The Canadian Horse Defence Coalition short story contest is over and winners have been selected. We received heart-warming and inspiring tales of horse rescue. Our entrants shared their personal experiences, and their love of horses through their writing. Picking the best stories was difficult, here are the final standings:
First Place: The Story of Kate by Lillian Tepera of Ontario
Second Place: Jazz by Virginia Fisher of Alberta
Third Place: The Beauty of Rescue by Isis van Loon of British Columbia
Please be sure to read the winning submissions below,
Thanking all writers and horse lovers,
The Board of the Canadian Horse Defence Coalition
The Story of Kate (Lillian Tepera)
Kate felt her muscles tense as she followed Lillian up the hill toward the barn. She tried very hard to be brave and calm, but the usually peaceful barn was in turmoil. Horses who had been brought in from the paddock called loudly to their friends who were still outside. Horses who normally did not live in the barn at all were confined to stalls in the middle of the day. And there were extra people in the barn as well. Kate thought she’d seen these extra humans before. Were they good people or bad? She couldn’t be sure.
All the commotion reminded her of that other barn. The big one with all the metal pens full of terrified horses. Some of those horses she had known from home. Her old home. The farm where she had been born. Others she’d never seen before. There were so many humans there, and so much noise. And all the horses crying for each other, looking for a bit of comfort from a horse or human that they knew. Getting none.
She’d kept hearing the word “auction,” but didn’t know what it meant. There had been so many horses there, and so many people. So much fear.
One by one the horses had been taken away. Little squares of paper with numbers on them were glued to each horse’s hips. Kate had them too. What did it all mean? After they were taken away, some of the horses came back to the same pen they’d started from. Some did not, but she could eventually see them in another part of the huge building, in a huge pen, more scared than ever as they were crowded in with horses they had never met before. Some bit and kicked for fear and self-defense. Some tried to get escape the crowding, cowering head-down in a corner. Sometimes one would slip and fall on the filthy floor.
No one seemed to care. Eventually they were loaded onto big trailers where the screaming and thrashing intensified as they were jammed in too close together. The sound of hooves and bodies slamming into the trailers’ metal sides could still be heard after they disappeared from view. Others, like Kate, left in smaller trailers that only held two horses. Her trailer even had a bag of hay for Kate to munch on.
The Sanctuary’s barn was usually a quiet place, and Kate had not minded living in it when she’d first come here. The humans said she needed to stay inside until she put on weight and grew stronger. She tried to be calm and well-behaved. But it was better once she was allowed to go outside during the day. Now of course she lived outside all the time and she liked that best of all. Her big herd had lots of horses in it, some of whom she knew from her home farm, some she’d never met before. But they all got on well together and they always had enough to eat.
Usually Kate liked to come inside. Most of the time it meant a relaxing bit of grooming and some treats. But on days like this, when the noise and commotion seemed too much like that other place, then Kate could not help herself. She felt the fear in every muscle. Her heart beat fast. Her nostrils flared wide to suck in air as she prepared to run from danger.
But she was trying hard to be good. She followed at the end of her lead-rope, through the double-doors into the barn, then into one of the stalls. The extra people – the people she now recognized – had one of the big mares from Kate’s old farm tied in the aisle and her foot lifted up. They were using some kind of tool to cut away parts of the mare’s hoof. The big mare – Naomi – didn’t seem to care at all. Her eyes were half-closed and her ears flopped to the side as if she was asleep. Robert, the man who’d brought Kate to this place from the auction was standing beside Naomi, chatting with the strangers.
Maybe this would be ok. Kate remembered now. This had been done to her a few times already since she’d come here. It didn’t hurt, not really, but it was very strange and a little scary.
She would try very hard to be good.
Kate didn’t know why they’d all been taken from their home farm and sent to that strange place before she and some of friends ended up here at the Sanctuary. She remembered lots of things from her home farm: the first summer of her life spent lazing in the sunshine with her mother, who protected her and introduced her to the other mares and foals. Then she remembered being taken from her mother and locked in a pen with lots of other babies. Ten or more. All running frantically, calling for their mothers. They could hear the mares’ voices somewhere far away. Too far away to see. After a while they got used to having only each other for company. There were cold days and warm ones, days when it rained, and days when the world turned white under a coat of snow. The babies had grown thick winter coats and didn’t mind the cold. They had a big open shelter to hide inside when the wind blew and rain pelted sideways from the sky. Kate remembered that. But mostly she remembered hunger.
