Shedrow Secrets

It’s Been a Long Time Comin’ – The Liberation of Shamrock Road

by Mary Johnson

The story of Shamrock Road began four and a half years ago when Patrick brought the then three-year-old gelding to the attention of HW readers – here, here, and here. At that time, Shamrock had been raced 12 times in 18 weeks and was owned by The IRA and trained by the notorious Edward Sexton. By year’s end – his very first in racing – Shamrock had been put to the whip an unconscionable 24 times.

A group of advocates began to track Shamrock’s circuitous racing career. In February ’16, he “won” for the last time – and in the process, was “claimed” (sold) yet again. In less than five years, Shamrock was raced 61 times, “earning” a relatively paltry $42,000 – the definition of a low-level claimer. And there are thousands more just like him.

There were several attempts (offers) to retire Shamrock from racing, all ultimately failing. Our options were limited. We either had to patiently wait for an opportunity to present itself, or we had to claim him (Shamrock was “For Sale” prior to all of his final 15 races). Through a contact, I let the owner know that we would welcome an opportunity to purchase him and within a couple months, that opportunity came. Two days ago, Shamrock Road was delivered to a barn where Rose Smith and I have boarded other horses, and he has settled in well. Shamrock’s servitude and suffering are finally at an end. Here’s to many years of love and security for this beautiful boy!

Today, I offer a new Shedrow Secrets contribution from a former racehorse trainer, Susan Bump. Susan, originally from upstate New York, has always had a passion for horses. At 22, she says, she “stumbled into the racing industry” in California. She became an exercise rider and broke horses for the track on various California farms. Susan then began training at San Luis Rey Downs. Eventually, she became disillusioned and penned a book, “My Wild Ride,” detailing her journey. She has since become a full-fledged activist, protesting puppy mills, rodeos and, now, racing.

Shedrow Secrets: A Trainer Turns

I am an ex Thoroughbred racehorse trainer. I was in the racing industry as a rider, owner, breeder, and trainer for over 30 years. I was drawn to racing at the age of 22 because of my obsession with horses, riding and speed. The racing world was ideal for me for a very long time.

As a trainer, I knew that racing was far from perfect but I knew that I could keep my horses happy. I did things different than other trainers. I was always a small stable with 12 horses or less. I always rode my own horses in the mornings so I knew how each of them felt. I paid attention to the tiniest details that could be significant. I made time to walk them after the track closed to eat grass and feel the sun on their backs. Instead of using drugs I had a BioScan unit (light therapy) and later a Papimi machine (electromagnetic pulsation therapy).

I had a rule in my head that I lived by: I would never put a horse in a position where he was likely to break down, suffer, or die. It was my line in the sand. I can’t share all of the details but I broke my rule once. I ran a horse that I had claimed who should not have run. She had joint degeneration in her knees and she was finished as a racehorse. I had made several bad claims prior to her and given the horses away. I justified my bad choice with the idea that I had to make a profit on a horse. So, I entered her, she won and got claimed. The last time I saw her she walking lame off the track with her new groom to her new barn. On paper I looked like a sharp trainer. In my heart I knew I was a piece of shit. I was as bad as all the other trainers who cared more about money than the well being of their horses. I was the person I swore I would never be. This was the beginning of the end for me as a trainer.

Not long after, I bought a horse from another trainer. She was thin and unhappy. I had had some success getting them right and happy and then turning their form around. It was always a very powerful feeling to know that I could make a horse happy. It was my thing. I entered this horse in Northern Ca. and trailered her there myself. I ran my filly and she ran bad – terrible – last by a mile. I walked down to the track after the race and saw the terrified look in her eyes and knew that she hated running. This can happen. The best course of action at this point is to recognize what trainers hate to see, a horse who hates racing, and abort. Abort meaning get her out of your barn and find her a good home away from the track. To be safe, I would always keep her papers and notify the Jockey Club that they should not issue duplicates.

