The TAA, Blue Bloods, Colt Rainville and the Unconscionable Betrayal (Abuse) of Diva’s Kitten

“The TAA is the greatest propaganda machine that racing has ever created.” – Susan Kayne, former racehorse breeder/owner

by Mary Johnson

In Feb of this year, Patrick wrote a story titled “The Disgusting Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance.” According to a press release, the TAA accredits, inspects, and awards grants to approved aftercare organizations to retrain, retire, and rehome Thoroughbreds using industry-wide funding as well as donations from the public. For those of us in the trenches rescuing horses at the end of their “careers,” one would naturally assume that a TAA-accredited facility would be an excellent choice when placing a horse. Call that assumption what it really is: A FALSE SENSE OF SECURITY. Read on…

This story is a follow up to one written about Diva’s Kitten (here) in Nov 2018. Diva is a TB mare who was damaged by racing at the age of four, rescued by Rose Smith and me, and then betrayed, not only by the TAA but by one of their accredited organizations: Blue Bloods Thoroughbred Adoption and Placement (Blanch, NC). First, the backstory.

Diva had surgery in Nov 2018 at Equine Specialty Hospital in Ohio, with the intention of restoring her knee joints to the point where she could go on to a low-level career. She was then rehabbed and, at that point, Rose began looking for a safe place for her to land. Diva initially was donated to New Vocations, another TAA-accredited facility, but that adoption failed because during a pre-purchase exam by a potential adopter a chip that was inaccessible at the time of her first surgery had migrated from the posterior part of her knee. Rose then opted for an additional surgery to remove that chip. After that surgery, Rose and I decided to grant Diva some downtime, and I fostered Diva for about a year and a half at my barn.

In the fall of 2021, Rose and I began to research various TAA facilities, since Diva couldn’t remain with me indefinitely. After much thought and careful consideration, we decided on Blue Bloods. Elizabeth Macdonald, the executive director, requested a $3,000 donation, which Rose paid with the understanding that she would be able to follow Diva once she was placed with an approved adopter. Diva left my barn for Blue Bloods on Nov 3, 2021. At the time of her departure, she was healthy, sound and in excellent weight.

Diva, in Aug 2021…

Diva, the day she left for Blue Bloods, Nov 3, 2021…

Within six weeks of her arrival at Blue Bloods, Diva was “adopted” – perhaps a better description is dumped off – to a man named Colt Rainville, who had a working relationship with Blue Bloods. According to Dora Alcon, then president of Blue Bloods, the adoption was finalized on Dec 16, 2021 – the date Diva’s descent into hell began.

Rose had made it clear that if the adoption didn’t work out, she wanted the opportunity to take Diva back. At first, Macdonald seemed easy to work with and actually texted me a couple times, stating on Feb 10, 2022, that Diva is “doing well.” At the time, I believed her, but that was just one of a litany of lies told by Macdonald. On Apr 3, I reached out again, and Macdonald told me that Diva is “doing well in her training” and that “her contract is being fulfilled and she is in a good place.” Good place? Although we didn’t know it at the time, Diva was in the throes of being neglected/abused.

One of MacDonald’s most egregious lies occurred on Apr 18 when she told Rose that there were “amazing” videos of Diva, and Macdonald never thought Diva would turn out so well. Rose asked Macdonald to share those videos, but Macdonald ignored Rose multiple times. Why? Because those “amazing” videos didn’t exist. It was all untrue. Also, unknown to us at the time, Diva was being neglected/abused at the hands of Colt Rainville who, it turns out, had abused another horse several years prior.

Because of Macdonald’s lies, Rose began to get an uneasy feeling about Diva. Initially, it was just a “gut” feeling, but it turned out to be entirely true. From a previous conversation with Macdonald, Rose remembered Rainville’s name, and, after some detective work she was able to locate him. In mid-April, Rose reached out to Rainville, and the negotiation process to buy Diva back began. What Rose and I have found over the years is that money is a powerful incentivizer and, as negotiations progressed, Rainville said he would accept $3,000 for Diva now, but if he put more “training” into her, the price would increase. At the time, we had no idea what her condition was so we forged ahead, and Rose agreed to pay the “blood money” to get Diva back.

