Shedrow Secrets


by Mary Johnson

Horseracing Wrongs recently reported on the death of Tigers Rule in the 9th at Churchill Downs November 24. Tigers died from multiple fractures and a torn artery. But…the necropsy also showed “ulceration of the stomach.” Ulcers don’t get much attention when a horse dies in the dirt or succumbs to colic locked away in his stall. The focus, understandably so, is on the broken necks, severed spines, and fractured legs, but make no mistake, ulcers are killers…silent killers…and are prevalent in the vast majority of horses in the racing industry. This story is about one such horse, a 7-year-old mare who was fortunate enough to survive a death sentence because of one woman’s determination to get her the help she so desperately needed. (Because I need to keep my sources confidential, I will call this horse “Lady.”)

In mid-October, a racing insider reached out to let me know that a horse was colicking at a low-level track. Unfortunately, this person didn’t have the financial resources to treat Lady. Rose Smith, a regular on this site, generously offered to foot the bill if Lady was seen by the track vet. She was, but for the next five days the vet vacillated on the diagnosis. Initially, Lady would be okay and colic concerns were dismissed. But then she was diagnosed with (gas) colic and eventually a blockage in the cecum. Of course, without an ultrasound definitiveness on something like this is almost impossible. It had become a guessing game. By Sunday, five days after I was contacted, there was no improvement, and we were all resigned to the possibility that Lady (below) would need to be euthanized.

In spite of the fact that Lady was suffering and in awful pain, she showed a will to live and exhibited a fighting spirit. She simply wasn’t giving up. Rose and I were both concerned that the vet had provided woefully inadequate treatment for Lady, and she (the vet) was now suggesting euthanasia. Again Rose stepped up, offering to cover the cost of Lady going to a specialty hospital in northeast Ohio.

Lady arrived at Equine Specialty Hospital on a Sunday and remained there for four days. The surgeon scoped her and it was determined that she had Grade 4 Bleeding Ulcers. (Ulcers are graded 1-4, with 4 being the most serious, possibly fatal.) Simply put, Lady was at high risk of bleeding to death. The blockage was in the colon, not the cecum as diagnosed by the track vet. Lady was aggressively treated, rehabbed, and is doing remarkably well. Even though she has recovered, she suffered, unconscionably, in silence on the backside of that track. What’s worse, there are countless more suffering – all alone in a tiny stall – in exactly the same way.

Risk factors for ulcers include:

– limited pasture and turnout
– change in diet and routine
– frequent travel or competition schedule
– consumption of heavy grain diets
– rigorous training and exercise
– long-term use of NSAIDS (e.g., bute)

Hmm. To what kind of horses do all these factors apply? In fact, research has shown that over 90% of Thoroughbred racehorses develop ulcers.

Imagine any horse being forced to run with ulcers, especially a Grade 4 Bleeding Ulcer, yet the apologists babble incessantly that they love their horses like members of their families. Nothing, of course, could be further from the truth. All the peppermints, jolly balls, and kisses on the nose can’t change the cruel, unnatural life of a racehorse. Lady’s story illustrates this perfectly. Without the intervention of someone outside of racing, Lady would be dead, not from a a broken neck, severed spine or fractured limb, but dead just the same.

Recently, HW Board Member Joy Aten relayed the heartrending story of Willow, a recently-off-the-track racehorse who was found starving to death in Texas. Follows is Joy’s update. But first, a reminder of Willow’s condition upon arriving to Laura’s farm:

Willow is gaining weight and learning to trust under Laura’s loving care. She enjoys the quiet, safe company of Duke, one of the three other starving horses she was rescued with.

On December 10, Willow had a veterinary evaluation, complete with x-rays of her lower left foreleg.

Her enlarged pastern:

“severe degenerative joint disease with bone fragmentation of the pastern joint”

Injured while in servitude to her racing owner, Willow was denied medical and/or surgical treatment – he just wanted to be rid of her when she could no longer run (earn). She will never be sound and requires pain management just to be a pasture pet. This gentle creature has endured unimaginable suffering in her seven years of life, a life, tragically, that will surely be cut short because of horseracing.

Shedrow Secrets

They Just Wanted Her Gone

by Joy Aten

Several weeks ago, I received a private message from Laura Swien, owner of Pair A Dice Ranch in Texas, asking if Horseracing Wrongs would share the story of a Thoroughbred mare she recently rescued, a mare who, like untold others, had been bred for, used in and finally discarded by the racing industry. Laura said:

“I am so sick to my stomach and brokenhearted as I write this. I was contacted by Animal Control and they asked me if I would be able to take in two horses from a seizure case. I took one look at these poor babies and of course I said yes.