I walked off the track with the groom and my filly. When we got to the gap there was a horse ambulance and several horsemen trying to get a very lame horse into the ambulance. The horse had broken down in the race and had a metal splint/brace on a hind leg. When a horse broke down on the track the men around me – owners, grooms, friends – always told me not to look. I didn’t need to be convinced, agreeing wholeheartedly that that was something I didn’t need to see. That all changed on this particular day. I heard a voice in my head saying, “It’s time to look.” I looked at the face of the injured horse. Our eyes locked. I stopped walking. I saw the horror, the pain and the suffering that this poor horse was enduring. I could not look away. Tears came to my eyes and for once I didn’t care if I acted like a girl on the track.

I finally made it back to my barn and could not stop crying. I had a long 11-hour drive back home to Southern California and I cried all the way. It took me three days of crying to come to the realization that this was my crossroad. I had to choose now who I wanted to be. I had become a woman I didn’t like. I was part of the problem. I quit training, found homes off the track for my horses and vowed that I would now and for evermore be part of the solution.

Shedrow Secrets

by Mary Johnson

For those who follow racehorse deaths on America’s tracks, the descriptions are all too familiar – “cardiovascular collapse,” “fractured cannon bones,” “severed spines” and “broken necks.” Gruesome descriptions as we visualize the sickening scenes that occur regularly in racing. However, there are horses who do make it out of racing alive only to die later in virtual anonymity. There are some whose stories are simply heartbreaking, not only because a young life was snuffed out, but also because of the sweet nature of a particular horse. One of those horses was Lovetobehappy (Lovey), and this is her story.

Lovey was first brought to our attention in late May, 2019. She was being offered as a broodmare prospect and was marketed as “a super opportunity to add to your broodmare band.” Over the next week or so, her price had dropped precipitously to a few hundred dollars along with the proverbial “OBO.” Rose Smith and I sensed the urgency of the situation, and we quickly decided to step up for her. An offer was made and accepted, and Lovey arrived at my barn on May 30th for three weeks of downtime before she shipped to New Bolton for an evaluation and possible surgery on her knees. We were cautiously optimistic since she was only three and had raced just six times, all in 2019, with the last being on May 7th (which she “won”).

loaded and ready to go…

Upon arrival, I was amazed at how sweet and docile this little three-year-old was, especially since she had just left the track. I have been involved with OTTBS for well over fifty years, and Lovey was unequivocally one of the kindest horses I have ever encountered. She was simply a delight to have in my barn, which made her physical issues even more troubling. When walking, she seemed to have great difficulty knowing where to place her feet, and we initially suspected a neurological issue. We also thought she just might be body sore but, again, we were hopeful that with time and good care, her issues would resolve and she could have a normal life. An appointment was made with my equine vet for the following week, and I began limited turnout in a smaller pasture with my old Standardbred gelding, Friday. She adored my old guy and followed him around like a puppy dog, but was always ready to go back into the barn when I approached the pasture.

upon arrival…

Lovey with Friday…

My vet took initial radiographs of both of Lovey’s front knees and found chip fractures in both middle joints. She also thought that Lovey was body sore plus she had thin soles, so a treatment plan was initiated. The bloodwork came back fine, with no significant abnormalities, and neurological issues were ruled out. However, Rose and I realized that in order for Lovey to lead a relatively comfortable life, the chips would have to be removed and we both wanted to give her that chance. Her next stop would be New Bolton. Rose and I mistakenly believed that things were looking up for this incredibly sweet filly.

before heading to New Bolton…

Lovey’s surgery was scheduled for Monday, June 24th. Prior to, New Bolton took additional x-rays of both knees as well as her head since she had an indentation next to her left eye. Kelly Smith had graciously offered to rehab Lovey as well as take her into her adoption program at Omega Horse Rescue. On Monday morning, Kelly called and told me that it didn’t look good for Lovey. Chips were successfully removed from the left knee, but the right knee was in bad shape.

