The following article comes from Joy Aten, prominent equine advocate and regular contributor to our “Shedrow Secrets” section:

Like others who acknowledge the exploitation and abuse of horses in the racing industry, I tire of hearing about all of the “good folks” in racing. Like the “good folks” who “sign up” to run their horses without drugs – does that include not injecting their joints, as well? – I didn’t think so. And of course, they’ll stop using Lasix when everyone else stops using Lasix and not a minute before.

Then there are those “good folks” who boast they run their babies at the two-year-old in training sales without drugs. No bute?…I certainly hope not! Why would a two-year-old need bute to run? And no Lasix?…since the industry claims Lasix is not a performance-enhancer and is used solely for bleeders, why would a two-year-old bleeder even be made to race? But check the charts of their running three-year-olds and they’re all on Lasix, at the very least.

Or like the “good folks” who promise a certain percentage of their winnings (WHOSE winnings?…I didn’t see any of them being whipped-raced around the track) to particular aftercare programs. There aren’t enough aftercare organizations to intake the discarded excess of spent racehorses! And why isn’t the RACING INDUSTRY the sole provider of the depleted “athletes” of the RACING INDUSTRY? Why is the non-race public, who continue to struggle even with the “crumbs” of those donated percentages, toiling to care for these horses?

And oh yes, the “good folks” who rescue some of the injured, neglected, abandoned, starved, and slaughter-bound horses of THEIR “sport” when they’re contacted by a frantic advocate. Why shouldn’t they? That is simply an expectation – take care of your own! But here, the dichotomy…the “good folks” crow about their “saves” while they’ve left their OWN former runners unprotected in the claiming game.

How about the “good folks” who retire their older racehorse (after several years of running) that’s made them an obscene amount of money (and then make certain everyone hears about it), yet their less-talented horse that didn’t generate such riches, they sell via a claiming race? I guess they only extend their “love” to the horses that stuffed their wallets.

Here, a perfect example of one the “good folks” – Maggi Moss.

Moss: “Ballistic Blonde is not one of my more talented horses. But I bought her cheap in Texas…” Moss puts the mare in a claiming race and she gets claimed. Moss states, ‘with emotion’: “This is the hardest part of the business. But it’s big – $25,000 is a good price for her now. I just really wanted her last race for me to be a winner.” Moss goes on to say: “It’s getting much easier for me to run my horses out east so that I don’t get so personally attached to them. This is a business and my gut interferes.” Out of sight, out of mind for Ms. Moss.

Does anyone else see what’s most important to Moss? MONEY. Clearly, the money. What she did to her mare So Many Ways is another example. Moss says about the mare: “her kind and almost human personality…made this decision [to sell her to the Japanese farm as a broodmare] so difficult.” In another piece, Moss talks about how the offer from the overseas breeding farm for So Many Ways was just “so much money”…just too much to turn down. MONEY. “Good folk”? It didn’t matter how “kind” and “human-like” Moss thought So Many Ways was…this “good folk” loved the money more than her mare.

And what about Bojan, Ms. Moss? And the deal you were going to offer low-level trainer Chad Skelton for MSW Fuhrever Dancing?…you know, 5K and throw in a “couple of horses that would actually make him money” to sweeten the deal? Unreal…Moss is considered one of the “good folks,” yet she was ready to offer up a couple of sacrificial horses to someone she and her cronies were crucifying as the “scum” in racing. Fuhrever Dancing was worth saving, Moss deems…and two other horses were going to pay his ransom with their lives. Fuhrever Dancing gets her some good press. No one will ever know about the sacrificial lambs. “Good folk.”

(By the way, the last race for Ballistic Blonde – Moss’ “cheap” mare that she sold for a “good price for her” – was a 3K claiming race at Turf Paradise in October 2012.)

More “good folk” stories to come…

Horses have been a major part of Joy Aten’s life for 25 years. Shortly after the creation of CANTER in 1997, she became a volunteer and eventually an executive board member. Her responsibilities as chair of the rescue’s Track Committee at Great Lakes Downs (Michigan) took her weekly to the barn area (the “backside”). It was in these shedrows that she first became aware of racing’s dark underbelly.

