On July 31 of this year, 7-year-old Whistle Included was a cheap “claimer” toiling at seedy tracks for bottom-feeder “connections.” In other words, exactly the kind of horse who would simply disappear when Racing was done with him. That day, they were. In his 46th time under the whip, Whistle was “vanned off” after the 9th at Mountaineer. “Vanned off” – then disappeared. Here, I will let Joy Aten, our featured Shedrow Secrets contributor, pick up the story (from her FB page):

I know you’re probably “numb” to my posts by now – the majority done with hopes of educating an unknowing public about the horseracing industry – but just look at him [below]…his name, Whistle Included. He’s dead today.


“Whistle” was a racehorse. He was last raced on July 31 at Mountaineer in West Virginia; he tried very hard in that race to protect his injured left front limb – likely a cumulative injury from the repeated pounding he absorbed on American tracks – and after the race, he required the “horse ambulance” to get back to the barn.

Less than three months later, Kelly Smith found Whistle at the infamous New Holland auction; he was headed to the slaughterhouse. But Kelly intervened and bought (rescued) him. She says Whistle was a sweetheart – just LOOK at his face, his eyes; he’s got sweetness written all over him. But she knew that left ankle was in very bad shape, and Whistle went directly to the vet clinic. X-rays confirmed Kelly’s fears: the ankle [below] had multiple fractures; it was irreparable. Any hope for a comfortable pasture life was gone. So Kelly did the only thing she could do – the compassionate thing: Last Friday, Whistle Included was humanely euthanized.


For those who may not know, Whistle would have been loaded onto a trailer FULL of other horses for a LONG trip – hours and hours with no food, no water, no rest; with unfamiliar horses all jostling for a comfortable, stable position while the rig sped toward the border. Once at the slaughterhouse, he would have been roughly unloaded – again, horses who don’t know one another will attempt to establish hierarchy and will bite, kick and strike. Imagine Whistle and other injured horses trying to protect themselves in that situation. Then, he would have waited in a paddock until it was his time – the “kill box,” a metal bolt to the head, a knife to the artery. Look again at Whistle’s face and imagine that…

Which brings me to this – there were many people responsible for this damaged racehorse being delivered into a kill-buyer’s hands. Certainly the individual who brought him or had him brought to New Holland bears responsibility – but THIS is where racing apologists want to absolve Whistle’s past owners and trainers from any responsibility. Just because his last racing owner might not have physically brought him there, she certainly and WITHOUT QUESTION set him up for a “bad ending” – as did ALL his former “connections.”

Why didn’t Whistle’s last owner have him euthanized after his injury? GREAT question and one I used to ask myself when I was new to rescuing broken racehorses. Why don’t they? Because they would have to PAY for radiographs and then, if warranted, PAY for euthanasia…and they certainly don’t want to put out any money for a horse who cannot make them any. So what do they do? Some pretend to “care” by giving their “damaged goods” away or maybe even sell them for a dollar (yes, ONE DOLLAR) – making sure to draw up a contract in order to protect themselves (see, it wasn’t me who brought the horse to auction). In other words, they cover their asses. And by moving out the injured, they make room for fresh – revenue-producing – legs. Convenient for them, not for horses like Whistle.

Whistle, I’m sorry the racing people ever got their hands on you. I’m sorry you had your life stolen for entertainment, for gambling, for jobs. I’m sorry you never even had a life. You will not be forgotten, Whistle – and we will not stop trying.

As a follow-up to yesterday’s Anita post, I share these pictures from Mary Johnson.

Anita, approximately two weeks after arriving in Ohio…

The vet at Cleveland Equine said these are the worst ankles she’s ever seen…

ankles, by the way, Anita was raced on…


Update: Recent photos of a healthier, happier Anita…

Shedrow Secrets

Shedrow Secrets

Anita Vacation
by Joy Aten

On July 15, I noticed a photo of a chestnut Thoroughbred mare posted on the “End Of The Line Horse Placement” FB page. Her splayed stance and troubled eye betrayed her pain – and then I saw her front ankles (fetlocks). The apologists’ comments were as expected: “NOT the racing industries [sic] fault”; “The ankles are ugly, but I bet she is sound on them.” An industry insider added: “Race trainer didn’t dump her. She was networked for free for broodmare/pasture puff type home. The new home dumped her at auction when she realized trail riding might not be in her future.” Yes, the mare’s appalling condition and the fact that she was in a kill-buyer’s custody – less than a month after her final race (at Mountaineer for trainer Charles Kieser) – had the racing people scrambling. But in this case, there was plenty of blame to go around.

