Tuesday, December 20, 2011

It Takes a Village: One Mare's Journey Back to the Bluegrass

-Sarah Andrew

Since January 2010, I've photographed well over 2,500 horses in need. I volunteer my time, skill, and camera equipment, and I try to put a face to the "unwanted" horse population. In addition to local rescues and farms, I visit Camelot Auction in Cranbury, NJ every Thursday and photograph the horses who were sold to the feedlot the night before. A group of dedicated horse lovers networks these horses every week, sharing the horses' photos and descriptions everywhere from feed stores to Facebook. The grassroots volunteer effort has made an impact; since November 2009, no horses have shipped to slaughter from this auction. Over 2,800 horses sold privately and have been given one more chance to get out of the slaughter pipeline.

Although there is no way to track every horse and it is unrealistic to believe that they all found their perfect owners, there are countless success stories of horses who found appropriate homes. This is the story of one of those horses.
In mid-April 2011, when Derby Fever was in full swing, I photographed Hip #241, a bay Thoroughbred mare with a big left knee. She was a big-bodied girl with an elegant head adorned by a crooked heart-shaped star. She wore a hand-me-down halter that belonged to another broodmare. Being a sucker for a bay with a pretty face, I spent a little time with her after I did my photos. She was gentle and her doe eyes gave her a look of polite bewilderment.

Each week, the feedlot horses are usually available until the Saturday after the auction. As of Thursday morning, nobody had bought the bay mare. This was her auction description: "#241 15.3 hds 6 yr old mare led thru sweet in the pen no other info given $375.00 (note: this mare has a big left knee)"

Tattoo research revealed that her name was Indian Delight, and she earned $134,560 on the track, running against the likes of Life At Ten, Sugar Swirl, Indyanne, Secret Gypsy, and Persistently. Her last race was in May 2010.

Thursday night, she was still available. Nervous about the mare's welfare, I called TDN Vice President Sue Finley, who assured me that together, we would find her a home. Friday morning rolled around, and the mare was still available. The TDN staff pooled their funds and together, we paid the purchase price for Indian Delight.

Many phone calls were made that week. Through the network of wonderful TDN readers, a few farms offered a home for Indian Delight. With the help of many horse advocate friends, the mare's transportation and a month of quarantine were scheduled. Horses who have entered the auction circuit are recommended to be placed in temporary isolation care to make sure they have not caught any diseases in their travels.

On Kentucky Derby Day, I visited Indian Delight in Pennsylvania at the isolation care facility. She had already picked up a little weight, and her shaggy winter coat was almost gone. The bay mare still had her doe-eyed expression, but this time she looked a little less bewildered by her surroundings.
At the end of her stay at the farm, transportation was again arranged and "our" mare headed to Kentucky to live at Fallbrook Farm. Although they were not the owners or breeders of Indian Delight, Mr. and Mrs. Randal generously offered to take her into their care.

The week before the 2011 Saratoga meet opened, I drove out to Kentucky to visit Indian Delight at Fallbrook. As I headed down up driveway, I could not help but smile at Fallbrook's gently rolling hills of bluegrass and beautiful barns. My smile turned into an ear-to-ear grin when I saw my friend Indian Delight peek her head out of her stall. Gone was her winter fuzz, and it was replaced by her gleaming summer coat, resplendent with dapples. She was the picture of health, a wonderful model for my photos.
Summer turned to fall and the air got cold. In December, I made my way back out to Kentucky to visit Indian Delight, who was sporting a healthy, shiny winter coat and a custom nameplate on her halter. She is still comfortable on her knee. I was delighted to see her in her large paddock, happily rolling, grazing, and playing with her equine friends. Her look of bewilderment from the auction barn is gone, and it has been replaced by a look of contentedness.

This is a story of a lucky mare, but it's also a story of the generosity of the horse community. So many people reached out and played a part, big or small, in finding the best home possible for this mare. I extend my heartfelt thanks to everyone who helped in the true spirit of horsemanship, and got Indian Delight to Fallbrook, where she is the queen of the farm. It took a village to help one mare get back to the Bluegrass.

23 comments:

Vickie said...

Such a heartwarming story, and Indian Delight is as beautiful as ever! I'm so glad she caught your eye!

