I met Tom Timms when I responded to an ad of his on Craigslist looking to sell hay. At the time, he charmed me into believing he knew all there was to know about hay, proper feeding for optimal performance, and that he could save me more money than anyone else when it came to feeding my program (20+ horses at the time, mostly rescues). Music to any barn owner's ears, for sure. I'd call Tom, tell him what I needed and what I wanted to pay, and he'd tell me when he'd have it delivered to my place. It was a beautiful thing, really. Life was good.
I knew Tom had quite a few show horses of his own, but had never been to his place in Durand (Michigan, for my out-of-state readers). He talked the talk, knew his pleasure-horse bloodlines backwards and forwards and knew all the dirty little secrets about the big names in the Michigan Quarter Horse world. I was impressed. As a fairly new seller (I'd sold a decent number of ponies back in high school, when I was still small enough to ride the snot out of them and make them into nice little youth mounts, but was just coming back into the rescue/rehabilitation/resale process after many years off), I looked to Tom as a sort of mentor. He knew the finer points of writing a good sales contract, what to say to avoid getting sued, and how to make sure you'll win in court (without an attorney) if you DO get that far. Common sense should have told me that anyone that affluent in courtroom-proceedings when it came to bad horse deals is NOT one that I should be idolizing, but again, I was star-struck.
My assistant, Amanda, and I had to travel north early in March of 2011 to pick up a horse, and were heading right past Tom's place (according to him) on Vernon Road in Durand. He'd said he has a few really nice "project youngsters" that he wanted me to stop by and take a look at. "They'll be cheap! Right up your alley!" he said. Never one to want to miss out on some quality-bred, "cheap" projects, we decided to detour over to Tom's and see what he had that I needed to call my own.
That day, walking through Tom's stall barn full of fantastically-bred, horribly-maintained horses changed the way Amanda and I looked at horse-dealers forever. Those horses were in stalls 2' deep with shit, it didn't look like a farrier had seen that place in at LEAST six months, and Tom didn't seem to have the slightest bit of a problem with it. The horses weren't skinny, by any means, but it was painfully apparent that they were not getting deworming, or proper nutrition. The problem with this (since I'm sure many of you are wondering why I didn't call Animal Control) is that they WERE being fed hay and had water available to them in their stalls. Animal Control won't touch a farm full of stalled, hay & water-fed horses. It doesn't matter if they're atrophying away to nothing but rotting corpses with a heartbeat. They're being fed and sheltered from the elements, that's all that's required under law. Raiding a situation such as what was at Tom's barn (also known as KJ Farms) brings with it far too much legal liability and a very high chance that they'll lose the court case & have to return everything to the owner with no reimbursement. I get it. I know how the story goes, I've had this fight many times with other situations since then. Sometimes (as much as I hate to say this), it's best to shut up, play along, and get what you can out of a situation like that without stirring up too much shit. Stirred up shit has to fall somewhere, and chances are, you're going to wind up with a face full if you're not careful. Additionally, I was much quieter, easily-bullied, and more soft-spoken then than I am now (hard to believe, I know, but people like him have made me the way I am today).
Here's the arial photo of the KJ Farms property, as provided (involuntarily, of course) from their website: http://kjsfarms.tripod.com/index.html
The great big barn furthest to the left is the stall barn, complete with fancy indoor arena (not new, but completely functional for its' purpose). Now, as you're looking at this photo, please take note of all the obvious pasture space surrounding these barns. This isn't any sort of rookie-maintained operation. This is the real deal, with more than adequate turnout facilities. The barn that's a shade lighter than the other barns (all the way on the right)? That's the equipment barn. Our focus now is on the middle barn, with the high roof. This is where my "projects" were living.
This picture is rather deceiving, but it's all I've got, so it'll have to do. What you don't see is that when you come off of Vernon Road, you pull into the dirt lot between the stall/arena barn and the road, but have to walk to the left to get to the falling-down, dilapidated "baby barn". I'm not sure how old this photo is, but that barn sure didn't look that nice when we were there. The roof was caving in, nothing had been maintained in years, and yet Tom felt it was an adequate place to house a bunch of babies and his stallions.