It hadn’t started right away. Kate and her young friends had lived together over a year before the hunger set in. Once there had been big bales of hay – enough for everyone – and buckets full of grain. But the grain stopped appearing, and then the hay began to run out. The youngsters were put into a large paddock with the older horses, and that made things worse. When hay was put out, the big horses rarely left until it was all gone. They were hungry, too. The youngsters could only pick at scraps and the dirty mouldy bits the older horses left behind. They strained and stretched to reach into the big metal feeder the hay had been put into. After a few months Kate’s neck became sore where it rubbed against the feeder’s unforgiving metal edge, but she had no choice. She ignored the pain as she lipped up what little hay she could find in the bottom of that bin. The sore spot turned into a hard, ropy lump beneath her skin. Many of the Sanctuary humans found it, rubbed it, poked it, wondered what it was.
Lillian slid a stall door open and led Kate inside to wait her turn to have her feet trimmed. There was hay on the ground and a couple of carrots in the rubber feed tub. Kate loved carrots. But besides the welcome smell of food, she smelled something else. Something much less pleasant. It was the scent of old, dried blood, the smell still trapped in the wood although it had been scrubbed so you could no longer see it. It was Kate’s own blood, and the sharp coppery scent of it tensed unsettled her.
This was the stall she had lived when she first came here. A young colt from her home farm had been put in the stall next to hers that day they came here, but he was sick and she could sense his suffering the whole first night they’d spent here. Even at the auction barn the colt had been sick, throwing himself to the ground and thrashing, his belly terribly big and hard-looking, a strange bulge on its very bottom. Someone had forced him to his feet and looked him over, shoved a plastic tube into his mouth with what he said was medicine. It was an umbilical hernia, the man had said about the bulge, and colic, too. The medication helped the little colt for a time and he stayed on his feet long enough to be led away as all the other horses were, and then come back again.
He’d shared the trailer with Kate on the way here from the auction. But the next morning he’d been taken away again, this time by Lillian and Robert and someone who smelled of medicine. The colt never came back. Kate didn’t know what had happened to him, but heard the word “euthanasia.” She’d wondered what it meant. The Sanctuary humans seemed very sad and angry after that. Kate wondered if the little colt had done something wrong.
Kate’s first few days in this stall had been quite pleasant, especially once more of the horses from her old farm arrived and filled the stalls around her. Kate was given small feedings of hay all day long, but never enough to make her sick. There was lots of water to drink and the bedding was soft and inviting. After a few days she felt confident enough to lie down in it to rest. But then found she could not get up again.
Where strong muscles had once rippled beneath her skin, now there were hollows, her once-round rump caved in and skeletal, her hip bones clearly visible under her shaggy winter coat.
She’d used up her muscles trying to stay alive, and now when she needed them to hoist herself to her feet, she found herself helpless. She could get her front legs straight out in front and lift her chest off the ground, but the hindquarters just could not follow. She’d push and thrust and get her back feet underneath her, then wobble and fall sideways, crashing against the wall. Again and again she tried, what little strength she’d had ebbing away with every new effort, and as she thrashed, she opened bloody cuts above her eyes, her gums bleeding where her soft muzzle hit the wall.
Robert found her that first time and ran to get help, returning with Lillian and their son, Christopher. They quieted Kate, urging her to lie still and quiet so she could gain some strength back, stroking her neck and speaking to her quietly. When it was time to try again, they rolled Kate onto her belly and her chest, propping her up with a bale of hay, and stretching her long front legs in front of her. Lillian took hold of Kate’s halter, urging her up and forward, while Christopher and Robert pushed and heaved and lifted, then steadied her rear end as she wobbled to her feet. It took a few tries, but then she was standing, while the humans leaned against the wall panting for breath.
“She looks like Rocky,” Robert said. Kate didn’t know who that was, but she remembered how gently they’d cleaned and treated her cuts.