Five-year-old Anita Vacation was raced 32 times, earning 78K. In her last race on June 18, she brought up the rear – “away slowly, trailed throughout.” After that race, an ad shows her “For Sale” at $500, yet only 10 days later, she had been given away – free – and was at her “new home.” The new owner thought she had acquired a trail-sound horse…the true condition of her ankles was not disclosed by the young woman who had networked her. In addition, no reference checks were done prior to placing Anita Vacation: no calls to the new owner’s vet or farrier, no calls to anyone with intimate knowledge of her; and – no visit to her residence, no contract, no right-of-first-refusal. Nothing. Anita was simply dropped off by a transporter who unloaded her on the road and left immediately after. This had bad ending written all over it. For all trainer Charles Kieser and the gal who networked Anita knew, this new owner could be someone who would bring a horse to auction. And she did. Fifteen days later.

But back to those fetlocks. One apologist seemed particularly intent to absolve Anita’s “connections” for her enlarged, deformed joints: “The ankles are big and ugly but most likely set and not causing a problem.” She comments again: “More than likely these ankles are set, and have been set for quite some time.” Then this: “I’ve seen uglier ankles than that winning races…” Disgusting. Truth is, the mare’s connections took a healthy, sound and beautiful filly and in just over two years made a “pasture ornament” out of her. Kieser raced her on those ankles – ankles the veterinarian, after radiographs and a lameness evaluation, concluded left Anita with a “poor prognosis for athletic use” and limited her activity to being “turned out as a pasture horse” and “lightly ridden at a WALK on flat surfaces.” Again, she was RACED on those ankles.

Anita Vacation is safe now, thanks to Mary Johnson (with help from generous others) providing her a true, final home. She is thin from her ordeal, but I’ve no doubt she’ll reach a healthy weight under Mary’s care. For now, she is reasonably comfortable. She is valued. She is loved. And she will not be dumped again.

Anita Vacation was failed by the individual who carelessly placed her and by the woman she was placed with. But she was failed before that pair even entered the picture. While Anita was spared a brutal, bloody, violent slaughterhouse end, she will live with increasing pain – mostly due to progressive arthritis – and she will die prematurely. For this (and for not guaranteeing her safe landing in the first place), we have this awful industry – chew-them-up-spit-them-out, run-them-into-the-ground, use-them-for-every-last-drop-of-worth horseracing – to thank.

On June 15, racing apologist Jen Roytz wrote an article in which takes umbrage over the way a recent rescue effort was handled. Unsurprisingly, the story was biased and skewed, with but one side – the industry’s, shockingly – presented. So today we offer the other, as told by someone who was directly involved – Joy Aten, our primary “Shedrow Secrets” contributor. Before reading, know this: Joy Aten’s reputation (resume) where equines are concerned is beyond reproach.


The Dr. Mohrbacher Saga
by Joy Aten:

As I see it, the main difference between the pro-racing and anti-racing camps (other than the obvious) is the use of facts. Our basis for choosing to support the horses, and not the industry that exploits them, rests on facts – injuries/deaths, slaughter, etc. On the other hand, those in and around racing circles try desperately to refute these (documented) facts, denigrating the message (and the messengers) with the only weapons at their disposal – inaccuracies and lies. Case in point, the Jen Roytz article, “When Helping Is Hurting.”

The first inaccuracy didn’t take long: “On June 4,” she writes, “Doug O’Neill Racing Stable was contacted about a horse…” In fact, The Doug O’Neill Racing Stable (DONRS) was contacted about the tattooed TB gelding identified as Dr. Mohrbacher on June 3, not June 4. I know because I am the one who posted this – on June 3: “This is Dr. Mohrbacher – he is currently owned and in the possession of kill buyer Brian Moore. He needs your help, Doug O’Neill…racehorse advocates are inundated with trying to rescue racehorse cast-offs and there is NO ONE for Dr. Mohrbacher. Will YOU help your former horse?”

Roytz quotes two individuals in her article, both of whom support the industry, one – Sharla Rae Sanders – the DONRS Operations Manager. Sanders: “First off, I do my research when I’m contacted [about a former DON racehorse in need of rescue]. We have a database of every single horse Doug has trained…” Yet, despite her “research,” Sanders, in an email to me, said, “We did not have a horse with that name in training with us.” Yes, they did; in fact, he had won for O’Neill his first time out. Sanders later acknowledged that she had made a mistake in her “methodical” research, stating she was looking for Mr., not Dr., Mohrbacher.

The other Roytz source was Bev Strauss, former insider and co-founder of MidAtlantic Thoroughbred Rescue: “It’s the vigilante types…[that] don’t understand that it wasn’t the racing connections that put the horse in the bad spot.” Regarding the need for long-term care, she says: “These are things that so often the vigilante-types don’t concern themselves with. They fancy themselves professional Facebook horse rescuers, but they don’t do anything constructive to help support the horse long term.” “Facebook rescuers”? Those who know us know better – but then Roytz never bothered to interview me; the truth would have gotten in the way of a good story. It most certainly would have discredited Strauss’ remarks since I had a reputable non-profit ready and willing to take the gelding once his bail was met.

