Pregnant Molly down in the pole barn...
This is the story of how our percheron mare Molly came to live at the farm. It began at a horse auction last fall.
Nov. 14, 2009, Dawn wrote;
“Went to the horse auction last night; it is such a horrible experience for many of the horses there, and not a great time for those of us paying attention to them. It is also disconcerting that most folks don’t seem to think it’s a big deal; I struggle as much with this as with what is happening. I keep remembering the scene in ‘Planet of the Apes’, where there is a human auction and we are reminded of the horror of treating any animal in such a degrading, abusive way. It is unfortunate that most humans miss the leap to other species when considering respectful behavior, but then again, many humans are just as awful to their own kind.
Before the auction there is time to visit with the horses up for sale, who are in the back aisles, in stalls. Some are saddled and ready to try out, with owners singing their virtues, but most are alone. The most frightened horses are the ones without any people, care, or even halters. There were two groups of horses there that night in such a state. One group of geldings, obviously a family group, was anxious, nervous, clustered together, seeking an explanation which no one could give them. Their owner had died, and when the property was sold, the horses were sent to auction. Without even a halter, no one could try and ride or lead them. So no one was going to bid on them, except the kill buyers.
Another large group of un-haltered horses included three brood mares with foals by their sides. One beautiful black mare caught my eye; she was obviously a percheron, with thick black mane and tail and a beautiful head. But these attributes weren’t what caught my eye, it was the twine wrapped around her neck, trailing onto the ground, getting caught under her front hooves, pulling on her throat. I went to the gate, where there were also two men watching her. ‘Do you have a knife?’, I asked, and one pulled out a pocket knife; we caught onto the twine and cut it short, freeing her. She was suspicious of our contact but she had reason; she had a tall paint colt at her side, as well as another yearling filly, both obviously hers. I pulled an apple out of my bag and she perked right up, taking the apple politely and gratefully. She was also, as everyone agreed, probably pregnant. I petted her as my companion walked up, “Looks like you’ve made a friend”, he smiled. I wondered about their fate and hoped someone would buy them all and keep them together.
The auction was starting, and they usually do the draft horses first. We found a seat on the risers, as people crowded the floor and the auction began.
As I sat there, watching this absolutely massive Belgian draft gelding being auctioned off I was embarrassed for us as a species. Here was this completely huge horse, really the size of a small elephant, with all manner of harness cobbled together and tied around him, huge collar fitted tightly around his thick neck, blinders on this eyes, tight straps around his big knobbly face, and he was being controlled on the reins by a child. He was trying to move and turn in the small ring, being cracked on his flank, with too many people crowding around him, and still he tried to be polite and careful where he stepped. He could hardly see and he could hardly move. He was so huge that really nothing was controlling him but his own will to listen. And the auctioneer, trying to raise his bids, was calling to the boy pulling the reins to back him up, then push him forward, turning him this way and that under the glare of the lights, with the stadium of humans looking down upon him. Spectacle. How many of us would have behaved as graciously? And this breathtakingly huge boy sold for $300, to slaughter.
What is wrong with us?
Soon after, the percheron mare and her family came onto the floor. The mare was first, and bidding was brisk for a few minutes, and I hoped that someone nice would win her. I had no money in my account! But she was a nice girl, she would get a home… Bidding slowed after just $200, and then hit $275, and as I hesitated, she was Sold. To the kill buyer.
Obviously the horse auction is not a happy place for me to spend time, but I feel compelled to look reality in the eye.
After her colt sold to a nice family, I left distressed. I could not sleep that night, for the face of that kind mare who I didn’t buy. I am not comfortable playing God. When I consider one I almost as quickly ask myself, why not the other one? Why this one? How can you leave the others behind? The kill buyer’s truck filled up last night with noble steeds of the Gods, discarded by a race that has fallen from grace.
Here is the awful question; how do you decide which ones to save?
Do we become complicit when we see them going and do nothing?”
Nov. 17 Dawn wrote;
“I decided to see if it was possible to save the mare. A small check came in that would just cover it. I got the name and number of the “kill buyer” and called the family up. Let me say here and now, I could not do what they do; I could not buy and sell horses for meat. But, these people are legal business people, and they own these horses for a few days. They are middlemen. I cannot defend the separation of ethics and money, but they don’t cause the problem.
So I called them. First they said that they didn’t know if they still had the mare because they had sold several already. I waited two days to hear, but nothing. I called back, and now she says that I should just come and look at the horses because she doesn’t know where her notes are, and there are so many horses, and a bunch are shipping out tomorrow night.
I hope that I have the stomach for this. I am scared to go to their place. I am scared of looking at all the horses about to get killed.”
Nov. 19, Dawn wrote;
“Wow, what a trip. Wrenching many ways. Got lost of course (I get lost a lot), took me five hours to find it….The place is as sad as you imagine, listless, unloved horses gathered together, waiting. Many of the horses were not in good shape. But they all had food and water. The people sort of baffled me, and I think me, them. They were friendly enough, and they took me to the pens to have a look for the mare. They kept telling me that there was nothing good in the pens or it would have been pulled already, certainly no pregnant perchie mare. I didn’t see her, it seemed she was gone.