It happened again and again. Kate would lie down to rest, then find she could not get up. For three weeks the humans had to come and lift her to her feet. After a day or two, they’d dressed her in a warm blanket and moved her to the indoor riding arena with food and water. When she thrashed there, trying to stand on her own and failing, she had more room and no longer smashed her head into the walls.
But the smell of blood from those early efforts still lingered in the stall. Kate buried her nose in the fragrant hay. She didn’t want to be afraid.
When it was her turn with the farrier, Kate stood quietly in the aisle. When the woman lifted up her foot, Kate pulled it back and slammed it to the ground. She couldn’t help herself. It was hard to stay calm while a human trapped her leg so she couldn’t get away. The first time this had happened, she remembered now, she’d flown backwards and away from the confinement, her mind blank with fear. All the way down the aisle she’d scrambled, crashing open the double doors to the indoor arena with her butt, the humans struggling to keep some semblance of control on the lead rope. As the memory flashed through her mind Kate felt the urge to run again, but she resisted. The woman stroked her neck and spoke quiet words. Waited until Kate’s heart slowed and she relaxed a little. Then she lifted the foot again and trimmed it. Kate tried so hard to be good.
Once the ordeal was over, the humans fed Kate more carrots and Lillian led her back to the paddock. One by one the horses were led from the barn and turned out with their friends. Life at the Sanctuary settled back into its normal routine. Kate felt the sunshine warm on her back as she cropped green grass.
Jazz (Virginia Fisher)
I have loved horses my entire life, but I have loved old horses the most. Most old horses end up being tossed away when their usefulness disappears. They are usually the most expensive to keep, the most time consuming, and in Jazz’s case, a notoriously clever, sneaky, little devil, that needed watching every minute.
I had my then, single horse at home, and had so far managed to obey the “ONE HORSE ONLY!!” rule, being foisted upon me by my non-horsey male, by offering board to another single horse. My boarder decided to move to an indoor, and now it was time to bring in another horse. I wasn’t actually breaking the “ONE HORSE ONLY!!” rule, if I only took on a rescue horse, and continued his care and rehabilitation, but didn’t actually own it, I told my non-horsey male, so that is what I decided to do.
I contacted the Horse Protection Society of British Columbia, and asked if they had any older horses available, and hit the jackpot. I was offered a 30-something, hardly any teeth left, advanced case of Cushing’s, Quarter Horse, they called JAZZ. I did see pictures of JAZZ when he was purchased, and he was very thin, but someone had recently put shoes on his front feet. Hard to understand why someone would let a horse get that thin, but go to the expense of putting front shoes on just to sell him at auction, but it’s just as hard to understand how someone could send a horse to auction, in the first place.
JAZZ was as round as he was high. He had the typical shaggy, uneven coat of a Cushing’s horse, a swayed back and pot belly, but the most debilitating symptom JAZZ had was a neurological deficit, which manifested in his hind end swaying when he stood and walked. He was losing the connection of being able to control his entire body and make all parts work together, and in unison. I thought having lots of room to roam, and another horse to move with, would help maintain that connection. I was told that he had been picked up at auction by outbidding a kill buyer, who thought no one would want a 30-something, broken down old horse. And so it came to be, that JAZZ came to live with us, and became a companion to “ONE HORSE ONLY!!”
The Society had no other history on JAZZ, but it was obvious that he had issues with people. Whenever I approached, he would turn his shaggy bottom to me and pin his ears. As I came up alongside his front, he would snake his head at me and threaten to bite. I soon learned these were mostly bluffs, although the biting end, in the beginning, did actually land a little nip every now and then. I did what I always do with horses, scratched them in their favorite spots, hugged and kissed their necks, whether they liked it or not, and talked softly to them. Eventually JAZZ settled down, and within a couple of weeks, he was greeting me with his very tiny, very soft, almost indiscernible little nicker. He had learned that nothing was expected of him, and all he had to do all day was be bossed around slightly by “ONE HORSE ONLY!!” and wait for dinner time of shredded carrots, mushy pears and beet pulp.
“ONE HORSE ONLY!!” and I were fortunate enough to have lots of year round pasture, and JAZZ, having only front biting teeth, and no back grinding teeth, did very well on the moisture rich grass of the Lower Mainland. It was always a balancing act to make sure he had enough to eat, without risking founder from grass and his Cushings, but we managed to find just the right balance.