Joy devoted nine years to CANTER Michigan, working with owners and trainers in an effort to get them to sell or donate their “spent” horses rather than sending them off to slaughter. Once acquired, she worked hard on rehabilitation and retraining. Today, through individual and group efforts, she remains active in the rescue and placement of retired racehorses – indeed, of all breeds in need. Joy is also a co-founder of Saving Baby Equine Charity, a member of the Michigan Horse Welfare Coalition, and an adviser to the documentary, “Saving America’s Horses – A Nation Betrayed.”

In addition to 4 children and 10 grandchildren, Joy proudly counts four horses – two of which were racing Thoroughbreds – as family members. She says: “Greenwish and Saucon Creek came off the track injured, worn-out, and used-up. Sharing their lives is a constant reminder that there are thousands of horses just like them. Daily across this country, Thoroughbred racehorses are sacrificed for the financial gain of owners and trainers. And thousands more end up on slaughterhouse floors.”

Joy lives by the credo: “I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something. I will not refuse to do the something I can do.”


Shedrow Secrets

Heza Mountain Man
by Joy Aten

How many times have we been told that racehorses are loved by their owners? I used to believe it. Not anymore. So when the breeder of a racehorse in need suggested I contact the former owners for help (“They loved that horse!”), I didn’t get my hopes up. And they didn’t surprise me.

In December of 2009, our small group of horse advocates was made aware of several racehorses in poor condition, all with the same owner and all up for sale on Craigslist. What could have been a relatively quick and easy rescue – the horses were already for sale – was instead extremely difficult with the owner demanding outrageous prices for his skinny, used-up racehorses. The horses were listed for 3K up to 6K and in a phone call to him, it was quickly determined he was not budging on the prices. We sent one of our group members, acting as a potential buyer, to the farm where the owner kept his horses. The visit revealed the horses to be in worse shape than expected, so we notified the local animal control authorities. But as is typical with animal neglect cases in many Michigan counties, no charges were filed. Within days, the owner moved his neglected horses to another location – “out of sight.”

I remembered one of the horses from when he raced, during the years I was with CANTER-MI. His name was Heza Mountain Man, and I thought of him as Black Beauty come to life. He was stunning. Although “just a Michigan-bred,” the dark bay 2001 gelding was quite the celebrity at the Midwest tracks where he ran. He was a multiple stakes winner and had earned over 156K from 55 starts. In a 2003 Daily Racing Form article about an upcoming stakes race at Great Lakes Downs, Heza Mountain Man was “the one to beat.” And to this day, his breeder – Davidson’s Tracks-N-Time – has photos of him on their website as one of their winners. I decided to contact the gelding’s breeder to request financial assistance for his acquisition. She responded: “We here at the farm are just hanging on and have no extra money to help with his purchase or keep.” She then suggested I contact his former owners, John and Jan Buth, since Mrs. Buth “really loved that horse.”

Heza Mountain Man raced for the Buths for four years, starting 32 times and earning over 135K for them. But by the time he was a 6-year-old, his earnings steadily decreasing, they were putting him in 10K claiming races without any takers. So on July 30, 2007, they dropped him into a 4K, and he was promptly claimed. Knowing this, I decided it was still worth a call to the Buths …to ask them to help a horse who brought them into the winner’s circle…a horse Jan Buth “loved.” My conversation with John Buth lasted only minutes as he had no desire to help Heza Mountain Man. In fact, he was quite annoyed that I was asking for his assistance – he curtly replied to my request with “It’s not my problem” and “Take him to your house, I don’t have any room for him.”

Since the horses were still for sale on Craigslist, two of us acted as buyers and made an appointment to see them at the farm they had been moved to. They were now in the physical possession of a horse dealer who regularly buys and sells horses at the notorious kill buyer-attended Sugarcreek Livestock Auction. And although the owner had dropped the inflated prices, they were still too high and out of reach for us…yet in the same breath, he stated if the horses didn’t sell they were going to auction. So on a cold February day, Kim Patton and I met the dealer at his farm to see the horses.