We have now discovered that Diva left Rainville on Dec 19, 2021, three days after she was “adopted” by him and landed with a “mystery” woman whom Rainville refused to identify. When a deputy sheriff made an unannounced visit, he couldn’t remember the woman’s last name. The facts in this saga became more nebulous as we tried to determine where Diva had been for approximately five months. We had one goal at this point – play Rainville’s game in order to save Diva.

In mid-May, Rainville brought Diva back to his barn in order to prepare her to ship to Rose. Rose requested a couple of updated photos, which Rainville sent. Diva was unrecognizable. Keep in mind, I had Diva in my barn for about a year and a half and cared for her on a daily basis, yet I didn’t recognize her. In fact, I called Rose and told her this wasn’t the same horse. Diva had always been bright, alert and engaged, and now looked depressed and listless….almost as if she had given up. Diva had lost considerable weight and now was a shell of her former self.

Upon Diva arriving back at his place in May, Rainville noticed she was in bad shape. He blamed her weight loss on the fact that her pasture mate at the mystery woman’s barn had been sold, and Diva was so stressed over that that she stopped eating for several months. Anyone who believes that knows nothing about horses. The loss of a pasture mate could have been easily remedied by bringing Diva into the barn to be fed or providing her with another companion. In fact, the Blue Bloods contract clearly states that a “companion animal must also be provided.” We later discovered Rainville had breached his contract with Blue Bloods multiple times, yet Macdonald and Alcon didn’t seem to care. At one point, I asked Macdonald if Rainville had a SIGNED contract with Blue Bloods, and she said he did. Do I believe her? No, especially since she had no inclination to enforce the contract.

The lies from both Macdonald and Rainville came fast and furious. In retrospect, I personally believe that Diva fell out of favor with Macdonald in late Nov/early Dec, and Macdonald wanted to get her “off the books.” She dumped Diva with Rainville, most likely without an adoption fee, and then Rainville dumped her in a field somewhere and basically forgot about her. If it hadn’t been for the tenacity and determination of Rose, I don’t think Diva would have survived.

When a horse is rescued from a bad situation that only solves part of the problem. You must now find the horse a safe place to land. In early May, 2022, I reached out to Jennifer Astrop who runs a sanctuary in Georgia called Zorro’s Crossing. Jennifer has several horses at her barn whom I have been involved with, including Shamrock Road. Jennifer immediately agreed to take Diva in. Diva arrived at Jennifer’s barn on Jun 16, 2022. Jennifer said she cried when Diva was unloaded. The following day, a vet examined Diva. She was approximately 200 pounds underweight, had a SEVERE tick infestation all over her body (including her face), bilateral eye infections with a foreign body embedded in the lower left lid, large patches of rain rot, a coat that was dry and brittle with hair loss, a lateral quarter defect with an incomplete quarter crack in her LH hoof, and both hind limbs from heel bulbs to proximal cannon bone had significant crusting lesions present. In short, she was a shell of her former self – and all because of the neglect and abuse suffered at the hands of Colt Rainville, and under the “protection” of Blue Bloods.

Diva, the day she arrived at Zorro’s…

Once Diva was safe at Zorro’s Crossing, Rose, Jennifer and I discussed what plan of action we should take in regards to obtaining justice for Diva. Certainly, Rainville needed to be punished for his abuse, but, more importantly, Blue Bloods needed to be held accountable. Blue Bloods is a 501c3 PUBLIC charity, but both Macdonald and Alcon had now gone silent. The moral turpitude of these “ladies” was truly astounding. I suggested reaching out to the TAA and asking them to withhold funding/grant money from Blue Bloods for 2022. I never asked them to terminate Blue Bloods accreditation. In late June, I called the TAA and spoke to Ms. Janice Towles, Accreditation & Grants Manager. Towles listened to what I had to say and then suggested that the three of us file complaints with the TAA in regards to Diva’s abuse. I spent at least a week gathering photos and documentation, and my complaint ended up being approximately 30 pages long. Shortly thereafter, Rose and Jennifer submitted theirs as well. All three complaints were acknowledged as received by Ms. Towles.

I was crystal clear about what we wanted. In fact, I documented what I felt was the bare minimum that we expected from the TAA and Blue Bloods: Blue Bloods must be denied grant money from the TAA for 2022. Blue Bloods must refund Rose half of the $3,000 she sent to them in the fall of 2021. Macdonald dumped Diva within six weeks of arrival and never thoroughly followed up to see if the contract was being followed by Rainville. Where was Diva “warehoused” for five months? We wanted a physical location, because at that time we were pursuing all options. And we also wanted an apology from Macdonald for continually ignoring us and for repeatedly lying.