I had two very large, mature pear trees that produced hundreds of big, juicy pears that were the indisputable property of the horses. Every morning, during pear-season, I would let the horses out of their overnight paddocks, and they would thunder passed me, straight up to the pears, that had ripened and fallen to the ground during the night. I would supervise the feast by standing in between “ONE HORSE ONLY!!” and JAZZ, as I was the bossiest of all, and they would slurp them down, paying absolutely no attention to the drunken wasps that had found the pears during the early morning. They would spend the next half-hour, sniffing around the base of the trees, just to make sure they hadn’t missed any, and once they were satisfied there wasn’t a single pear left unclaimed, “ONE HORSE ONLY!!” would herd JAZZ out to the back pasture, where they would spend the day. I always thought it was funny that they didn’t seem to know there were more pears just above their heads, but counted my blessings, as I didn’t have to limit their intake, or fence off the pear trees to keep them from over eating.
Throughout the day, I would see JAZZ wandering passed the windows, probably going back to the paddock to get a drink. I was surprised that “ONE HORSE ONLY!!” had allowed him to leave his designated spot of “stay behind me and to my right, ‘cause that’s your place,” but soon had the answer to this, as well as the rest!
JAZZ had figured out where the real mother lode of pears were. He had also figured out, that he could eat pears to his heart’s content, and without sharing them, if he gave “ONE HORSE ONLY!!” the slip through the trees. “ONE HORSE ONLY!!” liked to see where he was putting his feet, so steered clear of the treed area on the property. JAZZ could escape his bossy pasture mate, if he pushed through the brush and came out on the far side of the house, where “ONE HORSE ONLY!!” couldn’t see him.
One hot, sunny day, I was sitting by the open kitchen window, and along came JAZZ. I watched him, again thinking he was heading for the water trough, but no, I WAS WRONG! JAZZ headed straight to the pear trees, and reached up and gripped a branch with his 6-or-so remaining teeth, and gave it one mighty tug! Pears came raining down, and hit the ground all around him. Ripe, juicy pears, all for him! I sat there laughing and shaking my head at the smarts of this old boy. He had managed to get away from his bossy pasture mate, and had figured out how to get all the pears he wanted, without sharing, or being restricted. I left him to eat his fill, but from that day on, whenever I saw JAZZ wandering passed the windows, without his pasture mate, I would stand on the back steps to make sure no unfettered pear pilfering took place. I never had to say no to him, or fence off the pear trees, because from the first time I stepped out on the back steps, and he spotted me standing there, he pretended that he really was only getting a drink of water, and not snitching pears. I told you he was a notoriously clever, sneaky, little devil that needed watching every minute!
I had other no go areas around the house, and as I liked to let the horses have the run of the place, I also had to make sure the flowers stayed in their beds and didn’t wind up as a tasty treat for that sneaky JAZZ. He would use his pear snitching tactics, and make like he was just some poor, thirsty old horse going for a drink of water…sheesh!
I came out the front door one day, and there was JAZZ, face buried in the gerbera daisies. He had heard the door closing behind me, and turned around to check if I was actually there, and discovered that he had been caught in the act. He stood there, head up, ears pricked forward, flower petals sticking out of each side of his mouth, and a big root ball dangling from his front teeth. I never said a word to him, but after a few seconds of me standing there, staring at him in condemnation, he decided he would be better off, if he took up his place behind “ONE HORSE ONLY!!” and hightailed it back to his buddy, root ball swaying in the breeze, as he went.
Of course, over the years, I brought home a number of old horses, and they all lived out their remaining time with “ONE HORSE ONLY!!” and me. I knew that non-horsey male, never could, and never would, stand against rescuing an old horse, that otherwise was destined for slaughter.
It’s been 16 years now since JAZZ crossed over the rainbow bridge, but on the day I had to say goodbye, I made sure that he left with a belly full of ripe, juicy pears. I miss you sweet boy, but don’t worry, I will never forget you. I can still hear your very tiny, very soft, almost indiscernible little nicker.