Heza Mountain Man was 150-200 pounds underweight, had rain rot the entire length of his back, and had wounds in various stages of healing on his legs. He and his herd mates were gathered around a poor-quality round bale. There was a lean-to with just one side and a roof in their paddock, so although the environment was sub-standard, by Michigan law it was adequate. We made offers for all five of the horses but were turned down. Imagine this: Heza Mountain Man was 9-years-old at that time, was malnourished and in poor body condition, yet the owner’s bottom line for him was $4900. It was heartbreaking…to us he was priceless, yet realistically, he was worth only a few hundred dollars. We hadn’t raised enough money to buy just Heza Mountain Man at that price, so we were forced to walk away and wait.

When spring came, the horses were moved again (in attempts to get cheaper board, the owner moved the horses four times over the course of a year). We stayed in “careful contact” with the owner, wanting desperately to acquire his neglected horses before he decided one day to send them all to auction, but not wanting to appear too interested and thereby discourage him from dropping the prices to reasonable and affordable amounts. Then in April, we were able to acquire four of the horses at $550 each. But not Heza Mountain Man. At the age of nine and having been away from the track for over a year, he was put back into training.

In July, 2010, after not having raced for 19 months, Heza Mountain Man ran at River Downs in a 4K claiming race where he finished last of seven. On August 31, they ran him again…this time he came in over 20 lengths behind and was last in an 11-horse field. Equibase merely reported “Heza Mountain Man was outrun.” But it neglected to state the former stakes winner collapsed after the finish line, and it took him multiple attempts to get to and stay on his feet. An eyewitness worded it this way: “That old classy horse flopped around in the dirt like a fish out of water.”

It would be about a year from when I last saw Heza Mountain Man at the dealer’s to when I was able to see him again. During that time, he had endured multiple moves, meager living conditions with inferior provisions, lack of adequate food, and having to come out of retirement to train and race again. Neither his breeder nor his owners from his glory days wanted to help him…their fallen stakes winner was “not [their] problem.” But after nearly 18 months of being unable to sell the now 10-year-old former racehorse, the owner finally countered with a price we could pay. On February 25, 2011, we handed Heza Mountain Man’s last owner of record $1,000, and he handed us the lead rope.

In his first month with me, he steadily gained weight and started growing a healthier coat. His former self began to emerge. On March 31st, he received a full lameness evaluation by equine orthopedic surgeon Dr. John Stick at Michigan State University. We were thrilled to learn that although he would never be completely sound – no jumping, just flat work – Heza Mountain Man had only a suspensory injury that was in the process of healing. He had a future.

Heza Mountain Man went to his forever home later that spring. He lives three miles down the road from me, and I drive by often just to see him. He’s easy to spot out in his pasture – it’s like seeing Black Beauty again. But what I’m really looking at is a horse that’s finally loved.

Shedrow Secrets

Shedrow Secrets

By Joy Aten and Jo Anne Normile (author of “Saving Baby”)

When confronted with the fact that no racehorse has ever given its consent to participate in an industry that endangers life and limb, racing enthusiasts insist the horses LOVE to run. In addition, they argue if the horses didn’t love racing, they simply would not run. A common phrase is “You can’t make a 1000-pound animal do something it doesn’t want to do”…therefore, they infer, the horses must enjoy it and their consent is implied. Of course we all know man CAN make a 1000-pound animal – and much larger creatures – perform or behave a certain way, and racehorses are no exception.

Training techniques aside, simply being in a running (racing) herd (the field) is enough to compel the equine (racehorse) to run. Surely racing fans have witnessed jockeys struggling to pull up even a severely injured racehorse while the rest of the field gallops ahead: Chris Antley with Charismatic after the wire of the 1999 Belmont; Edgar Prado and Barbaro merely seconds into the 2006 Preakness. And who can ever erase from their minds the horror of seeing Go for Wand’s catastrophic breakdown in the final stretch of the 1990 BC Distaff. While her jockey, Randy Romero, rolled away to escape being trampled, the 3-year-old filly was left on her own after having gone down. With her right foreleg dangling – snapped in two between her knee and ankle – she struggled to her feet then hobbled on three legs in the direction of the finish line. Horses’ instincts urge them to stay within the safety of the herd…alone they are vulnerable, injured, a target.

