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.

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, ​end-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.”