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…

A recently received letter. Please read in its entirety. Then share.

October 28, 2019

Dear Patrick and Friends,

I say “friends” because I feel a united kinship with you and the regular commenters on HRW. I’ve followed HRW since its inception and I am grateful for the tracking you do on every death. Someone needs to remember the horses in a public way and, to me, the kill list reads like a memorial wall to their lives. They aren’t forgotten by everyone.

It is a shame that the owners and trainers and handlers don’t stand up for the horses. One need look no further than the horse racing “industry” to see the worst elements of human existence and the results of apathy and greed. Apathy begets greed. Greed is a hallmark of those without a soul.

I don’t want to reveal my identity or the identity of the TBs I will speak of here for fear of repercussion. I am long out of involvement directly with racing, but the names could alert people still involved. There are a lot of active racing folks who read HRW to find something to bitch amongst themselves about, to deride the information, to see if their names are mentioned there. I hope you understand.

I need very much to share the story of the horses whose names didn’t make it to the lists – private training track deaths, deaths on the farm. These beautiful beings were my friends; I’ve always been able to connect deeply with horses, to feel and understand their hearts and minds. For some time in my life, this made me valuable to the racing business. Horses were my greatest joy and the root of abject sorrow.

I treated horrific soft tissue injuries, helped the vet euthanize those too damaged to patch together anymore, consoled many who were beaten and terrified – so afraid that the sound of grain being poured into their feed bucket sent them bolting against the back of the stall, wild eyed. I have watched “trainers” whip and choke down young horses who were frightened and confused, and I’ve seen (like many of you have) horses keep running – because they were afraid to stop running – with horrific injuries. Yes, horses like to run, but no horse is born dreaming of being run at terror-response-level speeds in a circle.

The worst thing I’ve ever seen was a filly – let’s call her Miss Dee – not quite 18 months old, a magnificent blue-black with two socks and a white star and stripe on her face, gentle, fast, and compliant, in a speed trial under tack for the second time. That little girl was whipped to breakneck speed, and terrified, ran through the rail. She lost her rider but kept running, making a horrendous gasping. Then her guts fell out. She had eviscerated herself on the broken fence but…kept running.

She made it another 40 yards or so before she fell, a two-foot wide streak of purplish blood behind her. She staggered and made a final lunge forward, digging into the earth with her front hooves as she fell. She died with an indescribable expression of horror and pain on her face. It happened so quickly, yet years later, I can still see it and smell the blood.

Her entrails lay in a steaming heap where they fell. All was silent for some seconds as those watching looked on in shock. I went to her and slid the bridle off of her head and just kneeled there, unable to speak. I don’t know how long it was, but then I became aware of people moving around me, and someone telling me to go get a wheelbarrow and haul those guts to the manure pile. Somebody else had already started the tractor to go bury her. In 20 minutes, she was gone. Just gone. No marker for her grave, not even buried whole.

That day was the end of many things for me. It took me years to be able to even talk about that day and that poor baby. I couldn’t work around the horses anymore; although I am just about ready to adopt some of racing’s throwaways and give back to the horses, I feel like I will need the support of like-minded people. Her death broke me, too.

Recently, I drove past and saw that where her unmarked grave was, there is now a small pond and it made me angry and sad that even in death, she was not left in peace.

Please, please share her story if you feel it appropriate. There is not a day that goes by that I don’t think of her and how much she meant to me and how very little she meant to others who should have cared.

If you do share her story, please do not identify the state from which you received this letter. Thank you for caring about the horses. God bless you.


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.