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Archive for March, 2018

There were some great races (San Felipe, the fabulous Tough Sunday, Justify, etc.) the weekend of March 10, 2018 in the USA. But for me, THE story of that weekend had nothing to do with horse races.

(NOTE: No graphic images or footage of horse slaughter in this article.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

On March 9, shortly after she posted this video (above), I picked up a tweet from Dina Alborano of http://www.icareihelp.com that 15 thoroughbreds had arrived at the Thompson kill lot in Louisiana, shipping in from Delta Downs with the order to “direct ship” to Mexico, according to the individual you hear speaking in the second video, below. (“Direct ship” means that they would not go to auction but ship straight to slaughter. I would add that in the information given by the Thompson spokesman, there was absolutely no information to suggest that these horses had been bought at auction or privately, or even that they might not all have come from Delta Downs.) At least seven were “fresh off the track,” according to the Thompson spokesperson, who wanted to sell them as a lot at $875 USD a head, or roughly $20k USD before expenses like shipping and quarantine are added.

That they all allegedly came from Delta Downs was no shock to me. Shipments from this track are all too frequent, arriving with a horrible punctuality throughout their racing season. This “herd” of thoroughbreds had shown up on the final days of the flat racing season at Delta Downs. Seemingly no coincidence there.

By March 10, the true number dispatched to Thompson was revealed to be 24 thoroughbreds, aka “The 24.”

 

 

 

 

 

I am not naïve: I know that horse slaughter didn’t begin in the last decade. I have rescued horses, written to the Prime Minister of Canada and the Canadian Minister of Agriculture about the slaughter of horses in Canada, protested at one of Quebec’s three horse slaughter plants, and publicized the fact that, since 2015, any horses destined for slaughter whose meat is exported to the European Union (EU) must be resident in the country where they are to be slaughtered for a minimum of 6 months before they die.

This has resulted in a 38% drop in the production of horse meat in Canada since this EU directive came into effect.

The argument used with great success, first by organizations like the Canadian Horse Defense Coalitiom (a nonprofit that has battled the issue on the frontlines for many years) was to inform horse meat consumers worldwide that the thoroughbreds and standardbreds they were eating were rife with chemicals harmful to human beings. Humane arguments didn’t get the job done. Threatening the health of human beings did. The response from the EU was so emphatic that one of Quebec’s slaughter houses hasn’t rendered a horse for consumption since April 2017, principally because they have no interest in feeding and caring for horses for 6 months before they render them into meat.

But despite the efforts of huge numbers of rescues and individuals, horses — from the wild mustang to the child’s pony — remain under attack. However, the presence of social media also means that the flagrant abuse and practice of sending horses to slaughter has gone public for all to see:

BEAR WITNESS (Skip Away ex. Lady’s Secret by Secretariat) at auction in 2015. I would have thought that any horse with these bloodlines would have been safe. But I was wrong: “BEAR” was purchased by a young couple and, despite their valiant efforts, died of the abuses he had sustained.

 

Before I read Dina’s post, I had had a few weeks of optimism about the plight of thoroughbreds who end up in the slaughter chain.

Rick Porter, owner of superstars like Songbird, Havre de Grace, Hard Spun and Eight Belles, had announced the formation of the National Thoroughbred Welfare Organization (NTWO), an organization he initiated to resolve the issue of thoroughbred slaughter by working proactively with racetracks, trainers and owners. As well, the NTWO intended to set up a national information and help hotline. A central goal was to work cooperatively with rescue groups and individuals to plug the flow of thoroughbreds that end up in kill pens on their way to Mexico or Canada.

The announcement brought me to tears.

I have been a “horse nut” my whole life and come from a family that owned champion horses and ponies. My father, who was a British Commando during WWII and later trained to be a veterinarian, raised us with the understanding that when you own an animal you take responsibility for it — from the beginning to the end of your time together. It was a cardinal rule in our family, never to be broken.

Finally, here was a key figure from the sport who held the principle of responsible ownership to be paramount. A man who had the courage to step up and give thoroughbreds — and so many people like myself — a voice.

On February 28, 2018, in The Blood-Horse, Rick Porter was interviewed by eminent senior journalist and HOFer, Steve Haskin, himself a proponent of responsible ownership and thoroughbred aftercare:

“…Through the efforts of the NTWO, Porter says the solution to the “feedlot extortion” problem is to secure discarded horses before they end up in the hands of feedlot owners and slaughter buyers. In the short term, this may require watching over the small auctions where these horses are funnelled, and outbidding slaughter buyers. The long-term solution is to stop the pipeline flow at the source, which is at the track.

