Shedrow Secrets: Slade

Shedrow Secrets

Shedrow Secrets, Installment 5

Slade…gentle, beautiful Slade…
By Joy Aten and Jo Anne Normile (author of “Saving Baby”)

One of the first things I do when learning of a Thoroughbred racehorse in need is search for a race replay. I want a mental image, a “face to go with a name.” There were several of Slade. I chose one of his winning races and watched him gallop across the finish line, lengths in front of the rest of the field. He was wondrous to behold, a glistening chestnut with snow-white markings. Jogging back to the winner’s circle, head high and nostrils flaring, Slade felt the jockey’s celebratory pats upon his powerful neck. He pranced in place as photos were taken, and those around him cheered loudly, their faces beaming in excitement and pride. But as I watched this golden stallion, his sides heaving with each breath, I shared none of the victorious thrill of those around him. I felt only dread.

You see, this race I watched had taken place a year earlier. When I learned of Slade, too much time had passed and too many races had been run. Slade would never again carry a rider – not triumphantly into the winner’s circle – not at all. His legs, once swift and strong, were now unable to evenly bear the weight of his own body. The applause for this once-revered racehorse was long silenced. He had run his last race and had suffered his final injury on February 27, 2009 at Penn National Race Course. Slade had spiraled to the bottom of the racing game, becoming one of its disposable warriors. After his last race, he stood in his stall for 3 months without evaluation or treatment of his shattered ankle. And he waited…for help that might never come.

A Kentucky-bred by Menifee, Slade had 50 starts for earnings of nearly a quarter of a million dollars. He ran at Churchill Downs and Arlington International Racecourse as a youngster, but was claimed for the first time in only his fifth race. Over the years, Slade was claimed and privately sold repeatedly. In his last full year of racing, over a nine month period, he was with seven different trainers. Days of winning races were over. Yet he endured race after race, another claim and another private sale. Again and again, he found himself in an unfamiliar barn with unfamiliar handlers. Then on February 27, 2009, at Penn National in the cheapest of claiming races, Slade could not or would not run anymore. Even after that last race, the damaged, lame horse was acquired by yet another trainer.

Slade’s royal beginnings meant nothing now – he had become just one of the “cheap” horses at a “cheap” track. (Racing owner Michael Gill stated in the February 6, 2009 Thoroughbred Times: “these horses [at Penn National] are cheap claiming horses….”) His newest trainer was known for acquiring class horses – former successful runners – and racing them with existing injuries. As weeks turned into months, Slade remained lame at a walk and was unable to be removed from the vet’s list. The New Holland horse auction, known as the New Holland “killer sale,” was likely Slade’s next stop. Slade’s horrific descent was closing in on him and he had no one pleading for his salvation.

But at this same time, hundreds of miles from Penn National in Michigan, a phone call alerted two friends of Slade’s situation. Within 24 hours, after some difficult negotiating, the trainer agreed to relinquish Slade to his “rescuers.” Demands for x-rays of the 8-year-old’s injured ankle were finally met, and the films were devastating. In a phone conversation, the track vet relayed the results: bilateral sesamoid fractures, severe end-stage arthritis, and extensive new bone growth, indicative of repeated injury and the body’s attempt to heal itself. When asked about Slade’s prognosis and his general condition, the vet responded: “The horse cannot race, cannot be ridden or carry a rider. He’s a pasture ornament, at best. He’s lame at a walk and his coat is rough.” The vet’s final remarks, when told of Slade’s previous gleaming coat and stunning good looks: “He’s got no gleam to him now…and he will never live without pain.”

On May 27, 2009, exactly 3 months after Slade limped off the track for the last time, he was transported to the safety and security of horse advocate Mary Johnson’s farm in Ohio. The gentle horse was the perfect gentleman upon arrival at Mary’s farm. Her apprehension that Slade, as a stallion, might be difficult to handle quickly faded. His kind and agreeable disposition endeared him immediately to his foster mom. Within just a few days, Mary even allowed her 11-year-old daughter, Emma, to sit on the fence as Slade stood next to it, enjoying the attention she gave him. When Emma would enter Slade’s stall, he would gently nuzzle her pockets, checking for the treats she would bring him. He settled in quickly to the routine at this new place, and for the first time in many months, and most likely years, Slade was lovingly cared for. He enjoyed clean hay, fresh water, and the close company of other horses in adjacent paddocks. Mary medicated Slade daily for his pain, and although she noticed he had some relief, he was still unable to stand squarely on all four legs, keeping his injured limb pointed and nearly non-weight bearing. We had hoped that treating Slade’s pain regularly and carefully would bring him significant relief. It didn’t. Each day with Slade was treasured by his foster family, but now those days were going by too fast.

