(The following was submitted by one of our loyal readers/supporters. If you are interested in relaying your own experiences with former racehorses, or just plain horses, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
“My Journey with Horses”
by Marina Cam, New Jersey
I didn’t grow up around horses. I grew up in suburban NJ, doing typical central-Jersey things, such as hanging out at the beach and going to six flags with friends. When I was 28, my husband and I rented a farmhouse that sits on a six-acre farm with two large horse pastures. The landlord told us not to touch the horses on the property, that they belong to someone and that person comes to care for them daily. Ok, no problem. They are big animals I know very little about. I can admire them from a distance.
About a year goes by and the pony who was in the pasture directly adjacent to the house passes away. The landlord approaches and asks if I am interested in getting a horse; the current horse owner does not want to get another and the landlord needs x amount of horses on the property for a tax break. My husband and I talk it over, do some research, and decide, why not? We are animal lovers and this could be fun.
The landlord suggested we get a pony. They are smaller, he says, and easier to handle. We agree. The landlord knows someone who knows someone who knows someone down at Monmouth Park. I thought, wow, Monmouth Park gives away horses? We get in touch with this person who says come on down, and see the horse we have in mind for you. I had never been to a racetrack, and we visited the backrow. I don’t remember anything glaringly negative, except there were dozens of horse heads poking out of their stalls. I remember immediately thinking, why can’t they be out? Why are they locked up?
The groom at the track takes us to meet Prince. Prince was no pony. He was a “pony” in the sense that his job on the track was to take the racehorse to the starting gate, like a buddy system. The groom said, well, what do you think? Go in and check him out. I told the groom we had never had a horse; in fact, this was my first time seeing one up close. He told us Prince is a prankster who loves peppermints; you’ll love him. Do you want him or not? I petted him and said hi. I looked at my husband and we said, sure.
About two weeks later, Prince was dropped off. He was 18 years old. 18 years of servitude at the track. In hindsight, I realize he was dumped on us. The owner of Prince never called to inquire of his well being, never once visited. Nothing. I understood horses are herd animals who need companionship. I informed my landlord that now we needed a second horse, and so I reached out to local boarding facilities. I had befriended a woman who ran one of these, and she told me she had actually worked with Prince at Monmouth a few years prior and thought then that he should have been retired. But when she asked for Prince, the owner said no. Then a few years later, when Prince was used up, he finally gets rid of him, and to a complete stranger and horse newbie, of all people!
So, the woman gave me a horse who had been abandoned on her farm because he was “too old.” The boarders split and never answered her calls/letters. His name was Raider, and he became Prince’s buddy. These two lived out their days on our pasture.
Prince’s joints creaked like snapping twigs when he walked. I had a vet evaluate him. She informed me that long hours of lock up contributed to his arthritis, and recommended a supplement, which we immediately put him on. One thing the groom said was correct: Prince indeed was a trickster. When I would pick his hooves, I would ask for his front left and he would raise the opposite. He was also a friend to all animals. The most amazing friendship flourished between Prince and the neighbor’s sheep Rammy. I also once cared for a sick alpaca, and Prince stayed by his side for moral support.
On the other side of the property we were renting, I took notice of the remaining two horses. The owner was not friendly and had told me in no uncertain terms not to touch his horses or go near them. They were his and his only. I said no problem, just know that I live on the property and if there’s ever a day you can’t make it to feed them I can do it for you. He took that as an insult. So I started to watch.
I noticed that the one horse, called Lieutenant, had the same ill-fitting blanket on almost all the time. One morning, my husband and I snuck down to the horses and peeled off the blanket. I was horrified to see he was emaciated and had horrible open wounds. I called the owner and said I was alarmed at Lieutenant’s condition. He needed a vet. He needed help. I told him I would be happy to call my vet and even pay for the visit.
The owner said the horse was fine, just old. And then he told me to stop snooping around. His business was his business. This man only came once a day around 3pm to throw them a scoop of grain and leave. He felt that since the horses were turned out 24/7 this was sufficient. It was not!
Red, the pony at Lieutenant’s side, seemed to be ok and at a healthy weight. (In hindsight I understand that ponies take less feed naturally due to their size.) I informed my landlord what was happening down at the lower field and she agreed it was NOT ok. I secretly fed them breakfast and tended Lieutenant’s wounds while the landlord negotiated getting rid of this man and keeping the horses. Eventually, the landlord paid him for Red and Lieutenant, and the man left the property. Now I had four! I went from “getting a pony” to having four horses to care for. I am nowhere near rich and so the landlord promised she would help pay for vet care/feed. And she has, to this day.