‘No track should knowingly allow or turn a blind eye to trainers on their grounds who are turning over horses to potential slaughter,” Porter said. “The tracks who allow this are doing a great disservice to the sport.’ ” (Steve Haskin interview with Rick Porter, The Blood-Horse, February 28, 2018)

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“Feedlot extortion” is nothing new. Kill buyers know all the tricks to appeal to rescue groups and individuals, from lies to misinformation to factual misrepresentation. And they continue to make a huge personal income from such “extortions” all over North America.

It is this sad reality that fuels the argument of the many thoroughbred and horse rescues in the USA and Canada that the place to rescue horses bound for slaughter is before they reach the kill lots. Their reasoning is that by funding kill buyers, enough capital is generated to allow these same buyers to purchase still more thoroughbreds, standardbreds and horses of all types, as well as ponies and burros, for slaughter. Too, kill buyers can often afford to outbid rescue teams and individuals at auctions when they have been handsomely paid at the other end, i.e. by those pulling horses out of their pens at places like Thompson’s.

By the time they arrive in kill lots, the prices set on their heads are far in excess of what any horse, pony or burro would bring at auction or sell for to slaughter houses. This trend makes the argument of rescues a sensible one that should, in theory at least, be effective in taking on the kill buyer conduit of the slaughter industry.

But the problem here is that some owners, race tracks and trainers don’t play by the rules, as the 24 thoroughbreds filmed in the Thompson kill lot, marked “direct ship,” attest. In their specific case, it is fair to speculate that at least one individual on the Delta Downs backstretch, with the support of owners and trainers and the collusion of Delta Downs, is prepared to get thoroughbreds off the track and out of the country without a single thought to their rehabilitation and re-homing.

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However, for “The 24” in a kill lot in Louisiana on March 9, 2018, none of these arguments mattered. Many were youngsters and most were terrified. Some just hung their heads, sensing that something new and not very good was happening to them.

For a nascent organization like NTWO, news of their arrival at the Thompson kill pens had to be as deeply disturbing, as it was for the warriors that work with rescuers like Dina Alborano. There was little that NTWO could do while in the midst of setting up an organizational structure that should, in the long run, make a difference for many thoroughbreds at-risk. And although it is tempting to believe that “saying it makes it so” this is a misconception. Important work requires that solid structures are put into place — and this takes time.

Time that “The 24” didn’t have.

 

 

 

 

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Even Dina Alborano herself was overcome by the amount it would take to get the thoroughbreds out. But, like those standing with her, she shored up her courage and marched on.

And so it began.

All weekend, people from as far away as Great Britain stepped up to help save “The 24.”

Dina sounded the charge, but the vast majority of her warriors were not made up of wealthy horse owners or breeding farms or trainers. Instead, they were people of modest means, many of whom could only afford a donation of $10 or $20 dollars. Some were unemployed, some were retirees on fixed incomes, others were working at jobs where they weren’t bringing home as much as the thoroughbreds they wanted so fervently to save were going to cost. Those with little financial means began a Twitter storm, getting the word out to more and more people.

It was an interminable weekend, with each and every one of those determined to save “The 24” watching, re-tweeting and sending out words of encouragement that lit up the darkness.

Shortly before midnight, on March 11, came the words we were all waiting for:

 

 

 

All of us watching and waiting were also “literally in tears.”  A band of modest means, with the help of those like Colorado Avalanche’s Erik Johnson and thoroughbred owner, Michael Cannon, had raised 30k in a little less than 3 days. Also contributing were  “anonymous” donors from the sport/industray.

This was arguably the most dramatic but not the first rescue by Dina’s warriors. Some in the thoroughbred community had already provided vital financial support that saw several other thoroughbreds escape slaughter, among them the Zayat family, the Graham Motion family, jockey Gary Stevens and his wife, jockey Mike Smith, XBTV host, Zoe Cadman, and members of the handicapping community.

But I can only imagine what so many gave up to save 24 horses they didn’t own –and hadn’t profited from at the track — and would never even meet face-to-face. And, for this writer, the determination, sacrifice and commitment of this community will stay with me forever, just as do memories of other rescues and individuals who have overcome huge obstacles to pull thoroughbreds, standardbreds, BLM mustangs, wild burros, draft horses and minis from slaughter lots. Not to mention those sanctuaries, havens and OTTB organizations who have provided homes and new careers for unwanted and captured horses, such as the wild mustang.