I had witnessed similar scenes at Great Lakes Downs during my years with CANTER-Michigan. A 2-year-old colt that suffered a compound fracture of a foreleg midway through the race unseated his rider then attempted to run on. Only after the other horses crossed the finish line and cantered on around the turn, out of sight, did the little chestnut cease trying to run. Yet he still sought protection as he staggered three-legged towards the paddock where some of the ponies were standing.

Then there were the horses that I knew were not sound but still racing. I would see these horses on a Saturday morning, during the rescue’s weekly track visits, and hear about their “knee chip” or “slight bow.” Yet their trainers were not ready to let them retire and enter the rescue’s program – they wanted to run them “a few more times.” Some we would eventually acquire, but often, their injuries had become too severe and incompatible with a pain-free life. Others I would never see again…they were sold in “package deals” to trainers racing in another state or handed off to the resident kill buyer/trainer. But they ran with injuries – not because they loved to run, but because of training and instincts. And this was the case with Cabriolass.

I had been informed of an injured gelding whose new owner was going to keep the 6-year-old running. Cabriolass was Ontario-bred and had run all but two of his races at Canadian tracks. As a 3-year-old, he placed 2nd in the Sir Barton Stakes at Woodbine. By the time the dark bay found himself with a new owner and trainer at Great Lakes Downs in Michigan, he had earned 200K for his connections. He had a “bad knee” – “bone on bone,” I was told – and was receiving injections into the damaged joint. In spite of his injured limb, Cabriolass had run second in his first race for his new O/T on October 8, 2007. I approached his trainer, carefully choosing my words about acquiring the gelding for retirement so as not to give away how much I knew about Cabriolass’ condition and the source of my information. I was turned down immediately, yet was told to “have a price in mind”…I put Cabriolass in my virtual stable.

The notification came that Cabriolass was entered again, two weeks later on October 22. I inquired a second time about purchasing him, but was turned down yet again. In an effort to keep him from racing, I notified Michigan’s racing commissioner of Cabriolass’ injury. And as is required by racing regulations, I asked that the gelding receive a pre-race lameness exam. I was put in touch with the state Racing Commission veterinarian and after our conversation was promised there would be a thorough assessment before he was allowed to run.

On October 22 in a 4K claiming race, Cabriolass ran in his 34th lifetime start. I don’t know if the promised lameness examination took place or not, but my attempt to spare him from racing failed. He had to run, and run he did…the gallant gelding won the race by over five lengths. He earned $3900 for his connections that night. The next morning his trainer called me, finally accepting my $600 offer – my heart sank in the realization that this was the trainer’s admission that Cabriolass was spent. I picked him up that day and nearly bit my tongue off in an effort to keep quiet as I watched him limp onto my trailer. It was woefully astounding that this miserably lame horse had been the victor just 18 hours earlier.

Radiographs of Cabriolass’ left knee revealed a pre-existing large fracture, severe end-stage arthritis, and loss of joint cartilage over a large surface (bone on bone). In addition, the broken bones’ sharp edges during the rigors of racing had caused extensive soft tissue damage. There was no future for Cabriolass. No opportunity for a family to love and care for him. No possibility to live simply as a cherished horse. Cabriolass was raced to death.

Horses don’t race because they love to run. Cabriolass didn’t race, with a badly broken knee, because he loved to run. I, for one, am weary of this tired excuse. And horses are dead because of it.

Postscript: Cabriolass was humanely euthanized due to the severity of his racing injuries. Michigan’s racing commissioner and the state veterinarian were notified of Cabriolass’ radiographic results and full evaluation findings, performed by Michigan State University Large Animal Clinic’s equine orthopedic surgeon. No investigation was ever performed.