The Beauty of Rescue (Isis van Loon)
Anna Sewell was born in 1820. She was disabled after suffering an accident as a young girl, and horses gave her the freedom to get around. She loved horses, and wrote and published Black Beauty* 140 years ago when she was an old woman. Many of us will remember the story of Black Beauty, told from the point of view of a thoroughbred horse who, like many horses even today, falls on hard times. Black Beauty was a wildly popular book and became, in essence, the manifesto of the early animal rights movement. In honour of, and with great respect for Ms. Sewell, my story’s beginning and end echo the beginning and end of her inspirational work on animal rights, Black Beauty.
The first place that I can remember well was a small green valley with a river of clear water running through the bottom. My family often came to drink from the river in the early evening – my mother in front, followed by me and the other mares and foals and yearlings. My father the herd stallion was always on watch, and he stood on guard while we all drank. Then we foals played buck and run as our mothers ate grass, and our father, every watchful, finally took his turn at the river. Those summer days were time for learning how to be a wild horse; what foods to eat, what places to find water and good forage, and sometimes when to run away. At night the adults stayed alert, eating quietly and resting but always ready to wake us young ones if they sensed danger. And there were great dangers; we learned about cougars, and wolves. Wolves threatened us foals, and the herd protected us. Cougars hid in high places, and could suddenly jump out at an unwary horse – foal or grown up. We foals became strong and grew bigger, and we either outran or avoided the dangers.
The seasons changed and it got colder and became harder to find things to eat. Once the snow fell, we had to dig for the dried grass underneath, and we ate bark and twigs when we could find them. We returned to the valley, now deep in snow, one night to find strange smells and tracks. The adults were nervous, and watched for a long time before they ventured, one at a time, down to the river to break the ice and drink. Nothing else seemed out of the usual until we foals discovered a wonderful pile of sweet smelling dried grass, just sitting there on top of the snow by some trees that had fallen. The adults snorted and warned us back, they said there was a bad smell around it. But eventually, when nothing happened, they cautiously approached and began to eat, and they let us join them. The next day we stayed there, eating the dried grass and pawing holes in the ice to drink. When we had finished the grass, my family wandered off in search of more food, and didn’t return for a few days. This time we found another pile of grass, and we went quickly to eat despite my father’s warnings about the bad smell. Still nothing happened, and when we finished the grass we left to look for more food in another valley. On the third time that we went back we could still smell the bad scent, but we had become used to it and we ran down to eat. As we came to the pile of grass, a bunch of frightening creatures on two legs ran out from behind us, and swung a gate closed. “These are men, and this is a trap!” my furious father screamed but it was too late. We were in the trap, fenced in on all sides. My father charged again and again at the fence, but it didn’t break, and it was too high to jump. My mother and the other mares circled in panic, trying to protect us in the middle of their circle. We young ones panicked and ran too, but there was no way out.
The scary creatures left us then, and my mother told me that we were still in big danger. She said that men never meant anything good to us wild ones. She told me that we must all fight for our lives, to escape or die trying, as the men would kill us for sure. We didn’t sleep at all that night.
When the sun came up, the men returned. They had a big truck which they drove through the snow up to our trap. They opened the part of the fence that led up to the truck and waved things at us until we ran, terrified, into the dark truck. The door slammed shut behind us. The truck began to move, slipping and sliding down the snow covered road out of the valley, taking us forever away. I couldn’t see my mother, and I could hear the terrified screams of the others and the defiant roar of my father as he reared repeatedly, hitting his head on the top of the truck until he was exhausted and bleeding. One of my siblings was stepped on by accident, and she didn’t get back up. We all tried not to step on her, but we couldn’t see very well and the truck was moving and there was no room.
The truck kept going and going. We were exhausted, thirsty and terrified. When it finally stopped we were not allowed out, and we were given nothing to drink or eat. By then the sun had gone down, and it was completely black in the back of the truck. I was exhausted, and needed to lie down, but there was no room. My mother had found me by now, and having her next to me gave me some comfort, but she smelled of fear and we knew that we were not safe. After a long time the truck started up again, and the hellish trip continued. It felt like it would never stop. Some of my siblings were so tired they fell down, and couldn’t get up again. The grown-ups tried not to step on them. One of the mares slipped and fell. She fought to get back up, but there was no room and we tried not to step on her either.