Yes, I said stallions. As in, more than one. See, the KJ Farms website indicates that they used to stand two stallions, Doc's Gotta Be Gold, and Watch Sonny Shine. Watch Sonny Shine is dead...and I invite anyone to ask Tom how he passed away. You won't get a straight answer, I tried for months after our initial visit in March.
Anyway, so walking into this shit hole barn, you're greeted by a very angry red Heeler male that will, if given the opportunity, rip your face off. No joke, that's what he's there for, security, and yes, Tom said he's been to court to defend a dog-bite incident as well (imagine that). Right inside the door, on the left, was a low-ceiling cattle-panel enclosure maybe 10'x25' in size. This is where the babies were kept. The conditions were dark, damp, the roof leaked, and the only sunlight came from the cracks in the wood siding unless you left the sliding door open. This wasn't even suitable for death-row inmates, yet there were five wide-eyed youngsters crammed in there like it was a feed lot holding pen. Just like the stalls, these babies were living in at LEAST 2' of shit & old hay, with a filled water tank full of green slime on its' sides, and weren't the typical skin-and-bones skeletal horses you'd expect, more like pot-bellied, wormy adolescents. They were getting hay, but had never seen a vaccine or dewormer, and it was apparent that their farrier care was long overdue. We were looking at two leggy bay roans, a tiny palomino, a black and white overo, and a grey. Genders and ages were anyone's guess, none had halters on and there was certainly no catching them. They'd sooner run you over than let you touch them.
Amanda and I were instantly drawn to the grey horse hiding in the back. He was thicker than the others, had a quiet, kind eye, and I'm a sucker for a good looking grey, although his true shade of grey was unknown seeing as he, like the others, was caked in an inch of manure over his entire body. He barely had a tail, and his feet were considerably worse than the others, but it looked like we might have been able to fix him and make him into a nice hunter pony prospect. Then Tom says "You can have all but the black and white filly, I'm keeping her, the others are $500 a piece". Yes, because I have $2000 to shell out for a bunch of project babies. The price was not negotiable. I had to leave them there.
The ride home was much quieter than the ride up. Amanda and I were both more than disturbed by what we'd seen, but $2000 was impossible. I'm all for saving a project when I can but I cannot, in good conscience, justify paying someone that kind of money for what he'd presented us. Too many horses needing an escape from certain death in Canada get dumped at auction for pennies on the dollar for me to shell out $500 for one soul. Plus those babies were being fed and watered, though it was the absolute bare minimum of what they needed to survive. I had to put them in the back of my mind and keep going with our efforts at home until the opportunity presented itself for me to act. I stopped buying hay from Tom that day, although we still kept in touch regularly. One of the hardest things for me to do, to this day, is to "play nice" with someone I want nothing more than to destroy in every way possible. But those babies needed me.
They haunted me most of the summer, and when Tom called in August and offered them to me for $500 total for the group of four, his wife wanted a divorce and he needed to raise cash quickly, I hooked up and headed back to Durand. For $125 a piece, I'll make it work. I had no idea how old they were, what their genders were, nothing. It didn't matter. They needed to get out, I needed to get them out, we'd work out the logistics later. August 3, 2011 was the youngling's day of freedom. I backed the trailer up to that shit hole barn, swung open the door, and we built a cattle panel chute from their pen to my stock trailer since none were halter broke. Unfortunately, this required a 2' drop down off of their shit platform pen, a few steps on level ground, then another 2' step up into my trailer. Not exactly inviting for even the most seasoned loader, not to mention a bunch of babies with no muscle.