Shedrow Secrets

Shedrow Secrets

By Joy Aten and Jo Anne Normile (author of “Saving Baby”)

In the fall of 2003, with track licenses as “vendors,” we were doing our weekly walk of the shedrows in the backstretch barn area of Great Lakes Downs in Michigan. We were in search of horses needing to retire from racing. The goal: save them before they are forced to race on accumulated injuries and/or before the onsite kill buyers take them to auctions.

Five-year-old Hestosmartforyou stood quietly in the shedrow aisle while the trainer pointed to his enlarged, fractured ankle. We told her that if she donated the horse we would immediately x-ray the ankle and arrange for surgery and rehabilitation under our care, with the hope that he could be adopted out to a nonracing home. The trainer, who was also a CPA, had no interest in a donation. Instead, she wanted to know what we were willing to pay for the horse. With limited funds, we offered half of the going meat price of $400, knowing that our final cost – after factoring in transport, surgery, and rehab – would be well over $2,000. The trainer accepted our offer.

We informed the racetrack veterinarian that the rescue would be purchasing Hestosmartforyou and that we would need x-rays to take with us. He knew the horse and agreed. When preparing to leave several hours later, we stopped by the onsite clinic to pick up the x-rays. We were astounded to learn that before the vet could take them, the trainer had changed her mind and sold Hestosmartforyou to another trainer – and well-known auction collector – for $400! This poor gelding, who prior to his injury had earned over $38,000, was denied medical treatment and a new nonrace home just so the owner/trainer could pocket an extra $200 in blood money.

Outraged, our rescue formally notified the Michigan Racing Commission that this horse had a known fracture and that his new trainer (whom we identified) was taking him to race at another bottom level track, Beulah Park in Ohio. We stressed that not only was his life at stake, but the jockey’s and the lives of the entire field as well. The new owner/trainer told the racing commission to mind its own business – the horse was his livestock and he would do with it what he wanted. The Commission backed down and did not forewarn their counterparts in Ohio.

With no help from the supposed “oversight authorities,” we put out the word to the onsite meat buyers at Beulah Park that we would buy Hestosmartforyou. In the end, this poor gelding – so close to being saved – was forced to race two more times with fractured bones in his ankle, earning $123 before disappearing completely from the online racing services. Mostly likely, he was taken to nearby Sugarcreek auction in Ohio and sold for meat. Hestosmartforyou, just another in a long line of racing casualties.

Horseracing Wrongs is honored to introduce a new guest contributor, Mary Johnson. Mary has been involved with Thoroughbreds for 50 years, including four as a volunteer at CANTER. Currently, she concentrates her efforts on rescuing the industry’s refuse.

Shedrow Secrets: Marsella Delight

by Mary Johnson

It is early December, and I am on the phone with a track official. He tells me there are two horses who will be euthanized within the next few days. The mare, 6-year-old Marsella Delight, has something serious going on with one of her ankles, while the other, a gelding named Grand Piano Man, is simply too slow. I ask the official if my friends (Mandy and Kelly) and I could take a closer look, for perhaps Marsella’s injury isn’t life-threatening, and with enough rest, Grand Piano Man might make a good pleasure horse. He agrees, and we make plans to see the horses on December 7th. But he warns that they need to be moved “immediately.”

Upon arrival at the track, we quickly discover that the situation is bad. The uncaring and, frankly, abusive groom, kicks another horse whom we believe is colicing in his stall (Stall 21 – I’ll never forget it). The horse is down and won’t get up. I am shocked by what I witness, but I shouldn’t have been because, after all, this is the horseracing industry. We turn our attention to Marsella. She has very little bedding and no hay. When led out, she can barely walk. I would describe it as more of a “hobble.” I run my hands down her legs and feel her huge left front ankle, and there is heat in her fetlock. Her right front almost looks deformed, and it appears her suspensory is dropping. Marsella limps painfully back to her stall. We then look at the gelding who, although frightened, thin, and unkept, was in decent shape. He has a bright future if we can just get him to safety. Poor Marsella, however, is a different story.