I immediately called NB and spoke to the surgeon about the prognosis. Here is what Dr. Levine shared with me: The cartilage in the right middle carpal joint had been “hammered” and was virtually nonexistent, making her prognosis for a long-term, pain-free life poor. He also said that Lovey was the worst case he had ever seen except for horses who had entered NB in order to have their joints fused, and those were usually high-end broodmares. I asked him if anything could be done for her and he said the ONLY possibility was to have the knee fused (a $20,000 procedure) down the road. In addition, he believed she had previously suffered from a fractured skull.

After discussing Lovey’s poor prognosis with Rose and the surgeon, we made the difficult decision to let her go. She never woke up from the anesthesia. Both Rose and I were overcome with grief, and I still become emotional when thinking about my sweet Lovey. For three weeks, while at my barn, nothing was expected of her. She was given the freedom to just be a horse, which is something denied her during her racing days. Although she is gone, she will NEVER be forgotten. The racing industry took her life, just as it has so many others. Lovetobehappy is a racing fatality and the industry is responsible for destroying her. You can be sure of that.

From the official NB diagnosis: “right middle carpal joint – osteochondral fragmentation, osteophytosis, ‚Äčend-stage degenerative joint disease; left middle carpal joint – osteochondral fragmentation, osteophytosis. There was complete denudation of the articular cartilage along the articular surface of the radial carpal bone, severe denudation of the third carpal bone, and moderate articular erosion of several others.” Also from NB: “Due to the severity of pathology within the right MCJ, which likely would result in a grave prognosis for return to athletic [function] and persistent lameness, the filly was humanely euthanized.”

The following essay was submitted by a longtime industry exercise-rider. For various reasons, this person has asked to remain anonymous.

Please allow me to start off by saying that I am not any level of bleeding heart activist. I enjoy eating meat and I fully believe in using horses for work and recreation. I have a job to earn my keep and I see no reason why most horses can’t earn their keep as well. With all that being said, it is my observation that horseracing practices are senseless mental and physical abuse. They are a near perfectly measured formula for destroying the animal mentally and rendering it useless even in the unlikely event that he survives the relentless physical pounding that kills the majority of his peers.

Everything that is standard practice in this industry, from the tiny boxes they are kept in, the high protein diets they are fed, the hormones they are injected with, down to their daily training regimens is a no-fail recipe for the absolute destruction of this delicate animal. We mass produce these nervous and frail animals with absolutely no regulations or standards and we discard them just as quickly.

There are no rules that regulate how long a horse can remain “in training” without a break. “In training” entails being locked in a 12 by 12 box for 23 hours a day, coming out only to jog and canter in circles around a racetrack for 15 to 20 minutes. This is followed by being walked, either by hand or on a walking machine, for about 30 minutes and then it’s back to the box until tomorrow.

In order to understand how damaging this is to a horse’s psychological (as well as physical) being, it is essential to understand the nature of a grazing herd-animal. A horse is very much like a deer, designed to live in large families, constantly ambling around and ingesting small bits of grass and roughage. They seek comfort in large, close-knit herds where they, as prey animals, keep watch over one another and provide physical affection and companionship. Deprivation of this natural state brings on a host of stress and anxiety induced behaviors.

Have you ever been around or seen footage of young children in an orphanage? Being deprived of a mother’s affection, they often rock themselves for comfort, sometimes violently. Some tap their heads against walls or their bed boards. Some even develop unusual, compulsory vocal or breathing ticks. Walk down the shedrow of any barn and you will see horses displaying all of the aforementioned symptoms. Most commonly they weave back and forth in their doorways; some find room to actually pace back and forth or even tread little circles around the inside of their tiny boxes. Often the horses weave and pace so incessantly and aggressively that it causes lameness issues in the animal and digs deep holes in their stall floor. Not only does this make for a very uncomfortable bed to lie down in, it also churns all their urine and feces into their costly “bedding.”