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It was bizarre experience to read Twitter posts during the campaign to save “The 24”: sports racing correspondents twittered on, seemingly oblivious, while farms posted thoroughbred foals struggling to take their first steps. All this sandwiched between news of the drive to pull “The 24” out of a certain, terrifying death.

The late John Berger observed that there is a kind of “quiet insanity” in our culture – the kind that allows us to watch 24 thoroughbreds on their way to slaughter, juxtaposed with a video of the running of the San Felipe, and not bat an eyelash. Perhaps that’s because this type of juxtaposition has become so much a part of our daily lives that we’ve adapted by snuffing out our obligation to question, numbing ourselves to a seemingly endless barrage of horrendous events.

Consigned to slaughter “…because her hooves needed trimming.” From the blog of the CANADIAN HORSE DEFENSE COALITION.

Make no mistake: events like the perilous journey from stall to kill lot of “The 24” are horrendous. For one thing, there is no connection between euthanasia and slaughter. Like thousands before them, the imminent death of “The 24” would be merciless. But even this appears to have no impact on those owners, trainers and race venues like Delta Downs which routinely engage in the practice of shipping thoroughbreds to slaughter.

A mare and her foal at a slaughter house. Shortly after this photograph was taken, they were “disposed of.”

 

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Laws make it easy to dump a horse, or a pony, or a burro into a kill lot.

In most countries around the world, not only do equines fall outside the laws that govern the slaughter of animals raised for human consumption, but they are also viewed as “property” under the law. Like a sofa, or a pair of shoes, animals are essentially characterized as objects, i.e. void of feeling, consciousness or any of the other qualities that distinguish the living from the inanimate.

And, as objects, their owners can do what they like to them with impunity.

American horses held in export pens before being sent to slaughter.

Under the conventions of the EU all animals are regarded as sentient beings rather than property: “Animals are not things. They are sentient beings and have biological needs.” There are inspectors to supervise and fines levied for the mistreatment of any animal. In Great Britain, there is a law essentially saying the same thing and plans are now underway to monitor slaughter plants with CCTV. In Canada, the province of Quebec has declared animals to be sentient beings even though three of of five Canadian horse slaughter plants are in that province. What it means for horses slaughtered in Quebec is that how this is being done is now open to supervision (together with the six months boarding demanded by the EU). But the fact that, in Quebec, being sentient does little to protect horses from slaughter points out that even this progressive step can’t singlehandedly stop the practice itself.

Horse meat coming from Mexico was banned by the EU in 2015. It also appears that the majority of Mexicans have little interest in eating horses. So why is Mexico quickly becoming the preferred destination for American horses going to slaughter?

In its 2015 ban, the EU pointed out that one deep concern was that The U.S. Department of Agriculture “does not take responsibility for the reliability of affidavits issued for horses originating in the U.S., and the FVO audit team found very many affidavits which were invalid or of questionable validity, but were nonetheless accepted.” Mexico has adapted to losing EU business — with the exception of Belgium which is, ironically, the capital of the EU — by attracting markets in Russia, Japan, Hong Kong, Egypt, Kazakhstan and Vietnam, among others. The meat is exported from Mexico as “top grade” and consumed by people in these countries looking for a “delicacy” dish.

It should be noted as well that Alberta and Manitoba, in Canada, are busily exporting large numbers of draft horses that are shipped live to Japan, where they are slaughtered. There can be little question that the Japanese have more confidence in the “high grade” of Canadian horses than that of those coming from Mexico.

(NOTE: No slaughter images in video below.) Produced by the Canadian Horse Defence Coalition (CHDC):

 

 

 

Since there is absolutely no evidence to support the practice of placing horses who are likely filled with drugs harmful to humans in quarantine in Mexico, it cannot be assumed that Mexican horse meat is safe for human consumption. It would be an important initiative to inform countries importing horse meat from Mexico about what they are encouraging their citizens to consume. Such communication might very well result in an EU-type ban by countries importing Mexican horse meat.

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This is the point where I’d normally be writing a conclusion, except there is no end in sight on this one.

Instead, I will conclude by thanking the many rescues, sanctuaries, havens and individuals, including donors and supporters, who have given so much of themselves in this struggle to save horses, ponies and wild burros from slaughter, captivity and abuse. And to Mr. Rick Porter and Mr. Steve Haskin, both of whom have had the courage to speak out against the kind of practice seen here at Delta Downs and elsewhere, thank you for your courage and for speaking out for thoroughbreds who have no hope of a safe future.

As Maya Angelou has said, “YOU are enough.” 