Cheryl Ann said...

What a wonderful story! I'm one of the lucky ones, too, and my Mom has 4 others. Now time to focus on the ones that WILL go to slaughter.

Ariel Yve said...

She is magnificent! Wow! Thank you for helping her find such a perfect home!

Shirley said...

This was a GREAT story. You can see the big difference in her before and after photos. The eyes tell the story and her body language. THANK YOU sooooo much for all that you do, this beautiful horse is now in a loving home that she very much deserves. Thanks again....

Lori said...

What a wonderful story - it got me teary-eyes. I wish all horses could be so lucky.

cindy said...

Ok Miss Sarah, you made me cry! Your talent does NOT end at the lens it seems. You have a true talent for writing, as does Miss Penny. Amazing story, amazing mare, spear-headed by an amazing woman! It took a village to get her there, but it took the power of one to get the village started. When we finally meet, I know I will bawl like a baby. I am honored to call you a friend!

DressageTrainer said...

What a terrific story. What a beautiful mare.

I just rescued one of the horses from Camalot. You photographed her too "Blaze in the Dark" When we decided to buy her my student and I thought she was a TB cross, but when she came to the farm she was all TB with fabulous blood lines. Storm Cat granddaughter. She is 3 yrs old and very sweet. Her name now is Valentina and she is a very pretty petite mare. She has only been here about 4 weeks. We had her in quarentine. She was moved to the main barn last week and now has a buddy in the paddock and has settled in beautifully. (I will post pics soon)

I wanted to tell you I think you have a fantastic eye and your photos speak. You really get a sense of what these animals are thinking.

wolfy said...

wow - what a happy story, thank you

Greg Jones said...

Simply wonderful, thank you!

lauradid said...

Great story, Sarah & great job on helping to find this mare a home. And a million thanks for volunteering your time every week to take such extraordinary pictures!

Anonymous said...

Absolutely fantastic story! I wish we could have happy endings like this for all the throw aways that come through Camelot...
So heart warming...

Fran Jurga said...

This is the story of the year, in my opinion, and my wish for the new year would be that more people would do exactly what you did, Sarah--pool their resources with some like-minded friends, and save just one horse.

And keep it saved.

Thanks so much for this story.

Jonathan said...

So glad she is doing well at her new home.

Anonymous said...

I still think that there should be a law inacted that makes it maditory for a percentage of the winnings go towards supporting the horse after there racing carreer is over. Sorry if you only break even but they have no choice at birth to what will be demanded of them. Afterall her knee was not self indused.

Barbara Livingston said...

What a heartwarming story...and it all started with a look from her doe eyes and your open heart. You are wonderful, Sarah - such an inspiration.
(beautiful photos, too...no surprise...)

Claire Novak said...

Most rescue stories don't make me cry. This one did. I have a special place in my heart for Camelot horses and believe it's because of your photography. When I get a horse, I want it to come from there. Thank you for sharing and for saving her.

Patti Davis said...

Oh, my, what a tremendously uplifting story. Congratulations to each and every one of the generous souls who donated money to buy the mare and find her a home at Fallwell. In fact, I am going to send The Randals a thank you note.

She is a beauty.

Vickie P said...

If this isn't an appropriate story for the season I don't know what is! My heart is full of joy for this beautiful girl and thankful for people like Sarah that will go that extra mile. Happy Holidays!

eqbza said...

Great story - and particularly heartwarming at this time of the year! Well done - and, THANK YOU!

Anonymous said...

Made me cry that less than a year after her last race, and having won all that money, she is just disposed of. So glad it has a happy ending though.

Jayne said...

What a beautiful mare! I'm so glad she has a good home now. Kudos to everyone who helped out, and who continue to help out these noble animals.

Reenie Taft said...

This story brought tears to my eyes, and the realization that there are many kind and helpful horse people out there.

Anonymous said...

Dear Sarah,

It is you I have to blame for the pictures that "forced" me to buy two of the Camelot horses. One is a thin, Chestnut TB, not much unlike my very first horse so many years ago. They will both go to QT and then onto new lives; the pony as a babysitter for my daughter and the TB to spend 6 months at pasture simply to relax and gain weight. Thank you for the pictures!