I have observed desperate trainers try all sorts of tactics to stop these counterproductive behaviors. They “decorate” the stalls with old car tires, orange road cones and giant beach balls to avert the circling and pacing, usually to no avail. I have seen horses bloody up their ankles frantically pacing and weaving over the top of the tires as though they weren’t even there.

Another common habit they develop, called “cribbing” or “sucking wind,” is when the horse bites down on the stall door or the edge of the feed bucket and loudly sucks air into his belly. Some “cribbers” do so because they are not being provided with adequate roughage (grazing animals are designed to constantly digest small bits of roughage) and filling their belly with air can simulate the feeling of being full. Others crib purely from boredom and anxiety. This compulsory habit can cause a plethora of health problems and the solution is a rigid, leather choke collar that fastens tightly around the horse’s throat and jabs painfully into his esophagus whenever he moves his head or neck a certain way. This is often effective and a majority of trainers leave this apparatus on for the full 23 hours that the horse is stalled.

One horse I encountered years ago (at a very prestigious track) had been “in training” for seven straight years. He had not been allowed outside in a pasture or even a small paddock for over seven years. He was nine now and his career was coming to an end. Whenever turned outside in a paddock he would run, panicked and screaming wildly until he was bathed in sweat. Having a quiet and calm horse in the next paddock over or even in the same paddock with him offered no comfort.

I turned that poor gelding outside every single day that winter. I even tried two different kinds of tranquilizers, but he never once stopped frantically running and screaming – not until you brought him back to his box. I never left him outside for more than a hour for fear that he would explode his heart or break a leg off. Before I left at the end of the season the owner/trainer swore to me that he would keep the gelding as a pony or a barn ornament. I just try not to think about it.

In general, horses are affectionate and deeply sensitive animals. When removed from their natural environment, they become like dogs and thrive on attention. Walking down a racehorse shedrow can often feel like visiting a city animal-shelter where all the dogs stare at you longingly, begging for your attention and interaction. But because of the stress of track life, many horses grow bitter and afraid of humans. Can you blame them? They pin their ears and gnash their teeth at everyone who passes their stall. In turn, trainers and grooms slap at them, call them awful names and handle them with anger and aggression.

You see, aside from the starry-eyed young girls who run away to join the “circus” because they genuinely love horses, the racetrack is a catch-all for drug addicts, alcoholics, criminals, and other undesirables. These horses who develop poor attitudes will likely be handled by short-tempered drunks. You can certainly imagine what happens when a suffering, frightened filly aims a well-deserved kick at a hung-over ex-con for hurriedly raking too stiff of a brush across her sensitive belly. I’ve seen “cranky” horses slapped, kicked and punched. Sometimes this cycle continues until a horse becomes labeled as “savage.” “Savages” will not only bite and kick but will run at anyone who comes near their stall. Some will throw themselves on the ground whenever they’re tethered up for grooming. And the cycle continues.

Do you realize that there is no one appointed to go around the barns at night and just check on the horses? No one checks to make sure the horses have water, food and bedding. That job doesn’t exist, at least at the tracks I have worked at. Horses go all night standing in a box with no water or hay. Maybe because the owner/trainer is down on his luck and can’t afford any bedding this week or has to ration his hay. Maybe the trainer in the next barn got drunk and passed out early, before he topped off water buckets for the night, and now all ten of his horses have no water until morning. Oftentimes that same trainer will send those horses out to gallop the next morning still without having given them a drink. Just imagine what kind of horrors are being ignored at the cheaper tracks. No need for me to imagine, I have seen it.