By the time the truck stopped again, the sun had gone down once more. This time the men opened up the truck and we were able to escape. Or so we thought. We jumped down and found ourselves in a small corral. We could see other horses in similar corrals next to us. There was some water, mostly frozen, in a strange container, and a little bit of dried grass. The mares fought over it and we young ones – those of us that were able to get off the truck – huddled miserably next to them and tried to nurse for comfort but there was little milk and less comfort. Some of us were injured; my father with his bleeding aching head, the mare who had been down was lame, and one of us foals had a big gash on her hock where she had been accidentally kicked. One of my sisters still lay on the floor of the truck, no longer breathing. The truck drove away and I never saw her again.
We spoke with some of the other horses in the corral next to us. One very skinny old appaloosa told us this was a terrible place called an auction. He said that when horses went to auctions they were lucky if they got good new homes, but sometimes they ended up being sold to kill buyers who took them to slaughter. We didn’t know then what slaughter was, but it sounded bad. He said he wanted to go back home, to the summer camp where he had worked for years. We had no idea what he was talking about, but we told him we wanted to go home too, and asked him if he knew how we could get there. He hung his head and told us that he didn’t know, and he didn’t think it was possible. When the sun came up, the men were back. Even with his injuries and the long journey, my father tried again to charge them. He wanted to kill them to protect us, but they stayed back from the fence, beyond his reach, and laughed at him. The rest of us were too tired to do much; we backed away from the men and tried to stay together.
The men took long sticks and prodded the frightened horses in the next corral into a chute that led into the auction building. The appaloosa yelled at us as he left, to save ourselves if we could. But we couldn’t. After a time, the men came back to my family. They had the long sticks again, and I found out that the sticks burnt when they hit us. The men opened a gate and we all crushed together to run out into the chute. The men kept prodding us with their sticks. My father barely seemed to feel how much those sticks hurt and he screamed and reared up repeatedly, but the men stayed on the other side of the fence where he couldn’t reach them. He charged the fence and we heard a crash as he landed partly on top of it. He screamed again, and struggled to free himself. He got himself down, but was only standing on three legs; the fourth was bloody and wrongly twisted. We all followed my mother who ran down the chute into the auction building. My father limped along behind us, still trying to keep us safe despite the pain he must have been feeling. Once we were inside, they closed a gate behind us and we were trapped in the auction ring.
It was noisy and there were lights and people everywhere, and we had nowhere to go so we went around in circles. It was even more terrifying than everything else that had happened to us so far, but worse was yet to come. People were waving their arms, and yelling on all sides of the auction ring. I had no idea what they were doing, but every minute or two they opened a gate on the far side of the ring, and one or two at a time, they made members of my family go through the gate. My mother stayed back with my father, until we were the last ones. There were two women standing by the auction ring, looking intently at us. One raised her hands a few times, and I saw her shake her head when they forced my father, still on three legs, down through the gate alone. “Dammit”, she said. “With that injury he should be put down but I can’t afford to bid against the kill buyer if I want to save all the babies.”
The woman standing next to her said “I know. It sucks. The CFIA** will let them transport that poor stud for hours and hours to the slaughterhouse with a broken leg. As usual. I don’t know how much longer I can stand to come to these auctions.”
“But we save some,” said the first woman. “And for those we can save…”
“I know, I know, it never ends. Canadians don’t know, most don’t want to know about how horses are treated here. Just send horses off to auction, collect some money, and don’t worry about what happens to the poor horses. They get sold to kill buyers who don’t care about horse welfare, government agencies aren’t even fulfilling their own regulatory requirements on humane transport and slaughter, and the absolute horror and cruelty of horse slaughter…. to say nothing of the fact that most of them are domestic horses and have been given routine drugs which makes them toxic for human consumption. Heck, Canadians hardly even eat horses, most are sold to European and Japanese markets so a few people can make a pile of money. Makes me sick.”
“Preaching to the choir,” replied the first woman.
At the time, I had little idea what they were talking about, although that changed later. Meanwhile, there was more noise, and then my mother was rushed into the chute. I tried desperately to follow, but the men did something with the gate and she was suddenly on the other side. I yelled for her, and she yelled back to me, and threw herself at the fence but she couldn’t get through to me. The men with the sticks were there and somehow they managed to make her go farther and farther away from me. I could hear her calling the whole time, and I kept calling back. I was forced down another chute, and I ran blindly, wanting my mother and my family. I saw one of the women again, as I was rushed onto a trailer, and the gate banged shut behind me. “Sorry little one, I couldn’t save her too” she said, but I wasn’t really listening. I could hear my mother still calling as we were driven away. I never saw my mother again.