After an investigation by the TAA, Ms. Towles emailed Rose and told her that the TAA had made “recommendations” to Blue Bloods. Rose asked Ms. Towles what those “recommendations” were and why they weren’t requirements, but Towles never responded. I personally believe that Towles, and the rest of those affiliated with the TAA who examined this claim, wanted to be done with us, and Diva. They wanted to go back to business as usual. As we are well aware, those organizations that accept “blood money” from the TAA must not speak unfavorably about horseracing and must uphold the “image and integrity” of the industry. So the “image and integrity” of an industry that cripples, maims, and kills horses DAILY must be upheld. The TAA claims to care, but judging by the way we – and, more importantly, Diva – were treated, I highly doubt that.

Prior to writing this story for Horseracing Wrongs, I found some information on Blue Bloods. From GuideStar: “Horses that are accepted into the program are evaluated, rehabilitated, rested, retrained and placed into loving homes.” From the Blue Bloods website under “Mission Statement”: “Our organization’s goal is to prevent animal cruelty and offer a more effective and humane alternative at the end of each horse’s racing career.” And finally, a quote from Elizabeth Macdonald: “We want it to be a happy home with a good match.” None of those statements were true in regards to Diva’s Kitten, and I do not believe that Macdonald ever checked on Diva when she was with Rainville.

There is much more to this story than what I have written here, including Rose’s attempt to bring legal action against Blue Bloods, but it is important to keep in mind that Rainville broke his contract with Blue Bloods multiple times, including agreeing to maintain her weight between a 5 and 7 on the Henneke scale. From what we know, nothing was done about his criminal behavior. Macdonald NEVER apologized for the abuse that Diva suffered under her jurisdiction, nor did her colleague Dora Alcon. For those who donate to 501c3 rescues, please do your research and, just because an organization is TAA-accredited does not mean they will do the right thing for the horses under their care. Blue Bloods needs to be held accountable, but it doesn’t appear that will ever happen and the grant money from the TAA will keep flowing into their coffers. Both are reprehensible organizations, and both betrayed Diva.

Diva has been at Zorro’s Crossing for a little over a year. After multiple betrayals, she is now thriving. Her body has healed from the abuse, and she is once again bright, alert and engaged. We constantly hear that these horses are “loved like family,” but that simply isn’t true. I call it the BIG LIE. And what a sad commentary that any horse needs to be rescued from a TAA-accredited rescue – but that is exactly what happened to Diva’s Kitten. Was it worth it? Absolutely! Every single horse deserves the same.

Diva, thriving at Zorro’s, Jul 2023…

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  1. I think this story epitomizes the reality of the so-called “integrity” of the whole horse racing industry.
    I’m grateful for everyone who truly cares about the health and well-being of horses and for their efforts made to honestly protect horses from abuse and neglect!
    As this true story about one Thoroughbred mare clearly illustrates, it is obvious that the people involved in the whole horseracing industry are given to greed, lies and deception, because there are so many stories of horses being abused and neglected. The horses are treated as a commodity to be exploited in the minds of so many people. Clearly, the criminal element thrives within the horse industry which includes racing as well as many other “disciplines” within the horse industry.
    It is unimaginable how much abuse and neglect these horses have to absorb and not all of them are saved.
    Thanks for sharing this story.

  2. It’s heartbreaking that Diva went from the abuse at the track to a loving environment, only to be abused again, and it speaks volumes about the forgiving nature of horses that they can learn to trust again after being betrayed multiple times by the humans who are supposed to care for and protect them.

  3. While I’m not at all defending the evils of the racing industry, horse neglect and abuse reaches far beyond horse racing. Equine rescues have been a nightmare for as long as I can remember and now that we are living through the hell of “Bidenomics”, expect life for horses, in fact, for all animals, to worsen. Unfortunately, horses are exploited as vessels to bring in cash and at the same time they are expensive to care for. That’s a perfect storm for a bad ending. I realize most on this site believe the end of racing will solve everything, but it wouldn’t. I believe breeding needs to be hit the hardest right now because our breeding protocols are the reason thoroughbreds can’t thrive without physically falling apart. You can’t breed 1200 pound animals simply for speed and ignore other traits. It defies the laws of nature. Running alone doesn’t kill horses, but running in compromised unsound bodies does. If racing ended today, weak fragile thoroughbreds on the top tier would remain and continue to be bred and sold. As is the situation already, countless others would go to slaughter, or perhaps you believe they would go to wonderful “rescues”?