Then there is the whipping. In general, when a racehorse turns for home he gets the living shit whipped out of him. Whether he is in first or last, limping or sailing on air, he gets whipped. In recent years, they have added an extra 1/4″ of foam to the “business end” in order to make it more “humane.” This is total bullshit and here’s why: a whip is usually 2 1/2′-3 1/2′ sections of fiberglass fishing-poles (wrapped in colorful plastic string or leather) and a 1/2″ thick foam-popper on the end that is covered in patent leather – for the comfort of the horse, I’m sure. Is it possible that part of the reason racehorses become sour – rearing up, flipping over and sometimes even killing themselves in avoidance – is because they anticipate the whipping? For an animal of flight, a prey animal, having a rider on your back continuously whipping or spurring even through you’re already running as fast as you can – in a stampede, in front of a screaming audience – certainly must seem like punishment.

In my 20 years in this industry, I have been licensed in eight different states; I have rode at training facilities in most of these and in four others as well. I have “broke” (got them ready to ride) over 100 yearlings and have personally snapped the legs off of two separate horses by galloping them whilst they were knowingly unsound. Both were euthanized on the spot. I am aware of a few other horses whom I have mortally injured. One horse whom I killed particularly haunts my memory.

We were out galloping and I felt something pop and he began to limp. He was a really kind and gentle guy. I hopped off and led him back to the barn. I watched that horse stand in his tiny, hard stall with no feed or bedding for nearly a week before the “meat man” came through on his weekly run. At which point, this gentle, trusting animal was loaded, limping, onto the trailer where he was shuffled around hungry, afraid, and in pain for another week before being shipped to the slaughterhouse.

There is nothing glamorous about this “sport,” no matter what country you’re in. Any time you mass-produce animals as commodities, there is going to be cruelty and death. That’s a fact, and to focus on just the drugging is a total cop-out. Actually, if you saw how these horses lived you would advocate them having more drugs. Taking away Lasix and pain-killers is increasing their suffering and worsening their already horrible quality of life. Having seen and lived this for 20 years, it is my opinion that horseracing simply needs to go away.

Shedrow Secrets

by Mary Johnson

In late July, 2013, a racing official at Beulah Park reached out to me for help concerning six horses that were in danger of “disappearing” off the backside of the track. I immediately contacted fellow horse advocates for assistance with networking since placing one horse, much less six, is extremely difficult. Time was of the essence and we were all under a great deal of pressure to help these horses land safely. Over a couple weeks, five were placed into homes or rescues and we were now down to one – Wakiwickedwarrior.

Waki was incredibly thin as well as lame, and the track vet had recommended euthanasia. In addition, Waki had a fractured right orbital socket that, though it had healed over time, left his eyes asymmetrical, making him look “deformed.” The injury, it was suspected, was due to blunt trauma. He wasn’t a very good-looking horse, at least from outward appearances. However, when I first met Waki, I realized that he was a very sweet horse and, even though he was just a low level “claimer,” he was just as valuable and deserving as the big-money winners. As we furiously worked to help him land safely, Sandy Maddy, a friend of many years, reached out and offered to foster him, and I immediately took her up on it. Waki is now with me, but I will always be indebted to Sandy for stepping up for a horse with limited options.

On July 10, 2013, Waki ran his last race at Beulah Park. From the racing minutes that day, “Wakiwickedwarrior dueled and chased the winner for a half before stopping to a walk in the stretch run.” Waki walked off the track, unable to keep up with the rest of the herd. He was done – defeated and broken – at a mere five years old. Little did he know that in a few short weeks his luck would change.

Waki is one of the lucky ones because, though damaged, he made it out of racing alive and landed in a good, forever home. He is the exception because in the vast majority of cases, the racing industry does NOT – will NOT – step up for its fallen warriors. I have seen Waki’s story play out many, many times with horses that have been sucked dry. Some are crippled and maimed to the point that humane euthanasia is the only option. So what is the solution? End horseracing now. Stop the betting and this gambling industry will die, like so many of its horses, in the dirt. Seems simple to me.

Waki, one month after his last race (yes, he was being raced like this)…

Waki (and me), earlier this month…