Shedrow Secrets: Marsella Delight

Horseracing Wrongs is honored to introduce a new guest contributor, Mary Johnson. Mary has been involved with Thoroughbreds for 50 years, including four as a volunteer at CANTER. Currently, she concentrates her efforts on rescuing the industry’s refuse.

Shedrow Secrets: Marsella Delight

by Mary Johnson

It is early December, and I am on the phone with a track official. He tells me there are two horses who will be euthanized within the next few days. The mare, 6-year-old Marsella Delight, has something serious going on with one of her ankles, while the other, a gelding named Grand Piano Man, is simply too slow. I ask the official if my friends (Mandy and Kelly) and I could take a closer look, for perhaps Marsella’s injury isn’t life-threatening, and with enough rest, Grand Piano Man might make a good pleasure horse. He agrees, and we make plans to see the horses on December 7th. But he warns that they need to be moved “immediately.”

Upon arrival at the track, we quickly discover that the situation is bad. The uncaring and, frankly, abusive groom, kicks another horse whom we believe is colicing in his stall (Stall 21 – I’ll never forget it). The horse is down and won’t get up. I am shocked by what I witness, but I shouldn’t have been because, after all, this is the horseracing industry. We turn our attention to Marsella. She has very little bedding and no hay. When led out, she can barely walk. I would describe it as more of a “hobble.” I run my hands down her legs and feel her huge left front ankle, and there is heat in her fetlock. Her right front almost looks deformed, and it appears her suspensory is dropping. Marsella limps painfully back to her stall. We then look at the gelding who, although frightened, thin, and unkept, was in decent shape. He has a bright future if we can just get him to safety. Poor Marsella, however, is a different story.

Marsella broke down in her last race back in September and was vanned off the track. It was the second time within nine months that she had needed an ambulance. Since September, she languished in a stall, crippled; it is painful to watch her walk. She is so badly damaged from being pushed too fast, too far, and for too long, that she will likely need to be euthanized. Mandy, Kelly, and I are heartbroken, but we pull ourselves together and agree to decide on both horses by the next day.

After talking privately, we decide to take both. They will enter Mandy’s and Kelly’s rescue, located in proximity to the track. I agree to provide financial support, including x-rays for Marsella. Transport is arranged, and the horses enter the rescue on December 12th. We just couldn’t leave Marsella behind. Our gift to her is a couple weeks of love, pain medication, a comfy stall, and people who tell her how beautiful and worthy she truly is. Although life has not been easy for Marsella, and people have been cruel, her last days on this earth will be spent in comfort and security surrounded by people who love her – not for the money she can win, but just because of who she is.

Special treats and soft words follow for this sweet horse, whose reaction to a casually raised hand reaching to pet her is to pull back in fear. On the 23rd, I take a video of Marsella being walked so as to document her injuries. The last few days of her life she is turned out in a small indoor arena. Marsella “delights” in touching noses with Missy, a mare approaching thirty, and just being in her little herd. Yes, she is broken beyond repair, but she is loved unconditionally.

The vet is scheduled for the afternoon of the 26th. During my visit with Marsella, I pick up her left front and it hits me for the first time – there is absolutely NO flexion in her left front ankle. My heart races as I think of all the joint injections she endured during her racing career. Twelve starts in nine months and two times vanned off the track. Her two wins during those months sealed her fate. Wins meant that her owner/trainer needed to keep her going. How could she run in this condition? The answer is easy – injections and drugs. If he would have stopped running her, what would her future have been? We will never know. I hold Marsella as she is x-rayed by an equine vet. From the report:

“I was asked to evaluate a 6 year old chestnut Thoroughbred mare named Marsella Delight today December 26, 2013. The mare had a history of being ‘vanned off the track after a breakdown during a race in September. Upon examination today, the mare was significantly lame bilaterally up front at the walk. Grade 4/5 lameness on each forelimb.

Left front: significant swelling of the fetlock with heat. Severely decreased range of motion of fetlock. High heel on that foot…possibly indicating chronicity (although can’t be sure since I did not examine her prior to her injury). Radiographs show significant periosteal reaction on the distal cannon bone as well as the proximal P1 and around sesamoid bones. No evidence fractures or chips at this time. Decreased range of motion likely due to chronicity of injury causing joint capsule scarring/ contracture.