The years went by and naturally the horses all got older. Lieutenant was the superstar, pushing his late 30s. Raider was the first to cross the rainbow bridge. Prince was devastated, and I grieved with him. It was around this time I was reading the Horseracing Wrongs website. I knew without a doubt that every single word was true.
Prince now needed a new buddy. I asked around and was put in touch with a woman named Sue who was looking to rehome her OTTB because she had hurt her back. I don’t begrudge Sue looking to rehome him. He was boarded at a very fancy riding facility and it wasn’t cheap. Her Thoroughbred, Louie, had been raced several times in Pennsylvania, and luckily for him he was bad at it. His racing connections had sold him to Sue.
Sue had Louie for about 10 years, and I acquired him in 2015, when he was about 14. When Louie arrived, he was very well trained and knew he had better keep in step with what the humans wanted. I let him know that those days were OVER and he was free to roam about with Prince and just be a horse. He has never ever done anything wrong or bad. In fact, none of the horses here have. How could they?
Prince passed in Sep 2019 at the age of 27, followed by Lieutenant in Aug 2020. Each time I grieved with Louie and Red. I was down two horses and heartbroken. I told my landlord, no more for me. The emotional toll was too high. She could rent out the further pasture to someone else – I was done.
So a woman came on board who had not had a horse in years and wanted to get back into it. She ended up purchasing an ex-Amish mare and brought her to our property. I reminded her that horses are herd animals, and this mare would be too isolated on that big space by herself. I told her if she couldn’t get another horse, her mare could share space with Louie and Red.
The mare showed lots of signs of stress. She paced constantly, and this woman felt it necessary to lock her up at night so she didn’t overfeed on the pasture grass. There were other warning signs that something was off: The woman would say, “I can’t catch her when it’s time to feed her.” What horse has to be “caught” for breakfast or dinner? The second horse never came, and I could watch this mare’s stress no more. I said let’s just put our horses together, and let the mare have some peace of mind.
This woman and I didn’t see eye to eye on a lot of things, one being horseracing. She was a fan, and I let her know how I felt and provided her with facts and Patrick’s lists. She still went to the track and was trying to get in with that crowd. Then one day, I witnessed her abuse her mare, Amber Cobb-style. Instead of using a rake, though, she used her fists. We fought and fought. I told her to please leave the property – but leave the mare behind. I would pay her what she had paid plus vet costs. She agreed, and I paid the cash out fast to get this horrible person away from the property, away from that poor mare.
Lucy, the name I gave her, has had about two and a half years to decompress. She was very triggered by the pedestrians in our town, which is predominantly Jewish Hasidic, with bearded men wearing white shirts and black pants. In other words, they look like the Amish, and Lucy would tear off running in fright.
Lucy amazes me in how much she forgives and is learning to trust. Although she still hates when I fly spray her, she eventually forgives me. I firmly believe she will come around in time. Red the pony has since passed away at 34. Only Lucy and Louie remain.
Some would say I have an old gambling chip (Louie) and an old car (Lucy) uselessly eating grass all day. That couldn’t be further from the truth. They are allowed to be horses, and they will never again have to worry about “earning their keep.” Their lives have meaning, just as ours do. They are allowed to play, sleep, roam – at their choice. We take walks in the woods and go exploring together. I kick the horseball around with them; they made a game out of running towards it, then away at the last second. Sometimes when I open the gate to go upfield, they don’t want to go. Fine. Their choice.
My experience with the horse world hasn’t been good. I think it worked to my benefit that I wasn’t indoctrinated at a young age into thinking it’s ok to beat and confine and otherwise dominate horses. From the dumping, neglect, and outright beating I’ve witnessed, my opinion of horse-keeping is not aligned with that of most owners. I don’t ride, and I don’t think horses “need a job.”
Animals are here with us, not for us. I know horses around the world are suffering all sorts of abuse. It is people like Patrick and Nicole, actively fighting some of these evils, that I have nothing but the utmost respect for. I firmly know we will see the end of horseracing, and soon. The public is catching on, with the abuse that covertly went on for decades now coming to light. The tide is turning, in the horses’ favor. Finally.