Most of my siblings were on the trailer with me, and we were so upset that I didn’t realize at first that the boney old appaloosa was there as well. We young ones were completely freaked out and terrified. He tried to reassure and calm us, but it was not easy to console us that night. He told us that he thought that maybe things were going to get better; the woman who had loaded him on the trailer had been kind to him. When he was in the auction ring he had seen her right away and went up to her, and she had patted him and talked to him. He tried to tell her that he didn’t want to go to the bad place, and that he wanted her to stay with him and take him home. He said she must have understood him, because after he was run out of the chute, she was waiting for him. She told him she ran a horse rescue, and she was going to keep him safe. I wasn’t really listening much to the old fellow, I was too tired and afraid and hungry and I missed my mother horribly. I did ask him where they were taking my mother and he said it was better not to know sometimes and wouldn’t talk about that anymore.
At some point that night, the trailer stopped. The two women from the auction opened up the trailer doors and said “welcome home” to us. We young ones were completely done in and the old horse had to coax us out of the trailer and into a big fenced place. There was a shelter, and a pile of dry grass and some containers of water. We were hungry and thirsty, and, we needed to eat and to drink. I was so upset that I thought I would never sleep again but I must have fallen asleep, because the next thing I knew it was morning. All of us – it turned out that all of us foals and yearlings, except for my sister who had fallen on the truck and never got up – were there. The yearlings tried to act like the older horses in our family, and took turns on watch, and told us where it was safe to go and what to do. The old appaloosa really liked us young foals, and he told us stories to try to distract us from missing our parents. Some of his stories were wonderful, about running around with other horse friends, and rolling in summer mud and enjoying the grass. Others didn’t make much sense at the time. In particular he was always talking about a girl named Marianne that he had known. She had been his first girl, and his best, he said. She had taught him how to carry her around on his back, and she had taken him many places. We thought he was somewhat insane, and we told him so. Who in their right mind would carry a person on their backs? But he said he had a lot of fun, until she moved far away and sold him. After that he went to a number of different places, some good, some not so good, until he ended up as a summer camp horse. He said that was a great job, he only had to work summers when he got to be special to a series of young girls. In the winter, he was turned out to run with the other horses in the mountains. There wasn’t always a lot of food, and it was hard out there in winter, but he enjoyed it. In the summer he was brought back to the summer camp to be with girls again. Some of the other horses had been race horses and some had been ranch horses before they came to the summer camp, he told us. “That was a great life,” he said, “almost as good as when I was with Marianne.” We couldn’t truly understand half of what he was talking about, but we really liked to hear about the time he spent running in the mountains with the other horses. We begged him frequently to repeat those stories, even though they left us feeling sad.
The two women had left us alone the first few days we were there, but soon they were coming into our field and sitting in lawn chairs and holding onto the dry grass. If we wanted to eat, we had to get closer and closer. They just sat there quietly, and the appaloosa didn’t seem at all worried, so we were soon eating from the women’s hands while they sat there. One day one of them put her hand up on my neck. I was startled, but it wasn’t so bad, so I kept eating. They said things to us; we didn’t always know what they were talking about, but their voices sounded gentle and we soon started to look forward to being with them. One day they brought some rope and what they said was a halter. They showed it to us and put it on our appaloosa friend. He didn’t mind and he let us sniff it and check that it wasn’t dangerous. Soon we were trying on halters too. Then we were ready to start school, the old horse told us. He was right. Soon the women were showing us how to walk with them, when to stop, back up, turn. It was interesting and fun, and became a favourite part of our day. We would crowd in to see if who could get picked for learning first.
We must have eaten a lot that winter, because we all grew. The yearlings started to look almost grown up, and we younger ones became yearlings. Spring came, and we shed our winter coats and became sleek and shiny.