Right front: dropped fetlock. Unwilling/unable to pick up foot for observation. Long, underrun heel. Probable suspensory breakdown +/- DDF breakdown. Humane euthanasia was elected for this mare.”

Twice the vet asks how Marsella could be run on those damaged legs, and both times I respond, “Because it’s the racing industry.” I ask the vet if the injuries are recent, and her response was a resounding “NO.” Marsella Delight didn’t become this damaged overnight. After reviewing the x-rays, another equine vet added, “The whole articular surface of Marsella Delight’s cannon bone is gone and has demineralized over time and the ankle has fused. Significant remodeling has occurred.”

There is no hope for Marsella. We are heartbroken, but if life isn’t free of suffering, we feel obligated to give these horses the gift of a peaceful euthanasia. We could do no less for Marsella, no matter how much we wanted her to stay with us. Her sweet and loving nature caused all to fall in love with her. This precious soul was victimized and discarded by an uncaring owner (and industry) driven by money and greed. Although I met her at the end of her short life, I still felt honored. Her life was important, and I promised that her story would be told.

I held her lead rope in my hand as she was humanely euthanized late that afternoon. As she fell to the ground, I began sobbing, and I am still emotional as I write this tribute. Go gallop in those green pastures, Marsella. We are blessed that you came to visit us, even if only for two weeks. You were only six, just a baby. But I promise you will NEVER be forgotten, and I will hold the racing industry accountable.

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  1. Mary, my heart breaks again…AGAIN another horse is USED by the racing industry…used to the point of total destruction. Marsella’s Delight had everything taken from her…they didn’t even leave her with a CHANCE for life when they were finished with her! AGAIN I question how anyone can support this! What more do you – racing industry supporters – WANT from these sentient beings?!?
    Mary, thank you for always being there for the horses that need someone! I know you struggle with the sheer numbers that need help, but you always do what you possibly can…and many horses have you to thank for a second chance or a humane, peaceful euthanasia when all hope for a pain-free life was gone. And finally, thank you for having the guts to say it like it is…this industry destroys horses and it needs to end.
    Marsella’s Delight, RIP…your life was important to us and you will never be forgotten.

  2. How anybody can defend this “sport” is mindboggling !
    The suffering Marsella Delight endured is outrageous. It is a testament to the brutal mind of so many of these so called “trainers”. Instead of being at the track with horses, they should be prosecuted for animal cruelty and their licenses to train (more like a license to abuse) revoked for life. But, unfortunately, this subculture is untouchable when it comes to abuse. It has to be because of money, there is no other reason. Shame on our society.

  3. Anyone along the way that allowed this creature to suffer, needs to be charged with animal abuse. Period. Owners and trainers and grooms need to be outed, What this mare went through is sadistic.

    • Zig, Marsella Delight will not be forgotten. I will try to speak with someone at the track who can investigate why she was allowed to run in her condition. If I can’t get support from that end, I will contact the Ohio Racing Commission.

  4. Thank you Mary for all you do for these helpless horses. I hope you have some success re your quest for some justice in this horrible abuse case. The “code of silence” needs to be broken in this subculture.

  5. Marsella Delight R.I.P. somewhere over the rainbow bridge, painless, free …

    Mary, thanks for rescuing Marsella Delight!

    And, Zig, I totally agree: sadistic! How can someone who calls himself a human do THAT to a horse? Or, like Mary observed, kick a colicing horse? Stall 21 … should there be a follow up as to animal abuse???

    Horse racing is oh so wrong …. let people race, they know what they get into, horses do not have a chance, they can not refuse to go out there ….

    • There is quite a bit more to this story once it appeared on Horseracing Wrongs. The racing industry is mighty unhappy with me right about now. Keep in mind that I told the truth and provided this wonderful mare two weeks of good care, something she hadn’t had in a long time. You would think those involved with racing would be thrilled with what I did, along with my two friends, but that is NOT the case. I guess the racing industry doesn’t want the truth out there. Why is that? Could it be that it is too negative for them to handle?

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