“Enough” to bring change and to make a difference, through your voices, your commitment and perseverance, and your love.

“Untitled,” by Abigail Anderson. Property of the artist.

POST SCRIPT

Of “The 24” who arrived at Hal Parker’s farm, we now only have 23.

Charlee’s Maid, an 8 year-old grandaughter of Pulpit, stepped off the van and collapsed. When Dr. Odom, who checks all the thoroughbreds Dina rescues, arrived early on the morning of the next day, it became clear that she could not be saved. Surrounded by Hal and his family — who had stayed with her all night long — Charlee’s Maid was humanely euthanized.

CHARLEE’S MAID, pictured at Hal Parker’s farm. THe grandaughter of Pulpit, who carried names like SEATTLE SLEW, CADILLACING, MR. PROSPECTOR and DANZIG in her pedigree, was humanely euthanized as a result of injuries sustained and never attended to in time.

As well, a filly who is also part of “The 24” arrived with a wound so severe that the bone was showing through. She is now in a veterinary hospital and we hope that she will make it.

Severely injured filly was sent off to slaughter with a terrible wound in her hind leg. Had she made it to Mexico, she would have been euthanized.

 

The filly’s hind leg. The white is bone.

BONUS FEATURES

Background on Japanese slaughter houses, giving addresses and URL of these facilities. (NOTE: No images of actual slaughter). Produced by the Canadian Horse Defence Coalition (CHDC):

 

 

 

 

Anna Sewell wrote about cruelty in a book that has become a Classic:

 

**********************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************NNOTE: THE VAULT is a non-profit website. (Any advertising that appears on THE VAULT is placed there by WordPress and the profit, if any, goes to WordPress.) We make every effort to honour copyright for the photographs used in our articles. It is not our policy to use the property of any photographer without his/her permission, although the task of sourcing photographs is hugely compromised by the social media, where many photographs prove impossible to trace. Please do not hesitate to contact THE VAULT regarding any copyright concerns. Thank you.

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On the occasion of Dayton Hyde’s 93rd birthday, THE VAULT revisits an article first posted two years ago. Mr. Hyde is the founder of BLACK HILLS WILD HORSE SANCTUARY, where 500 wild horses run free forever today. He was a trailblazer and his shining example has led to the founding of several other sanctuaries for wild horses and burros throughout the USA.

Dedicated to Susan Watt, Executive Director of Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary and the Kunz family, with love. Special thanks to Monica Mohr, Steve Leonard and Wayne at the BLM, Canon City CO for their support and kindness. To my dear friend, Jim Pettyjohn: Without your partnership in this endeavour it could all have ended in a dull whisper. 

 

 

LADY'S SECRET with BEAR WITNESS as a colt foal. Photo and copyright Steve Haskin. Used with permission of Steve Haskin.

LADY’S SECRET with BEAR WITNESS as a colt foal, with Joan and Amanda Haskin and the Glenney family. Photo and copyright Steve Haskin. Used with the written permission of Steve Haskin.

 

BEAR WITNESS (SKIP AWAY X LADY'S SECRET) at auction in 2015.

BEAR WITNESS (SKIP AWAY X LADY’S SECRET) at auction in 2015.

I don’t remember how I came across the news that a young couple had pulled an emaciated gelding out of a horse sale and determined that he was the son of Skip Away and Lady’s Secret.

Foaled on April 9, 2000, the colt who carried the bloodlines of Secretariat, his champion daughter and the incomparable Skip Away, came into the world at John and Kim Glenney’s farm. It was clear from his iron-metal coat that he would be a grey. But what he wouldn’t turn out to be was a racehorse. He made 16 starts and a little less that five thousand dollars (USD) before his owners, caring and good people who would eventually get out of the thoroughbred business because of what they saw happening to horses like Bear, gave the gelding to a woman who trained show jumpers. In an article published online by The Dodo, John Glenney pointed out that when it was obvious that a thoroughbred wasn’t going to run, they were given away to trusted individuals to find new careers. Potential owners were interviewed by the Glenneys to assure that the horse in question was going to the best possible home.

Bear already suffered from a condition known as EPM, and had received costly treatment throughout his time with the Glenneys. Given his medical issues, it was critical that he be given to someone who would continue his treatment.Despite all of this good intention and despite the fact that the Glenneys were nothing if not “Type A” in researching where their horses were going, “Bear” slipped through the cracks. (Having done some horse rescue myself, I need to add that the numbers of times I talked to caring, responsible owners who thought their horses had been adopted into loving homes was legion.)