Gentle, beautiful Slade lived for 23 days with Mary Johnson, lacking for nothing and cherishing every moment. The noble Kentucky-bred stallion had come full circle…once celebrated, then disposed of…now at his life’s end, valued and adored. And he was glistening once more, if only in our eyes.
Slade was humanely euthanized on June 19, 2009 with Mary at his side. His injuries would have made it impossible for him to live comfortably even as a pasture pet. We didn’t want to let him go, but out of love and respect for this most gallant horse, we gave him the kindest gift – release from the suffering he had endured for so long. He lived his last 23 days in peace, lovingly attended to and nothing expected of him.

Slade was only 8 years and 3 months at the time of his death. His life was cut drastically short due to the damage done to him by the “sport” of racing. Sadly, Slade is only one of thousands of racing’s casualties. Every year, Thoroughbred racehorses die not only by humane euthanasia in numerous rescues because of their racing injuries, but in the dirt of the many racetracks across the country, and on the bloodied slaughterhouse floors.

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  1. Yes, this is the all too frequent scenario for the vast majority of Thoroughbreds with the exception, in this case, of a measure of human compassion and kindness in the end. Bred for money, many do not even make it to the track and we know these horses are trucked to a brutal end in a slaughterhouse. The vast majority of those at the track wind up in the downward spiral of the ” claiming game” where they are abused by unscrupulous trainers and handlers. They are drugged, have painful damaged limbs blocked so they can “race” and make a few dollars. Most of these track warriors wind up being loaded on to the truck, hurting and fearful, for the long brutal trip to slaughter regardless, many times, of how much they “earned” while racing over the years.

    Difficult to say, but sometimes it would seem the “lucky” ones are euthanized at the track when one considers the alternative. Not many horses experience anything but human indifference and cruelty unless they are the super winners and “cash machines” of the track.

    A good start for “cleaning up” this “sport” is to abolish the “claiming game”.

  2. the ONLY good thing: he was able to enjoy 23 days of true humanity! Out of 8 years and 3 months this may sound pathetic, but he got more time with compassionate humans than over 90% of all the TB.
    May his former owners and trainers be ashamed of what happened to him. He was a horse with feeling, emotions, and was left alone with pain … I am close to freaking out when I picture it !
    End TB racing! The sooner the better !

    • Slade was with me for a little over three weeks. I loved him as if he had been with me for years. I was enraged by what the racing industry had done to him and it was a turning point for me. His low life owner/trainer, John Grace, was vehement that Slade could race again if he was given some time off. Grace is the perfect example of what is wrong with racing. He wanted to keep his dirty secrets behind closed doors. He destroyed a horse that could have had a long life and could have easily settled into a new career. Because of Slade, and many others like him, I applaud the precipitous decline of the racing industry.

    • Amen, Suzanne! Until the horses are treated like the kings and queens of racing, I will continue to applaud its precipitous decline. I get bashed and trashed a lot because I am anti-racing. However, everyone was overjoyed when Cactus Café and Canuki were rescued out of the Richilieu slaughterhouse in Canada. If it hadn’t been for me and my “spy” at Beulah Park, no one would have known that they were both picked up by Mark Wedig, a well known kill buyer middleman, and sold to Fred Bauer, a contract kill buyer. Their owner, Ms. Barbara Price, sold them for $150 a piece to Wedig. Now please tell me again what is so great about the illustrious racing industry!