Shall I describe the holding pens for you? They are made of a standard wood fence, the ground thick with mud from many horses arriving and leaving. There are several water troughs and piles of hay. The horses are sad, standing, waiting. Some have their tongues hanging out, some look suspiciously at us, most just ignore our presence. I’m told to watch out for the one that will kick me. There are all colors and shapes of horse, all age and experience. There are appy’s and drafts and many thoroughbreds, and I would bet money that many had raced. Many had carried people on trails or in shows. Many had once been someone’s friend. Yes, this is sentimental, but it’s also true. All of these horses were about to get into huge trucks to travel to Canada and be slaughtered. But I did not see my mare.
They then took me into the barn to show me ‘their’ horses. The owner used to be a rodeo rider, and his original old horse is there, and beautiful and well cared for. Then there is the younger horse that was to be the riding replacement, but he is now 78 and has largely given up riding. Then there were a few others, some family riding horses, also in good shape. This is not a simple image of a kill buyer, but a family who also owns and loves horses. I am more confused then ever.
There were also three completely emaciated horses on the other side. A beautiful buckskin, a tall thoroughbred and a quarter horse mare. They were ‘rescuing’ them, they said, and trying to get weight on them. I didn’t know that horses could still walk and be that thin. All vertebrae were visible on these thin sad horses. It was because of rescue groups, they said, that they couldn’t keep them outside, because then they get accused of ‘starving’ horses. And when they only own them for a few days it cannot be their fault. It was a painful sight. I couldn’t quite understand why these horses, of all of them, they were “saving”, but I learned later.
I asked to look one more time in the pen. That was when the head owner showed up; oddly affable and unassuming, mostly deaf, and smiled at me. They explained to him who I was and that I was looking for a black perch mare, and he said ‘Oh, she is down in the chute’; As in, the chute to get on the truck in an hour. The trucks were parked there, waiting. It is certainly grim. I circled around to the other side, and there she was, my mare. The woman was very impressed with her, saying that they would have pulled her if they had seen her earlier. I was starting to get that I was being fed some bullshit, but whatever. The mare was already tagged with her waybill to ship to Canada, but I was allowed to pull her out. She is magnificent; a deep black coat, calm, happy to see me. What a relief to see her out of the pen.
Also in the chute were four gelding boys from last Friday’s auction, as sweet as ever, most certainly trained riding horses. Not given a chance. I petted them, glad to see them, and it is going to haunt me that I couldn’t take all four of them home as well. There really never is an end, is there?
I helped halter the mare and get her out, and the old man went to bargaining as I held her lead rope; “You like ‘im?” He shouted, “Four and a half”. Yikes! He paid $275, and I pointed that out. “She’s worth $450 as meat”, he said simply. So what could I do but agree? Apparently the drafts are the fillet mignon of the horse meat world. You cannot blame this man for the problems of these horses when he has owned them for four days, and further, he did not have to sell her to me at all. He did not have to let me onto his property. So I am indebted.
I just stood with her for a few minutes, outside the pen, before we stored her in the barn for the night (I don’t own a trailer yet, if anyone needs a good birthday present idea!). I breathed a sigh of relief. It’s illogical to think that it makes a difference, or to try and understand what compelled me to get this mare. I told them that I could get her trailered the next day and called a friend nearby.
A few minutes later, I was driving the 20 miles to a friend’s place. There are about 20 there, almost all from kill pens. They keep many and adopt out what they can. I am really amazed, as I go along in the horse world, how many people there are, people trying to make a difference in their small but important way. My friend told me that the kill buyers get very suspicious of strangers, especially anyone who utters the toxic word, ‘rescue’, and that it would be wise of me to keep relations open. Which I hope to do! He also said that the story about rescuing the skinny horses was bullshit, that they were too thin to ship to the kill places, and that they either needed to fatten up or just be shot. Again, a mystery to me, but it would explain why the skinniest and saddest horses were tucked away. Who can one blame? There are clearly many people in the pipeline that is allowing our american horses to be neglected this way, with little repercussion.
I am exhausted and can ill afford to pay $450, but I am very happy to have this mare coming to the farm. Oh, on my way out, they went to get another mare out of the holding pen, to take the place of my mare who was already booked on the truck. How’s that for a sickening and helpless reality? I don’t know if I really saved anyone then.
What a world eh? Most of it doesn’t make sense from my vantage point, maybe from the heavens there are more distinguishable patterns.”
Nov. 19, a note from a friend;
Dawn, I am glad you got your mare. The whole cycle is vicious, and although you may wonder if you really made a difference, please know, to that perch mare, you made all the difference in the world.”
Nov. 19, a note from another friend;
Dawn, I hereby pledge $300 to help with this rescue mare, or another one. You are doing good.”