It seems likely that Bear’s second owner was legitimate, but over the time he goes off the radar, changing hands numerous times until he ended up at a horse auction in Tennessee.

 

Not only was BEAR WITNESS starving, he was also covered in cuts and abrasions.

Not only was BEAR WITNESS starving, he was also covered in cuts and abrasions.

 

The young couple who saw him just couldn’t turn away. So home he came with John and Jessie Kunz.

“…It took a month for Kunz to gain the horse’s trust. ‘I couldn’t even touch his face he was so terrified,’ she said.

‘He had a big, bloody open wound on his back leg,’ Kunz said. ‘He hadn’t been fed in a month and his hooves had not been maintained — they had not been cleaned out, shoes checked, kept moist. He could barely stand or walk.’

Originally from Germany, Kunz says she had never been to a horse and tack auction, where various farm animals and gear are sold, in Tennessee before. What she saw there horrified her. Bear was covered in rain rot, a bacterial infection of the skin that causes scabbing and hair loss, from head to tail. ‘He was down from 1,400 to 500 pounds,’ Kunz said. ‘People were shocked at the cruelty. I just couldn’t stand it. I went to [Bear’s owner at the time]. He took $250 and I took Bear home.’

A month after being moved to Kunz’s care, Bear slowly started gaining weight and trusting people again.” (reprinted from THE DODO, https://www.thedodo.com/bear-witness-horse-abuse-1571398906.html)

But despite all their love and care, Bear couldn’t be saved. He fell in his paddock in October and was unable to get up. The decision was made to have him humanely euthanized. Bear Witness was 15 years old.

 

BEAR WITNESS with Jessie.

BEAR WITNESS with Jessie.

 

Learning that Bear had been put down was shattering news for the many who flocked to his FB page daily. It came as a shock that a son of the mighty Skip Away and the brilliant Lady’s Secret would be entitled to anything less than a life of care and respect, because we all want to believe that our society takes care of the horses that we love.

But John and Jessie Kunz knew better, and their grief was visceral.

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In mythology, the horse stands proud. In almost every culture throughout history, horses are bestowed with greatness, honour and gifts. The Celts and Native Americans believed that horses travelled between this world and the next, carrying souls to their final resting place.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

EPONA, or RHIANNON, depicted in Celtic jewelry.

Blame it on my Celtic ancestry: when a death touches me, I always long for a horse to carry that soul into its future.

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My Facebook home page is always crowded with horse rescue postings, messages from lobby groups like the Canadian Horse Defence Coalition, and the work of brilliant photographers associated with different horse breeds all over the world.

It was there that I first saw her face and it stopped me in my tracks.

As in, “Drop everything, be still and just look at me.”

 

 

First encounter.....and I knew exactly what I wanted to do.

“Drop everything, be still, and just look at me.”

 

A bay mustang mare in a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) online auction, she had been captured in the Antelope Hills of Wyoming in 2011, when she was only a yearling. She was exquisite. The expression in her eyes reached out to me, travelling across the internet as though there was no medium dividing us. Even with a red rope hanging around her neck (she was officially # 9579), her dignity refused to be diminished. Despite coming to a place where she could only see the wild hills from behind the rails of her small paddock, she knew she was meant to be free — and so there was sorrow in those deep, dark eyes too.

 

She could see the hills that were forbidden....

She could see the wild hills through the paddock rails…..

As many of you know, the mustang is in terrible, terrible trouble in Canada and the United States. In the former, a handful still exist on the Prairies but they are under constant threat of being rounded up; in the latter, the BLM has been charged with the unenviable task of “gathering” wild horses all over the country as their habitat becomes increasingly overtaken by cattle ranchers. As the argument goes, since America’s mustangs were protected under federal law, they have done too well, i.e. there are too many of them. So one solution has been to gather them up and try to sell them off at online and real-time auctions. Despite a veritable city of activists and lobby groups, some mustang herds have been reduced to less that 60 individuals and others have been wiped out altogether. These “gatherings” of mustangs takes no account of genetics, making it quite likely that some important bloodlines are being removed permanently, increasing the risk of inbreeding inferior animals.

 

wild horse, Antelope Hills Herd Area, Wyoming, roundup, stallion, mares, foal, helicopter

Antelope Hills Herd, Wyoming, 2011: This was “my” mare’s herd and how they were “gathered.” She is quite possibly in the photo — a yearling filly, running for her life. Used with the permission of Carol Walker.

 

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Antelope Hills Herd, Wyoming, 2011: Part of the herd in the containment chutes. Used with the permission of Carol Walker.