Some people came to meet us. They talked to the women, and said they had seen us on their Facebook page, and that they were interested in adopting us. We asked the appaloosa what this meant, but he wasn’t sure. We found out soon when a truck and trailer came and two of my sisters left. “They have gone to a home of their own,” one of the women told us. “They will be looked after and loved, and if they ever need to come back, we will welcome them, no questions asked.” We missed them, but were busy eating and growing and learning, and it sounded like they were safe and cared for so we didn’t worry too much.
Over the spring, and into the summer, most of my siblings were adopted, always two or three at a time. By the end of the summer, the appaloosa and I were the only ones left. “Maybe we will get to stay here forever,” he said. “I hope so, we are lucky to be safe with nice people.”
However, that was not exactly how things turned out. One late summer day a car and horse trailer came to the horse rescue. I thought maybe they were coming to see me, as all of the other young horses had been adopted already. A woman got out of the car and stood looking for a long time at the field where the appaloosa and I were standing head to tail flicking flies from each other’s faces. The old horse didn’t see her at first, he was facing away. She came through the gate and approached us slowly. As she got closer, the appaloosa suddenly turned his head, sniffing the air. Head high, he whinnied a question to her. “Splash!” she called out. He could move fast, that old horse. He galloped up to her and slid to a stop directly in front of her and lowered his head onto her chest. She had her arms around him, and her face was wet as she spoke quietly to him. “I’ve been looking for you for years,” she told him. “I will never leave you again.” It was, of course, Marianne. She had finally found him.
I wasn’t sure what to do. All my family was gone. My siblings were safe but I wouldn’t see them again. My parents were truly gone. And now my old friend the appaloosa was going home. I was safe, and I liked it here at the horse rescue, but once he left, I would be on my own. The two rescue women were standing by the fence, watching what had happened. They both looked sad/happy. I went over to stand with them, and one rubbed my chin the way I liked. “What about you, young thing, I guess we will have to find you some new friends.” As she finished speaking, the car door banged shut. Startled, I jumped. Marianne and the appaloosa didn’t notice but I saw a young person getting out of Marianne’s car. This girl walked over to the fence near us. She leaned on the fence. I was curious, and went up to her. She stood very still and let me smell her breath. We stood like that, nose to nose, for several minutes. I liked the smell of her. The two women were watching us, one was smiling. “She’s up for adoption too”, said one. “And she looks like she is quite taken with you,” she added.
Marianne came over with the old appaloosa beside her. She was smiling all over, and that old horse was looking about as happy as a horse can look.
“Mom,” said the girl. “Look” and she pointed at me.
“You can’t have just one horse,” said one of the rescue women. “They get lonely.”
“Please, can we?” asked the girl.
“I don’t know Belinda, it can be expensive to keep an old horse, and to keep two horses….”
“I’ll get a job, I’ll do all the work. Look at her!” said the girl. And of course you can guess the rest. I went to my new home with my friend the appaloosa, and my new friend Belinda, that day. My girl did exactly as she promised. She worked after school and on weekends sometimes, and looked after me every day. With her mother’s help, Belinda and I learned how to work together and went out on rides on trails and sometimes to local horse shows. When she finished high school and started university, Belinda still kept her promise and worked part time to pay for me and to help pay her tuition. My girl was smart, and went to veterinary school. She was very busy learning, but always made time for me. When she graduated, she volunteered her veterinary services to the horse rescue that saved me and my siblings and so many others. Dr. Belinda became a strong advocate for ethical animal husbandry, and an even stronger voice in the fight to end horse slaughter.
As for me and my friend Splash, our troubles are all over, and we are at home; and often before I am quite awake, I fancy I am still in the valley, standing with my wild family near the clear river. And then I remember Belinda, and how she and the horse rescue women made such a difference in my life.
*Black Beauty by Anna Sewell, first published 1877. Quoted from publication by Scholastic Books, Apple Paperback printed in USA, date not provided in copy of book.
First sentence: “The first place that I can well remember was a large pleasant meadow with a pond of clear water in it.”
Last sentence: “My troubles are all over, and I am at home; and often before I am quite awake, I fancy I am still in the orchard at Birtwick, standing with my old friends under the apple trees.”
**CFIA is the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. There is repeated evidence that the CFIA does not appear to enforce its own regulations on the transport and handling of horses sent to slaughter. Recently the CFIA has been moving to amend its own inadequate regulations in order to align with industry practices. This will only make it worse for horses.