he arrived here in emaciated condition."
How Clever Song and dozens of other horses got that way is what the Trustees of the Mellon Estate, a major benefactor of the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation, want to know.  As first reported by Joe Drape in The New York Times, they hired a Missouri-based equine veterinarian, Dr. Stacey Huntington, to assess the condition of each of the 1100+ horses for whom the TRF is responsible, at farms in Oklahoma, South Carolina, Virginia, Kentucky, and throughout the east coast.
According to Julie Walawender, who had been acting as TRF's interim Herd Manager until she resigned last week, the Mellon representatives took great pains to ensure that the evaluations were done fairly and without bias.  To that end, they hired not only Dr. Huntington, but at each facility, a second AAEP-accredited veterinarian who had no prior affiliation with the farm, to make his or her own assessment of the horses, independently of Dr. Huntington's.  Notwithstanding those efforts, the TRF abruptly notified its satellite facilities on Saturday, March 19th that Dr. Huntington was no longer to be granted access to their horses, apparently believing that by silencing her, it would stem the negative publicity surrounding the reports about dozens of TRF horses whose current condition belies a history of neglect.
"The Mellon Estate was willing to invest whatever it took to put things back on track," explained Ms. Walawender.  "Dr. Huntington was fantastic."  TRF now says it will continue the evaluations of its horses but with one notable exception:  they will hire only vets who have already been caring for the horses they will be assessing, a practice that seems far less objective than the one the Mellon Trustees had instituted.
Gayle England had been trying to get the TRF Board's attention since November of 2009, when she contacted them to complain about the foundation's late payments, failure to provide worming medication and vaccines, and pressure to reduce the per diems being paid to her farm, and several others.  She cited the organization's threats to remove the 27 horses that were then in her care if she didn't accept a lower day rate, and when she wouldn't, the TRF took 24 of them away from her in March, 2010, moving them to the other Oklahoma facilities whose substandard care was revealed during the Mellon investigation.  Because Ms. England deemed that three of the horses were too old or too fragile to be trailered even a short distance, she assumed responsibility for them on her own dime, rather than put them at further risk.
Khastan on January 24, 2011, the day she arrived at Circle E
Photo: Gayle England
But by January, 2011, after the Mellon-funded herd assessments had begun to identify farms where TRF horses were in "dire need," Ms. England was asked by Mellon Trustees Beverly Carter and Ted Terry to accept some of the worst cases for rehabilitation.  In addition to Clever Song and Wee Bit Special, she took 12 other TRF thoroughbreds, including the 23-year-old stakes-placed Ohio-bred mare,Khastan, who had descended down the claiming ladder to end her career for a $5000 tag at Thistledown in 1994; Stone Master, a 23-year-old son of I'm Glad (Arg), who broke his maiden at Belmont in $35,000 claiming company but arrived at Circle E a sorry sight, plagued with rain rot and sloughed off skin; and Rocking Josh, a Kentucky-bred son ofWhitesburg who won or placed in 64 of his 108 starts, amassing earnings of over $557,000.  All three horses had been ingesting toxic rumensin-laced cattle feed at nearby Windmill Farm for an unknown period of time before they got to Circle E.
They are all safe now, thanks to the intervention of the Mellon Trustees and to the kindness of Ms. England, and so many of the other farms who are trying so earnestly to care for the TRF horses on slim wages.  The least the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation can do now, it would seem, is to ensure that these stewards of their treasured retirees are paid promptly, without fuss or finagling, so that the horses can live out their lives in health and peace.