  3. While I am happy that Slade was given a humane and dignified end to his suffering for anyone to say that the racing industry is the worst well think again. I have 30 years of horse experience and part of those years were working for vets show barns breeding farm Arabs walking horses eventers race horses hunters and jumpers I have seen extensive abuse and neglect from almost all except the eventing contingent although I am sure it happens there as well. Neglect the worst cases of abuse and neglect come from back hard horse owners and trail riders I have routinely seen them ride horses into the ground , cause severe injuries that are left untreated for days weeks or months I have seen many horses with badly fractured limbs or horrific wounds not put down when they should be or even when the vet advises it. I have watched hunter trainers have their horses nerves and three months later despite being instructed to never jump the horse again those same horses are back in the show ring . I have rescued many tbs and rehomed reschooled or allowed to be pasture pets and put a few down after making every attempt to get them pasture comfortable but the worst rescues I have taken in were from individuals with back yard horses a 30 year old gelding g kept tied in the front yard starving and horrid rope burns turned out he was a former multiethnic national chAmpion roping and reining horse another was a young Arab mare former halter champion with a halter that had to be surgically removed and she was show. Until she was 18 months and not touched until I caught her with a lot of hard work four years later her growth was stunted she was fearful and stunted another mare has had Arab babies sell for $50,000-75,000 I got a call and drove up to mo to get her in a snow storm she was starving … I reported a rental facility that had not one but three horses with obvious fractures guess what nothing was done other than the judge ordered the one with the infected open fracture destroyed the rest were returned to the man and we had pictures and two vet statement the so people need to change and while I believe I. Using horses it must be done humanely and with respect.. The racing industry is no worse than the rest maybe better as at least the horses get seen by the state vet but they are in the public spotlight so the abuses are seen more frequently the rest stY well hidden behind farm fences and stable walls

    • Nicole that is what I have been trying to tell people in here for well over a week now. You of course did it more elegantly. What I am not sure if you know is for the most part the people in here only want to hear about “Horse Racing Wrongs”. You could say “There is a polo team that drags their horses upside down behind their horse trailer” and the comments would be “Stop trying to deflect the wrong doing of horse racing”. I love your post and am glad people like you are there for the animals, but I think most of this comment will fall on deaf ears…

      • Another Country, what you stated is simply not true. I have helped many horses over the years, and the breed of the horse didn’t matter to me. I have also rescued many cats and dogs over the years. To say that I wouldn’t act when a polo pony is being dragged behind a truck is reprehensible, at best. You bet I would take action. However, I am one person and helping the horses at Beulah Park is something that I have done and will continue to do. I have seen many atrocities in racing that I can’t ignore. It is a sport that tolerates a culture of drugging horses, racing them with injuries, and then handing them off for slaughter. Again, I have a problem with that. If you don’t, then continue to support an industry that wouldn’t exist without gambling. It isn’t about the horses, it is about the money!

    • A heartfelt thank you, Nicole. I admire you for having the courage to do all you do because it does break ones heart to see the animals in such horrible misery. And of course, it is difficult to be faced with the cruelty our fellow humans can inflict with such indifference and callousness. Some, I would think, have to be mentally ill and others just pure evil.

    • Nicole, thank you for all you do. However, I truly believe that we have to pick our battles. I am involved with the TB’s because I got my first OTTB, Sunlin, 50 years ago. I currently own two TB’s and I am fostering another one. However, I also own two Standardbreds that were pulled out of the Shipshewana kill auction in March, 2008. Not only was I involved in “saving” them but I have provided them a home for almost 6 years. They will never leave my ownership. Some people focus on the wild horses, some focus on the walking horses, and I focus on the TB’s involved in the racing industry. I have picked up many broken bodies because, when the horses need help, no one from racing steps in. I have a problem with that. It doesn’t mean that helping starving, neglected horses is less meaningful and we need people like you to help needy horses.

  4. Nicole…thank you SO MUCH for everything you do for the horses that are in such great need of a “savior”! Yes, yes, sadly yes!…abuse in so many forms and from such a variety of perpetrators! Our charity, as well, has branched out to do what we can for all equines waiting for help. Your stories are heartbreaking, and sadly, not unfamiliar. Five years ago, a group of us outbid the kill buyers at the Shipsy auction and gave 14 equines a second chance at life that day. One, a blind QH stallion, was purchased and after months of rehab with me was placed in a sanctuary I now call “horse heaven on earth”. I try to visit him yearly, and did just make the trip south 2 weeks ago to see him and his wonderful caretakers. The stories they tell are heartbreaking as well…similar to your tragic experience with the poor 30 y/o gelding tied in the front year, a blind mare they rescued was tied to a working train track. Just when I think I have heard it all, another account of a horse SUFFERING at the hands of a SICK poor-excuse-for-a-human it told to me.

    BLESS YOU NICOLE…if only more folks could do what you do…put your heart out there for animals that need help so badly. My sincere and grateful thanks to you…

  5. Damn the racing industry…damn them. Those that destroyed Slade are truly monsters so please do NOT tell me that there are “many” good people in racing because it is a lie!