Marsella broke down in her last race back in September and was vanned off the track. It was the second time within nine months that she had needed an ambulance. Since September, she languished in a stall, crippled; it is painful to watch her walk. She is so badly damaged from being pushed too fast, too far, and for too long, that she will likely need to be euthanized. Mandy, Kelly, and I are heartbroken, but we pull ourselves together and agree to decide on both horses by the next day.

After talking privately, we decide to take both. They will enter Mandy’s and Kelly’s rescue, located in proximity to the track. I agree to provide financial support, including x-rays for Marsella. Transport is arranged, and the horses enter the rescue on December 12th. We just couldn’t leave Marsella behind. Our gift to her is a couple weeks of love, pain medication, a comfy stall, and people who tell her how beautiful and worthy she truly is. Although life has not been easy for Marsella, and people have been cruel, her last days on this earth will be spent in comfort and security surrounded by people who love her – not for the money she can win, but just because of who she is.

Special treats and soft words follow for this sweet horse, whose reaction to a casually raised hand reaching to pet her is to pull back in fear. On the 23rd, I take a video of Marsella being walked so as to document her injuries. The last few days of her life she is turned out in a small indoor arena. Marsella “delights” in touching noses with Missy, a mare approaching thirty, and just being in her little herd. Yes, she is broken beyond repair, but she is loved unconditionally.

The vet is scheduled for the afternoon of the 26th. During my visit with Marsella, I pick up her left front and it hits me for the first time – there is absolutely NO flexion in her left front ankle. My heart races as I think of all the joint injections she endured during her racing career. Twelve starts in nine months and two times vanned off the track. Her two wins during those months sealed her fate. Wins meant that her owner/trainer needed to keep her going. How could she run in this condition? The answer is easy – injections and drugs. If he would have stopped running her, what would her future have been? We will never know. I hold Marsella as she is x-rayed by an equine vet. From the report:

“I was asked to evaluate a 6 year old chestnut Thoroughbred mare named Marsella Delight today December 26, 2013. The mare had a history of being ‘vanned off the track after a breakdown during a race in September. Upon examination today, the mare was significantly lame bilaterally up front at the walk. Grade 4/5 lameness on each forelimb.

Left front: significant swelling of the fetlock with heat. Severely decreased range of motion of fetlock. High heel on that foot…possibly indicating chronicity (although can’t be sure since I did not examine her prior to her injury). Radiographs show significant periosteal reaction on the distal cannon bone as well as the proximal P1 and around sesamoid bones. No evidence fractures or chips at this time. Decreased range of motion likely due to chronicity of injury causing joint capsule scarring/ contracture.

Right front: dropped fetlock. Unwilling/unable to pick up foot for observation. Long, underrun heel. Probable suspensory breakdown +/- DDF breakdown. Humane euthanasia was elected for this mare.”

Twice the vet asks how Marsella could be run on those damaged legs, and both times I respond, “Because it’s the racing industry.” I ask the vet if the injuries are recent, and her response was a resounding “NO.” Marsella Delight didn’t become this damaged overnight. After reviewing the x-rays, another equine vet added, “The whole articular surface of Marsella Delight’s cannon bone is gone and has demineralized over time and the ankle has fused. Significant remodeling has occurred.”

There is no hope for Marsella. We are heartbroken, but if life isn’t free of suffering, we feel obligated to give these horses the gift of a peaceful euthanasia. We could do no less for Marsella, no matter how much we wanted her to stay with us. Her sweet and loving nature caused all to fall in love with her. This precious soul was victimized and discarded by an uncaring owner (and industry) driven by money and greed. Although I met her at the end of her short life, I still felt honored. Her life was important, and I promised that her story would be told.

I held her lead rope in my hand as she was humanely euthanized late that afternoon. As she fell to the ground, I began sobbing, and I am still emotional as I write this tribute. Go gallop in those green pastures, Marsella. We are blessed that you came to visit us, even if only for two weeks. You were only six, just a baby. But I promise you will NEVER be forgotten, and I will hold the racing industry accountable.