by Mary Johnson
It was toward the end of 2007 and “Alex Brown Racing” was the forum on which to follow horseracing issues. Of course, whenever horseracing is discussed, the subject of slaughter rears its ugly head. It was because of discussions on this forum that a group of equine advocates decided to attend the Shipshewana (Indiana) Good Friday auction in March 2008, and depending on the amount of money we could raise, we were determined to “save” as many horses as possible. The Good Friday auction is one of the biggest held at Shipshewana during the year. Over a thousand horses pass through the ring, with the auction going from early morning until almost dark. Shipshewana doesn’t discriminate…expensive horses, as well as low-end horses, are run through and kill buyers are, of course, ever present. So money was raised and a handful of us committed to attend (but there were many who donated).
Our group was able to save 14 horses and 2 donkeys that cold, wintry day, and one of those lucky few was a bay Standardbred gelding with “SE636” tattooed on the right side of his neck. We outbid the kill buyer Jaron Gold for this horse, and I vividly remember walking him out of the barn and saying to Joy Aten that he was lame in his right front. Joy replied that it was good that we got him. He came home with me, as did another Standardbred gelding. Within a couple weeks, I reached out to a contact who knew how to track Standardbred tattoos and she identified #SE636 as Lochness Bluegrass, although by then I had named this sweet boy Sherman. Almost 12 years later, Sherman is still a beloved member of my animal family.
We often hear about owners and breeders “loving their horses like children,” although we know that the only reason they bring these horses into the world is to make a profit. A couple months ago, I decided that I wanted to contact Sherman’s breeder, Dr. Luel Overstreet, thinking that he would be overjoyed to hear that a horse he bred was in a loving forever home and had been saved at an auction frequented by kill buyers. I was sadly mistaken. But before I called Dr. Overstreet, I called the U.S. Trotting Association for further info on Sherman: Foaled 4/10/97 in Henderson, Kentucky, Lochness Bluegrass had 20 starts, won $1439, and last raced 2/14/2001 at Balmoral in Illinois. I was already familiar with Sherman’s sire, Dorunrun Bluegrass, a “successful” pacer who won almost two million dollars in his career. The gal I spoke with gave me Dr. Overstreet’s number at his vet office in Henderson.
When I finally connected with Overstreet, I asked him if he remembered Lochness; he had no idea whom I was talking about and he didn’t remember Sherman’s dam, either. I told him that Sherman had been rescued out of a kill auction and he replied, matter-of-factly, that “a lot of them end up there.” He also said that if they weren’t “producers,” he usually was “done” with them by three and off to auction they would go. When I mentioned that Sherman had only won $1400, he actually laughed and said that Sherman most likely went to auction young because horses who weren’t going to make money didn’t stay around very long. He then told me that at least 200 horses had moved through his farm over the years, so it was difficult to remember specific ones. I then realized that to him, most of his horses were just commodities.
I felt incredibly sad for Sherman and his dam, neither of whom were even worth remembering to a man like Overstreet. On the other hand, he was more than interested in telling me about Dorunrun Bluegrass’ track prowess and subsequent stud career in New York and Indiana. Our conversation ended with a feeling of emptiness. I just felt incredibly sad for all those horses who weren’t (aren’t) worthy of being remembered. The big-money earners have “value”; the low-level ones do not. Bottom line, these horses are NOT “loved like children.” In fact, they aren’t loved at all unless they are bringing home a paycheck.