 

The mustang came to North America long before the arrival of the Spaniards, crossing the Bering straight into a new world. These “dawn horses,” as they were called, roamed free along with the American camel, sabre-toothed tiger and the wooly mammoth. The native American horse is the only animal that survives from this world.

The American mustang began as a "dawn horse" during pre-history, living on the plains with the American camel, wooly mammoths and sabre-toothed tigers.

The American mustang began as a “dawn horse” during pre-history, living on the plains with the American camel, wooly mammoths and sabre-toothed tigers.

In the face of # 9579 I saw not only dignity and sorrow, but the palimpsest of a being older than time, whose journey to me had taken place over thousands of years.

 

#9579 running in her paddock.

#9579 running in her paddock @ the BLM.

 

The plight of this mare — one of so many posted on the BLM online auction site — haunted me.

But before I could intervene, I needed to find a home for her and someone who could bid on her once I had secured a place for her to live. (Canadians are prevented from online bidding, for reasons I never looked into.) So, working with my friend, John Pettyjohn, I began to search for mustang rescues within proximity of the mare’s location. Which, in turn, led to Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary in Hot Springs, South Dakota.

As I learned more about Black Hills, I knew that this was where I wanted “my” mustang mare to live. In fact, Black Hills is where I wanted to live!

The stories below, written by founder Dayton Hyde about two of Black Hills’ personalities told me more about the spirit of Black Hills than any “fact-based” documentary ever could:

And then there was Dayton’s story of Medicine Hattie:

But I learned that there was another treasure at Black Hills: Susan Watt, the Executive Director and driving force behind her partner, Dayton Hyde’s, dream. Without Susan’s vision, expertise and skill, Black Hills today might have looked very different. But under her guidance, the Sanctuary thrives as well — or better — than most non-profits. And a good thing too. Because if there’s one thing she can count on, it’s the calls Susan gets every day about horses needing rescue. So when I called, she wasn’t surprised to hear my request.

 

Executive Director SUSAN WATT, who brings vision and strategic planning to Dayton Hyde's dream.

Executive Director SUSAN WATT, who brings vision and strategic planning to Dayton Hyde’s dream.

Having worked for a number of non-profits during my career, I understood “the basics” they all share, the central one being the constant search for funding. I suspect that Susan was relieved to find that Jim and I were prepared to sponsor our mare, once we had purchased her. And so this amazing woman from South Dakota and two people she had never met, one from Montreal and the other from Portland, began to plot the adoption and return to freedom of mare #9579.

And then there were two: #8869, a mare of the same age also gathered from the same herd, turns out to be #9979's best friend.

And then there were two: #8869, a mare of the same age, gathered from the Divide Basin herd in Wyoming, turns out to be #9579’s best friend.

Jim and I sent more money than was needed to secure # 9579 and Susan suggested we look into whether or not the mare had a best friend. Sure enough, she did. It was another bay mare, with a bit of white on her hind leg, who had been captured the same year from the Divide Basin herd of Wyoming. So we bought her as well.

This all happened in November 2015. It would take until March 2016 for the best friends to set foot on the vast reaches of the Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary in South Dakota.

 

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Once we had “our girls” and had secured the best home in the world for them, Jim and I decided that they should be named in honour of Bear Witness.

We named the first mare Maya Littlebear and asked John and Jessie Kunz to name her BFF. The name they chose was Felicitas Witness aka “Tassy.”

MAYA LITTLEBEAR (foreground) and FELICITAS WITNESS (bay mare in background, looking into the camera) shown together @ the BLM in Canon City, Colorado. They arrived at Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary on March 10, 2016.

MAYA LITTLEBEAR (foreground) and FELICITAS WITNESS (bay mare in background, looking into the camera) shown together @ the BLM in Canon City, Colorado. They arrived at Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary on March 10, 2016.

Maya and Tassy: carry Bear into your future and anoint him with your joy. You are his eagle feathers.

(“Prairie Lark Gets Her Eagle Feather” filmed at Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary)

 

BONUS FEATURE

Take a tour of the amazing Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary on their website or (below) on video: http://www.wildmustangs.com

Videos:

BLACK HILLS WILD HORSE SANCTUARY: THE MISSION

FREE TO RUN: AN AFTERNOON AT BLACK HILLS WILD HORSE SANCTUARY

 

 

REFERENCES

Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary

http://www.wildmustangs.com

“What Happens To Racehorses Who Never Win?” at The Dodo: https://www.thedodo.com/bear-witness-horse-abuse-1571398906.html

Wild Hoofbeats: Carol Walker

http://www.wildhoofbeats.com

Bureau of Land Management, Canon City, Colorado

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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What more can we say about this wonderful mare? Well, let’s have a look in “7 clicks” — just for fun.