“I was so shocked when I first saw them. I had ten different emotions hit me all at once. How could anyone be so cruel to starve these beautiful babies? There were four skeletons standing there staring at me at the Animal Control facility. It was the most horrific thing that I had ever seen.

“I immediately made the decision to help these poor creatures in any way that I could. I was asked if I could take these two horses and of course I said yes. (They found someone to take the other two horses.) I will do everything in my power to get them healthy again. We will take it slowly day by day.”

Photos followed Laura’s initial explanation of the situation:

October, the day the mare was seized by Animal Control…

Several weeks later, still at the holding facility…

November, shortly after arrival at Laura’s…

Her enlarged and painful left front ankle, yet another obstacle for this timid, emaciated mare to overcome…

And Laura gave her a name – Willow…

“Willow” racing at Arlington in 2017. She was, in fact, raced at Hawthorne only nine months prior to being found starving to death on a desolate piece of Texas property. Imagine – from racing in January to being unable to rise to her feet – due to starvation – in October…

Willow was christened (by her exploiters) Time for Parading. She was bred, owned and raced by Kenneth Hutchens. In fact, Hutchens owned her for her entire “career” (35 races) and reaped the lion’s share of the $57,071 she “earned.” In her last race, at Illinois’ Hawthorne Race Course January 4, she finished last, over 31 lengths behind. Although she ran with a 5K price tag on her head, she was not claimed (bought).

It took several calls to Hutchens to make contact. At first he seemed wary of my inquiries into a mare he had bred and raced, but since our objective was to learn of any injury Time for Parading might have incurred while he had her, he eased up, answering the several questions I posed:

“Was she injured, Mr. Hutchens?”
“No, she was sound.”

“So after her last race in January, who did you sell her to? Or maybe you gave her to a rescue or racehorse placement program, Mr. Hutchens?”
“No, she was claimed.”

“Well that’s odd, because I checked her past performances and not only were there NO claims in her last race, Mr. Hutchens, but in looking at her races, I cannot imagine anyone wanting to claim her.”
“She was claimed.”

“OK…so have you followed up on her to see how she was doing, Mr. Hutchens? Given you bred her and raced her?”

“Well you might be interested to know she was recently found starving – a skeleton – and she’s very lame on her left front, as well, Mr. Hutchens.”
“Well she was sound when I had her.”

“OK, Mr. Hutchens…she is in good hands, she’s been rescued, but she is not out of the woods yet.”
No response.

“Thank you for your time, Mr. Hutchens. If you would like to help with Time for Parading’s veterinary expenses, or with the feed bill since she needs to gain hundreds of pounds, you’ve got my number. This mare could really use your help.”
No response.

Laura reached Time for Parading’s last trainer of record, Chris Dorris. Laura: “Dorris said ‘the gallop boy,’ who lives in Chicago, wanted to buy Time for Parading so [Dorris] sold her to him after her last race in January.” Dorris assured Laura he would speak to the “gallop boy” about the mare’s condition and where she was found, then would get back to her. To date, he hasn’t. Also to date, there has been no financial assistance from either breeder/owner Hutchens or trainer Dorris.

Time for Parading’s “re-homing” scenario is nothing unusual. Racehorses no longer wanted by their “connections” are sold or given away to people who can barely afford to feed themselves. Every week we see racehorses who had been “re-homed” landing in kill pens, a year or two out from their last races, mere shadows of their former selves. Apologists bellow at the heartrending discoveries, but add, “It’s not the connections’ fault! They thought they gave them to a good home!” RIGHT…they sold or gave away their horse, one of the most expensive animals to care for, to someone who has to pray that their rust-bucket of a vehicle starts when they get in.

We see this over and over again on the backsides. A low-paid track worker is given a horse – most of the time, injured – that he has no business taking possession of. But the owner or trainer doesn’t care; he wants this horse gone and wants her gone now. The buyer’s (or just recipient’s) fiscal situation is of no concern. No vetting. No reference check. No trip to the farm or boarding facility where the horse will reside. And, of course, no follow-up.

Of the horses who do survive the track (and thousands do not), many are placed in yet another life-threatening situation, utterly dependent on someone who is ill-equipped to handle the care of an equine. Time for Parading was one of those horses. One day, no one came to feed her. The next day, again nothing. Day after excruciating day, she waited – desperate for food, any food. But it never arrived. The truth is, she was being slowly tortured to death. And all the while, those who cashed in on her labors never even gave her a second thought. How’s that for “The Sport of Kings”?

(We want to extend our deepest gratitude to Laura Swien for welcoming Time for Parading, aka Willow, and another of the starving horses – now called Duke – into her heart and home. Thank you so very much, Laura.)

Shedrow Secrets

Lochness Bluegrass

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.

from a commodity…

to a respected being…