    • Karen, I understand it’s very frustrating to only focus on one aspect of the horse industry knowing that there are multiple breeds of horses in multiple parts of the world that are treated as beasts of burden and also are exploited for their meat as food for both humans and carnivorous animals.
      The abuse and neglect of multiple breeds of horses has occurred for centuries in all parts of the world. I don’t believe that everyone here is so ignorant that they don’t know or have a clue of this common knowledge.

      Do you go to the American Cancer Society and complain that there are other health problems besides cancer and accuse people of being so ignorant that they don’t know that?

      I appreciate your concern but I think you’re kind of barking up the wrong tree sometimes. Anything you can do to educate the general public about the evils of treating horses as a commodity is appreciated as long as you are not insulting “the one who brought you to the dance” so to speak.

    • Karen,
      Please keep politics out of this. And before sounding off, get your facts straight.

      • While I certainly don’t agree with Karen on her view of the breeding of racehorses, the fact is that in the last two years the US economy has taken a nosedive, with out of control inflation and rampant shortages, and that is having a horrific negative effect on ALL horses as more and more people are finding themselves unable to afford them. Let’s face it: if you can barely afford to feed yourself and are living paycheck to paycheck, how much extra money to you have to give to any kind of animal rescue organization? Unless things drastically turn around, more and more horses, from the racetrack to the backyard, are going to end up in a kill pen simply because no one can afford them. This is already happening in my area, with small animal shelters finding horses tied up outside their buildings and left wandering up and down roads. Even cats and dogs are being abandoned with alarming frequency as the price of food sky rockets and the availability of vets plummets. My horse passed away last March, and I would love to be able to take another rescue, but if I’m honest, this economy scares me, and I just don’t dare take the chance of bringing a horse home only to be unable to afford him. I’m sure I’m not the only one.

        • There’s a “Livestock Barn” in Bowie, Texas that has a bunch of horses they posted on Facebook. Today I saw a post of mostly ranch horses. They show them in pens with no shade. They’re nice looking horses for the most part, but within the last two weeks they had three geldings and three mares that were extremely thin. One gelding was a Thoroughbred but they didn’t give any details on his past. There was an Andalusian mare that was being bailed by an Iberian horse rescue group. I don’t like the fact that the killbuyers say they ship on such and such a day and you have to pay this price for them now, or else they will be shipped. Those six horses were so thin that I don’t believe all of them could stay up on all fours while being hauled from Texas to a slaughterhouse in Mexico. It’s sickening.

          • I totally agree with you. This whole situation of abuse and neglect of the horses is sickening. So is the situation of hauling the horses to a slaughterhouse in Mexico.

        • Yes, Rebecca, you are so right. The most vulnerable in our society are being hurt the most.
          And for instance, a bag of senior feed that used to cost $21.99 is now $29.99. That is an increase of almost a $50.00 a month for just one horse plus hay prices are substantially higher….people can’t afford these increases so the horses will suffer.

      • It’s growing the economy from the middle out and the top up (in a nutshell) as opposed to Reaganomics and Trumponomics, which are from the top down, tax cuts to the rich and deregulation to large corporations in a nutshell. (Deregulation contributed to the train derailment in the Ohio/ Pennsylvania area which caused the area to be so toxic that it was non-liveable, and I think it still is unfit for animals and people to live near the derailment.)
        People who abuse and neglect horses, or any other type of animal, will do so regardless of the state of the economy. Of course, not having enough money makes it more difficult to buy feed and buy or rent a place to live and/or keep horses, but there are many people who have several horses and they neglect them on purpose. People who hoard animals including horses do so regardless of the economy.
        In a racing industry publication online, this guy said he has a small stable of 35 racehorses. I personally don’t think of 35 horses as being a small stable.

  4. Words like “loving homes” need to set red flags waving. They’re comparable to food packaging labels that claim “natural ingredients” when in reality are full of chemicals. I was fortunate in the case of fraud I pursued to find a District Attorney who loved horses. In my post, I think I said the DA requested the FBI to pursue the perpetrator. However, the DA assigned the FBI to the case. Thank you for your excellent report and photos of beautiful Diva. Horses are forgiving but it’s heartbreaking to think of the loss of trust they are capable of giving us time and time again.