 

CLICK #1: “…I think I remember saying to Chris (Waller), ‘Do you really like her?’ ” (one of the triad of Winx owners, Peter Tighe)

So it was that the daughter of Street Cry-Vegas Showgirl came to the stables of one of Australia’s outstanding trainers, Chris Waller. Owners Peter and Patty Tighe, Debbie Kepitis and Richard Treweeke were overjoyed at their purchase.

But had they asked Coolmore Australia’s stud manager, Peter O’Brien, who had attended the filly’s birth, he would have told them that from the outset Winx showed signs that she was going to be a late developer, even though she looked a really good individual in other ways.

During her days at Coolmore, Winx was easy to notice: she stood within 10 minutes of her birth, showed a great deal of independance very early on, and was blessed with a kind nature.

WINX at two days old. Photo and copyright: Coolmore.

 

Peter O’Brien’s understanding that it would take Winx some time to mature and show what she really was all about proved timely: Winx’s cavalry charge to the top of the world’s standings only started in earnest in 2015, when she was a four year-old.

It is likely that, had she gone to anyone other than Chris Waller, Winx would never have been given the time she needed to become the mighty mare we know today. And Winx’s owners were also prepared to wait, trusting in their trainer’s knowledge and experience.

 

CLICK #2: A surprise in Winx’s tail female

 

Winx’s dam, Vegas Showgirl, started thirty-five times, winning seven and retiring with earnings of $59,700 AUD. It is fair to say that she was not a household name, but she did win twice as a three year-old making her a solid, if not assured, broodmare prospect. Examining Vegas Showgirl’s tail female, what leaps out is Obeah in the third generation.

OBEAH, shown here with her trainer, Henry Clarke. Source: Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred.

A grandaughter of 1943 Triple Crown winner, Count Fleet, Obeah raced for Harry and Jane Lunger out of Henry Clarke’s Delaware Park stable. Notable wins came in the Blue Hen Stakes and the Delaware and Firenze Handicaps.

But North American racing fans know Obeah best for one reason and one reason alone: she was the dam of the brilliant, ill-fated Go For Wand:

Pedigree influences up to the fifth generation carry some influence — although how much, exactly, is almost impossible to determine. But it’s a safe bet that North American fans of Winx will be delighted to learn that a small part of her DNA comes through Count Fleet and that she is a cousin, albeit a very distant one, of the beloved Go For Wand.

 

CLICK #3: How did Winx get her name?

According to owner Richard Treweeke, Winx’s name owes much to Vegas Showgirl. In an interview done by 60 Minutes Australia (below in Bonus Features), Treweeke recounted how, when one sees a stage show in Las Vegas, the showgirls give you a “…wink, wink, wink.”

So, with a slight adjustment, Vegas Showgirl’s filly became Winx.

“…wink,wink,wink.”

 

CLICK #4: What individual attributes help Winx to win — and keep on winning?

It has been speculated that Winx’s heart and lungs hold greater capacity than most thoroughbreds.

But one thing — other than her steely determination to win — that gives Winx a decided advantage has to do with her racing form, or style.

Granted, Winx’s running style isn’t the most fluid. Rather, she can look at times as though she has egg-beaters for legs.

But this is where what we think we see can be deceiving.

For one thing, the length of Winx’s stride has been measured at almost 6.8m. The stride of most thoroughbreds is about 6.1m. Exceptions are Phar Lap and Secretariat at 8.2m and the mighty Bernborough was said to have a massive stride of 8.6m.

But it’s not only Winx’s stride that helps her get the job done: whereas most thoroughbreds have a stride frequency of 130-140 strides per minute, Winx checks in at nearly 170 strides per minute. And she can maintain this frequency for much longer periods, notably as she kicks for home, a point in any race where most runners are tiring.

This short video of her win in the Sunshine Coast Guineas in 2015 highlights the impact of Winx’s stride and its frequency. The 2015 Guineas win also marks the beginning of Winx’s winning streak that now stands at 23 straight wins, 17 of which have been Group 1’s:

 

CLICK #5 : Winx and Hugh Bowman

Hugh Bowman is a jockey at the pinnacle of his career. But his promise showed even during his apprentice days, receiving the crown for champion apprentice NSW jockey in his very first year of riding, and champion Sydney apprentice followed in 1999/2000. The 37 year-old was awarded Longines’ 2017 Best World’s Jockey at the end of last season, having won 10 of the world’s Top 100 Group/Grade 1 races, six of which were on Winx. It was Bowman’s masterful win in the 2017 Japan Cup aboard Cheval Grand at Tokyo Racecourse that sealed the Longines’ title. Among the champions they beat in the Japan Cup were HOTY Kitasan Black and champions Makahiki, Soul Stirring and Satono Crown.