    • Mary,

      I just now read the story of Slade. What a heartbreaking story. I had no idea you took care of him for the last 23 days of his life. Thank God that you and Joy were there for him and he did not die in a slaughterhouse.

      Are these stories in a book somewhere ?

      The world needs to know about these stories. Who is the trainer that allowed this horse to stand in his stall with an injury for three months

      “After his last race, he stood in his stall for 3 months without evaluation or treatment of his shattered ankle. And he waited…for help that might never come.”

      You and Joy and others on this list have seen so much abuse of these magnificent animals.

      I watch those horses get hit with whips on HRTV during the races and I can hardly stand to watch but I do so I can pray for the horses safety .

  6. More on Slade –

    I just found this article on more of his background and telling people to stop supporting racing.


    What Us ‘Old Folks’ Can Do to Help Horses Forced to Race

    Steve Martindale

    Slade was a thoroughbred stallion with a kind eye and a gentle disposition. He came into this world on March 8, 2001, a chestnut beauty with flashy white markings. Bred by Brereton Jones in Lexington, Kentucky, he was born to parents with noble racing pedigrees. Slade faced high expectations on the track. He was a successful racehorse, with earnings of more than $220,000 in 50 starts. But because he wasn’t one of the “greats,” you probably haven’t heard of him.

    Slade first raced when he was 2 years old, and he made it to the winner’s circle at prestigious Churchill Downs. Success was fleeting, however, and by the time he was 4, Slade had become one of the thousands of disposable horses who are worn out and abused in anonymity at secondary tracks around the country. He was passed along through a series of “owners”/trainers who treated him as nothing more than a moneymaking machine. They raced him in spite of accumulating injuries. Until, that is, Slade stopped mid-race at Penn National on February 27, 2009, just shy of his eighth birthday. After his last race, the severely injured horse was acquired by yet another racing “owner”/trainer team. Slade then stood in a stall on the backside of the track suffering for three months, his injuries undiagnosed, untreated, and most certainly painful.

    Slade was then lame, unable to carry a rider or race. X-rays of his ankle taken at the end of May revealed the damage and delivered his likely death sentence: severe end-stage osteoarthritis, a large bone growth indicative of repeated and chronic injury, and chip fractures of both sesamoid bones. It seems the only thing that kept Slade running as long as he did was drug injections.

    Slade’s sad story is typical of the thousands of horses who are broken down, used up, and tossed out like garbage by a greedy industry. Most horses in his condition go to auction, where they are purchased by “kill buyers” and shipped off to slaughterhouses outside the U.S.

    But this is where Slade got lucky—as lucky as a broken down racehorse can get. He was rescued by Joy Aten and fostered by Mary Johnson. Mary and Joy are part of a growing number of people who know the racing industry inside and out and are working to expose the abuse. Slade’s prognosis: a few weeks of tender loving care. He was confined to a large stall, unable to run, but in kind hands that demanded nothing from him for the first time in his life. He lived out his last weeks with plenty of good hay, fresh water, and necessary medical treatment all while enjoying the company of other horses close by. Slade enjoyed the good life in retirement for a few weeks before being humanely euthanized in a peaceful setting, with the dignity and respect that he deserves. That makes him one lucky racehorse, given the alternatives.

    The average life expectancy for a horse is 24 years; in a compassionate world, Slade would have enjoyed many more years of experiencing life at its fullest.

    But it does look like the tide is changing. Major racing events like the Belmont Stakes have all the earmarks of a declining draw: the general public has little interest in races unless a Triple Crown is at stake, and then they are only interested because of the headlines that the occasion garners in the mass media. Belmont Stakes attendance this year was down 44 percent from last year, and all-source waging was down more than 10 percent. The primary television audience appeared to be composed of older people. That’s us, Primers! So listen up:

    What You Can Do

    Break this tradition. Please don’t bet on horses or support race tracks financially with your patronage, since that is the lifeblood of this gruesome industry. Tell the National Thoroughbred Racing Association to stop exporting horses to slaughterhouses. And if you are able to adopt a horse or know someone who can, please do so—to provide the loving and spacious home that every horse deserves.