  5. My thanks to Mary for chronicling Diva’s story as it relates to the TAA and the so called rescue, Blue Bloods Thoroughbred Adoption and Placement (BBTAP)
    Concerning BBTAP I have never been treated so shoddily and lied to so much. But what is really concerning to me is that they never expressed any concern for the sorry condition of Diva barely 5 months after she was placed with their approved adopter and while under their adoption contract. The only comment was thorough their attorney to say they did nothing wrong and the weight loss was partially due to my shipping her in the heat of June once the $3,000 “ransom” was paid to Colt Rainville, the adopter. Ridiculous!!
    Diva’s vet. bills were over $1,600 during the first week at Zorro’s Crossing, a true rescue run by the compassionate and highly ethical person, Jennifer Astop.
    TAA said “thank you” for submitting the complaint then ignored my requests for what recommendations were made to BBTAP. It was on with business as usual. They just didn’t care!
    Dealing with BBTAP and, finally, Colt Rainville was frustrating and very stressful because Mary and I feared for Diva’s safety, there were too many red flags to ignore.
    We were right, Diva was in dire straits; her future was in jeopardy.

  6. Just to reiterate, after contacting Elizabeth Macdonald and Dora Alcon of Blue Bloods, along with Colt Rainville, MULTIPLE times, not one of them reached out to either Rose or me to apologize for the abuse that Diva’s Kitten suffered while under their “protection.” We didn’t expect to hear from Rainville, but Macdonald and Alcon? I find both these “ladies” to be reprehensible and I am being kind when I use the word “reprehensible.” When you are involved in animal advocacy/rescue, mistakes are going to be made but, when they are, one should immediately accept responsibility, offer an apology and come up with a plan of action in order to keep the mistake from happening again. It is worth noting that Alcon did reach out to Rose in late June, professing to be concerned about Diva shipping from Virginia to Georgia in the June heat. Her feigned concern was laughable. I suppose she was too obtuse to realize that Diva could have very well died if she had been left with Rainville.

    Diva’s Kitten made her exploiters over $100,000 in her short racing career and she earned that money racing exclusively in Ohio. All tracks in Ohio are low level so she earned it the hard way. Certainly she deserved a chance at a good life after racing sucked her dry. Rose and I thought we had given her that chance but we were wrong. Thank goodness Rose was tenacious when going after Rainville and I supported her at the 100% level. As determined as Macdonald and Alcon were in blowing us off, we were more determined in obtaining justice for Diva. It is quite amazing what two determined horse lovers can accomplish!

  7. Two days ago, I sent this email (see below) to Ms. Janice Towles and Ms. Stacie Clark- Rogers because I wanted to be sure that both of these women saw the story about the betrayal of Diva’s Kitten and the abuse she suffered under the “protection” of Blue Bloods, an organization that is accredited by the TAA. It isn’t surprising that I haven’t heard a peep out of these women because I didn’t expect to but I also believe in transparency and it is always s good idea to get the truth out there, especially when the TAA solicits donations to help the horses exploited by racing. I included Ms. Clark-Rogers because she has been with the TAA since its inception in 2012.

    Good Afternoon, Ms. Towles, (also copied Stacie Clark-Rogers)

    A little over a year ago, I reached out to you, as did Rose Smith and Jennifer Astrop, concerning the abuse and betrayal of Diva’s Kitten. Diva’s Kitten was betrayed by racing, Blue Bloods Thoroughbred Adoption and Placement (run by Macdonald and Alcon) as well as the TAA. Rose and I were both blown off by YOU after we submitted our complaint forms about a reprehensible organization, Blue Bloods, a TAA accredited facility. A few weeks ago, I decided to write a follow up story about the abuse of Diva’s Kitten and on Sunday, July 30th, Patrick Battuello posted it on the Horseracing Wrongs blog. So far, the story has received 5,000 hits! Isn’t that amazing? Since you are mentioned in the story, I thought you and your colleagues at the TAA would enjoy reading it as well as sharing it with those who truly care about these horses that keep racing humming along! Enjoy!

    Ms. Mary Johnson
    Equine Advocate

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