Monday, January 3, 2011

CNN debuts four-part series on wild horse controversy

Captured paint mare and her foal
at Broken Arrow holding facility
Photo: Cat Kindsfather
No use without express written permission

In today's first segment of "Mustang Roundup: Taking the wild out of the West," a four-part series to be aired on CNN's American Morning, the cable network thrust the controversy over wild horse roundups into renewed national prominence, with a piece about the recent Lahontan "Gather," during which more than 100 mustangs were captured from the 11,000-acre Lahontan Herd Management Area (HMA) east of Carson City, Nevada.  
The one-day Lahontan roundup was held on Wednesday, November 17th, 2010, and CNN reporters Kim Segal andJohn Zarrella were there, along with videographer Carl Mrozac, and several independent observers, including Richard Couto of Animal Recovery MissionLacy Dalton of Let 'Em Run FoundationBonnie Matton of the Wild Horse Preservation League, and Simone Netherlands of Respect 4 Horses.  They witnessed the chase and entrapment of 117 wild horses, and it's the graphic footage of what happened there that CNN unveiled today.
"In their eyes, you see who they are," intones the narrator of the powerful two-minute piece, "rugged, powerful, independent:  they are the wild mustangs of the American west."
Part of the footage depicts a horrifying sequence in which the helicopter contractor seems to attack a lone burro with the skids of his vehicle, while the voiceover says, "Here, a helicopter chases one single burro, eventually knocking it over.  It staggers off."  The reporters quote Simone Netherlands, who characterizes the helicopter chases as "brutal," adding, "It's barbaric and it does not need to be done this way."
The BLM ultimately determined that two of the "wild" horses it had chased from the Lahontan HMA were privately owned, identifying a mare and her foal who had "domestic brands."  Another yearling colt was euthanized by Dr. Richard Sanford at the Palomino Valley holding facility because he "had an old healed fracture or dislocation involving his right hind fetlock joint.  He was noticeably lame (Grade III) and in much worse body condition (Body Condition II) than his herd mates.  His foot was severely deformed from the injury."
Only seven horses (two stallions and five mares) were released back into the Lahontan HMA a day after their capture, on Thursday, November 18th.
CNN will air Part II of "Mustang Roundup: Taking the wild out of the West" on Tuesday, January 4th, on American Morning.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

It wasn't a good year for wild horses

Photo:  Cat Kindsfather
No use without written permission
On January 1st, 2010, a six-month-old colt became the first of the year's multitude of fatalities among wild horses who were chased from their western ranges and put behind bars, having forever lost their freedom and sometimes, their lives.

It happened during the infamous Calico Complex roundup in Nevada, as described in the subsequent necropsy report by Dr. Albert Kane, the BLM's onsite veterinarian:

"The (helicopter) pilot (gathering horses) reported this colt lied down twice while moving just 1/2 mile from the original location of the band of horses.  The second time, he radioed to the trap for wranglers to come with a trailer and assist the colt, as he seemed unlikely to make it to the trap.
I accompanied the wranglers to the location.  We arrived to the colt's location about 10 minutes after the call from the pilot.  On arrival, he was found dead, lying in left lateral recumbency, with no signs of struggle or agonal movements apparent in the surrounding snow."
As a result of his post-mortem examination, Dr. Kane ultimately concluded that the colt had died of "left side heart failure."  But, as the BLM and its veterinarians have done in case after case when wild horses have died from the stress of the helicopter chase, Dr. Kane went out of his way to shift the culpability for the colt's demise from the BLM and its contractor, noting that "Death (was) caused by acute pulmonary artery rupture attributable to a pre-existing, probably congenital heart condition."  And even though Dr. Kane specifically characterized the colt's death as "gather related," the BLM's Calico updates said it was not.
More than 120 wild horses of the 1922 who were scoured from the Calico Herd Management Areas ultimately perished, and untold numbers of unborn foals were aborted from their dams' stress-wrenched bodies before they could ever take a breath.
Word gamesdeceptioncruelty, and a macabre twisting of the truth permeated the BLM's relentless campaign to sweep wild horses from their rightful ranges in 2010.  And at the end of the year, a long-awaited audit report from the Office of the Inspector General simply rubber-stamped the wrangling and warehousing techniques of a federal agency that is seemingly spiraling out of control.
With the keynote appearance of BLM Director Bob Abbey at next week's pro-slaughter Summit of the Horse, the agency's true agenda is starting to come into clearer view.  Anyone who cares about horses should be alarmed.  It is a time to fight back, not to shrink back, lest 2011 bring more of the same misery to America's wild horses.