Regarding my purported harassment of Sanders, the entirety of my attempts to reach her for assistance with the gelding included two posts I put on the DONRS FB page, posts that were completely ignored and deleted, and two emails I sent in response to hers after Mary Johnson was finally able to get in contact with her. Yet, when the misidentification of the horse became clear, I immediately offered an apology on the DONRS FB page (where I had made the initial pleas). But Sanders continued to email ME, even angrily stating “I could not find an apology” when the apology had been there for nearly 24 hours…on the site SHE manages.

The Roytz article has many more false accusations and inaccuracies, all of which I will eagerly address if asked. I hope Jen Roytz herself comes here, to this public forum, and at last does what any credible journalist should do – get the “rest of the story.” And the same for Sharla Rae Sanders…I’ve got every correspondence between her and I. No stone will be left unturned.

So while Roytz and her interviewees made certain to exclaim how there was “hurt” and “damage” done (to what or whom I have no idea), and that reaching out for help via the only avenue I had available was not the “proper way,” none of the three uttered a single word about the real tragedy here – Dr. Mohrbacher.

A postscript:

Three days after my original plea for help – and after I had updated Sanders that the gelding had indeed been bailed – I was told that O’Neill would offer assistance. In that email, Sanders also told me that their former racehorse, Dr. Mohrbacher, was “named for his brother’s cancer doctor.” Now wouldn’t you think that that horse would have some special meaning? Although Reddam and O’Neill got Dr. Mohrbacher off their books nine years ago – when they sold him in a claiming race – surely they followed up on him…called the current owner or trainer from time to time…checked on how the oncologist’s namesake was doing. Right? Guess he wasn’t that special after all. Because if he was, when I asked for help on June 3, Sanders would have responded, “that cannot be Dr. Mohrbacher because he died 6 years ago!” Dead for six years, and they didn’t have a clue. “Beloved family members”? Please.

Shedrow Secrets

Financial Mogul
by Joy Aten

Just two days ago, another trashed racehorse was recovered from a kill buyer. Thanks to a person who makes weekly visits to the notorious New Holland auction, a 5-year-old gelding named Financial Mogul narrowly escaped a tortuous trip to the slaughterhouse. Here is his story:

Financial Mogul ran 12 of his 13 lifetime starts for owners Klaravich Stable/William Lawrence and trainer Rick Violette Jr. He “broke maiden” his second time out. Then “success,” with six consecutive graded-stakes races. But in that sixth one he finished 12th of 13 – 21 lengths behind. Three races at the “allowance” level followed, the last on November 1, 2014. Twenty days later, Financial Mogul was put up for sale in a claiming race; he was claimed for $25,000 (Linda Rice/Antonino Miuccio). Not including the $25,000 sale tag, the then 3-year-old had made over $170,000 for his original “connections.”

After a seven-month hiatus, Financial Mogul re-emerged at Belmont in June 2015. Though he was claimed again that day – Dennis Lalman, The Players Group – his racing career was over. Next stop, the kill auction.

But here’s where the story becomes even more perverse: This past September, three months after Financial Mogul’s last race and a mere seven months before he was slated to be slaughtered, the NYS Gaming Commission hosted a “Retired Racehorse Summit” in Saratoga Springs. At this summit, which talked of “responsible stewardship,” “entire life cycles,” and “viable options once the athletes’ racing careers are over,” Rick Violette, yes the very same Rick Violette who shared in the $170,000 that Financial Mogul earned during his heyday, played the part of concerned horseman. Speaking on the need for more accredited aftercare facilities, Violette said (WAMC): “We just don’t want to get horses off the books and never see them again just because they’re out of sight, they’re out of mind.”

Truth is, Violette and Financial Mogul’s original owners did exactly that – got their fast-sliding gelding “off the books” in a successful claim at Aqueduct in November 2014. And if not for a last-minute intervention, their once-prized racehorse would have met a violent, bloody end in a Canadian abattoir.

Sadly, though, this biography – like the overwhelming majority in Racing – has no happy ending. Yesterday, Financial Mogul was brought to Penn Vet’s New Bolton Center for a full evaluation. Lame even at a walk, he was diagnosed with severe, end-stage fetlock arthritis, multiple chip fractures in an ankle and an old sesamoid fracture. In addition, he was lame behind – which could have been from compensating from his front limb pain or from additional hind limb injury. Surgical intervention was not an option, and his prognosis for a pain-free life, even as a pasture pet, was extremely poor. Financial Mogul was humanely euthanized.

Financial Mogul at kill auction
Financial Mogul at kill auction