    After a lovely morning of eating treats, talking with other horses, and being brushed, Slade was euthanized on Friday, June 19, 2009, because of his osteoarthritis and injuries. Slade was a stallion, yet he was very gentle and sweet and loved attention. He was safe and peaceful during the final weeks of his life, but there are thousands of other horses who don’t have that luxury. May his short life be remembered by all.

    Read more:

    Please write to the National Thoroughbred Racing Association and ask it to urge its members to end the export of horses to Japan and implement limitations on the breeding of racehorses.

    • Yes Kathleen…I sent Mr. Martindale my story about Slade upon his request. He then used some of it along with his own words in a PETA publication. Mary and I were grateful Slade’s story was presented to the readers there, as well.

  7. This response to that article is on Joy and Mary.

    Jo Anne Normile says…

    July 10th, 2009, 8:03 pm

    I am fully aware of the compassionate work of these two women and their ongoing efforts to save many injured racehorses including Slade. They are to be highly commended for their financial and emotional sacrifices. Thank you for bringing their dedication and Slade’s story to the public. Unfortunately, the list of “Slades” that Joy, Mary and others are trying to save right this very moment but are still racing is endless and too often the trainer/owner refuses to deal with outsiders and prefers to secretly sell their horse to a kill buyer, injuries and all. The most common other scenario: The injured horse, forced to continue to race through repeated legal corticosteroid joint injections and legal and illegal pain killers, eventually suffers a catastropic injury while training or racing and dies in the dirt like Eight Belles. Sadly, with well over 100 racetracks in the United States offering Thoroughbred racing, there are many horses in dire need of help but individuals like Mary and Joy cannot be there for all of them.

    Read more:

  8. Remembering the beautiful Slade who was euthanized nine years ago today due to the injuries incurred at the hands of those who owned and raced him. Please, racing apologists, don’t come on this post and babble about all the wonderful breeders who step up to help the horses that they purposefully brought into this world with the hope of generating a profit. Brett Jones DECLINED to help a horse that AIRDRIE bred because Slade had a poor prognosis. Once again, it was up to those who speak out against racing to pick up the pieces.

    • Well said Mary.
      The apologists come on here and actually attack us for working hard, and diligently to educate the unsuspecting public about what’s going on with this antiquated business model.
      For the record, to all you apologists:
      The owner and supporters of this Blog are NOT responsible for all the racehorses who are maimed and/or killed in action, found at kill auctions suffering and/or subsequently die on the slaughterhouse floor.
      Every single individual who supports/participates is collectively the racing industry, and they are SOLELY responsible for these despicable actions against sentient beings.
      Brett Jones is one example of many.
      If you cared one iota about racehorses then you would be screaming at the top of your lungs on this blog or elsewhere about them dropping dead in the dirt for these animal abusers and/or enablers of this dying, and you would be fighting to end this industry along with us.
      You would not be attacking those of us who rescue the physically/mentally/spiritually broken racehorses that this industry throws away like a piece of trash.
      How dare you defend this legitimized animal cruelty, and atrocities being committed daily against these beautiful sentient beings!

  9. If I may say this, after reading this horrific account of the wretched, unloved, except for 23 days, life of 8 year old Slade: This is why de-programming of attitudes towards ALL animals, and education of kids (usually already mostly ruined by parents and society in their absence of empathy for the rights of animals) and of adults, when possible, is needed. In the schools starting at early childhood on up, in churches, synagogues, mosques, training institutions for the clergy, in law schools, graduate schools of social work, and, last but not least in veterinary schools. Vet schools, as is somewhat done in medical school admissions, need to screen candidates carefully for character, empathy, the capacity and drive to advocate for their patients and their motivation for why they want to be a veterinarian. BUT, the administration and faculty needs to have moral character, too, and obviously many do not! Where is the outcry from veterinary schools about the practice of a veterinarian medicine in racing? Silence. For shame!! We also need to demand that our elected state and federal legislators be of the same moral character. My dream would be for all legislators to be required to complete an educational program in the basics: the sentience of animals, their emotional and social lives. It’s pathetic: These features are not even recognized anymore by most Americans. And I’m going to make my plug here, as I always do: Please go vegan for the animals. People are watching you as you rescue or speak up for horses and sit down to a meal consisting of body parts of another sentient animal! Or the milk or eggs from, I guarantee you, another abused animal. It’s all interconnected. The reason why these horses are abused and treated as chattel is because of our human civilizations attitudes towards the rights of animals in general.

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