So strong is trainer Waller’s faith in Bowman, that Winx was withdrawn from what would have been her first start of the season (in the 2018 Apollo Stakesin Sydney) when a suspension made it impossible for Bowman to ride her. Unlikely that few were surprised by Waller’s decision, since Bowman and Winx are an established partnership at this point in time and no-one other than her inner circle knows the mare as well as Bowman. Famous racing pairs dot the history of thoroughbred racing worldwide and these powerful relationships underscore the importance of finding just the right fit between a jockey and a thoroughbred.

Here, in footage collected in February 2018 at a trail at Randwick,we catch a glimpse of some of the relationship between Winx and Bowman, as well as that between Bowman and Waller. The video also illustrates the complexities of conditioning a thoroughbred and, in this aspect, sheds a light on the profession that is universal.

(Note: Footage from the cam recorder picked up during Bowman’s ride comes at the end of the video.)

 

CLICK #6: Umet Odemisioglu  wanted to be an actor…

After her most recent win, in the 2018 Chipping Norton, an emotional Chris Waller noted that professional as she is, Winx loves to go home where “…she can just be a horse.”

And there’s no question that Umet Odemisioglu and Candice are the two of the humans that make Winx feel that she’s home.

 

WINX with Umet Odem.

Born in Turkey, Umet is Chris Waller’s foreman and one of Winx’s strappers. The champion mare is one of some twenty thoroughbreds in his care.

But his path to Winx’s side was an unlikely one: Umet’s first love was film. He studied acting for two years in Turkey before attending what he describes as a “horse university” in Istanbul. Once he’d graduated, Umet left for Ireland, where he worked on a stud farm until his arrival in Australia in 2006. He has worked for trainer Chris Waller since 2011.

Umet has looked after Winx since she first arrived in Waller’s barn as a youngster. If she were an actress, he figures Winx would be Angelina Jolie because, “…they’re both sweethearts, especially Angelina with the charities. They’re both box office superstars who bring in the crowds.” (quoted in “Strapper Recalls Winx Journey” by Matt Kelly in G1X)

Back at home after a trial or a race, Winx doesn’t like to be bothered — she likes lots of time to herself. And it is Umet who assures that the mare’s down time is just that. On big days, it’s Umet who brings her into the spotlight, equipped with hood that blocks out some of the sounds of the track.

Winx is no lover of the starting gate and Umet, together with Candice, as well as her trainer and jockey, each play their part in keeping her off her toes as much as they can before the gates fly open. He walks close to her, letting her know that he’s there and focusing on keeping the mare as calm and relaxed as possible. And this is no easy job when you’re assailed by cameras, together with the noise and movement of a huge, jostling crowd.

Winx may be used to the attention, but Umet needs to be able to anticipate what she’s not used to seeing. It’s a big part of keeping her safe.

(Note: To learn more about Winx’s second strapper, Candice, please see BONUS FEATURES, below.)

 

CLICK #7: The “Paradox of Champions”

The excitement that characterizes each time a champion like Winx races is fuelled by the risk of her losing. This is what we have coined as the “paradox of champions.”

All those feelings — “Can she do it again?” “Will X defeat her?” “Can she win no matter the odds?” “Is she ready for today’s race?” — are underpinned by the anxiety that Winx may, indeed, be beaten. Even the speculation that her owners might consider Ascot or Hong Kong or Japan or the 2018 Breeders’ Cup is underpinned, to some extent, by the lure of the risk.

It is this paradox that accounts for analogy between the careers of great thoroughbreds and the archetypal hero/heroine’s mythical journey. Like the heroine of myth, Winx needs to keep overcoming obstacles, be they foreign courses or other talented thoroughbreds to guard her title of one of the very best worldwide.

At this point, no-one knows what the 2018 plans are for Winx, in what may well be the last season of a brilliant career.

But, thankfully, it seems clear that Winx herself will be foremost in making that decision.

 

 

 

 

BONUS FEATURES

1) TEAM WINX

 

 

 

2) 60 MINUTES AUSTRALIA

 

 

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