After we got them loaded, and I'd paid Tom the hardest $500 I've ever handed to someone, he said (and I will never EVER forget this) "Ya know, that palomino is the only nice one of the group, you're really only paying for her. It's like the other ones are free!". It was at that time that I realized that Tom knew damn well what he did to those babies, and he didn't even care. I asked him why he didn't just turn them out to let them grow (remember all of that pasture space?), he said "Well I wouldn't be able to do anything with them if they were out there." Remember, these babies weren't even halter broke. What did he need to do with them? I asked him how long they'd been there, he said "They go in there when its time to wean them! I've gotta put them somewhere!" He handed me an envelope with the registration papers on the grey (the only one of the four that was actually registered), and I left with the babies in tow. The black and white overo wasn't in that pen when I got there that day, I have no idea what happened to her.
Now, I'm not much of a crier. I prefer to get angry and hit something rather than shed tears. But as I stopped to get gas just inside of the town of Durand, I peeked in the side of the trailer and I lost it. Those four babies crammed themselves up in the front half of my trailer to lean against the walls and, heads hanging, were barely strong enough to hold each other up. As I watched, occasionally one of their knees would buckle and they'd catch themselves before they went down. We'd only been on the road for ten minutes. The magnitude of what I'd just done, the overwhelming amount of responsibility and financial cost this was going to require of me (keep in mind, at the time I was 23 years old) and just how bad these babies really were hit me like a runaway freight train and I experienced what I can only describe as "rescuer's guilt". I couldn't save them back in March, and they suffered for another four months because of me. I finished pumping gas, got back in my truck and cried for at least another ten minutes.
And then I got angry again. I'm most effective when I'm angry, and I got on my phone and rallied my troops. I'm incredibly blessed to have a wonderful group of supporters whom I'm proud to call my friends and they know that if I'm asking for help, it's because I truly NEED their help. I called my farrier, Koren Knox, and told her what I had behind me in the trailer, she said she'd be waiting at my house when I arrived.
Once home, I backed up to my round pen and made another chute to unload with. Koren brought rope halters with her (because she's a heaven-sent angel that God outfitted with a rasp & nippers before he sent her to Earth), and we snuck halters onto the exhausted babies before they unloaded themselves. There's nothing more depressing than watching four crippled babies stumble out of a trailer and stand huddled in the middle of a round pen too exhausted to be bewildered as to what's happened to them. We photo-documented everything as soon as they were off the trailer:
The bay roan colt, (approximately 2 y/o), who later became known as "Houston", sired by Watch Sonny Shine, out of an unknown mare.
The bay roan filly (approximately 2 y/o), also sired by Watch Sonny Shine. She aborted a 4-5 month old fetus 45 days after arrival, which means she was pregnant when these photos were taken. The fetus was most likely sired by her half brother (above), as the only other stallion was too crippled to mount her. Note the left hind fetlock, she has severe tendon damage from lack of muscle & exercise.
The palomino yearling filly, sired by Doc's Gotta Be Gold, and youngest of the bunch.
This was the only registered one in the group, a FOUR YEAR OLD APHA breeding stock stallion named "Bettin On Boston". He'd been kept in that pen since weaning. Further research showed that Tom purchased the mare with this colt on her side from a breeder promising a "wonderful, forever home" for the pair. The colt, who was later named Oliver, had never seen a farrier in the four years of his life until the day he arrived here. We lost Oliver last week due to the physical damage caused by living in that enclosure, and he has his own story : Oliver's Story
We trimmed what we could of their feet while they were too exhausted to put up much of a fight, and let them rest & eat the rest of the evening.
The next day, they all got baths and the magnitude of how bad they really were set in....
Now I ask you this: What "breeder" raises a foal crop just to lock them up in a cage for their lives? I've never met Tom Timms's wife (if she's even still his wife), but I hold her just as responsible for what happened to these babies as I do him. She walked by that barn every day, just like Tom did. She saw their faces, their living conditions, yet neither one of them made ANY effort to put an end to it. That is something I cannot forgive. Tom called me about a week after I picked these younglings up and left a voicemail telling me he got in some really nice hay and would sell it to me at a great price. Never once asked about the babies. He called every few days after that and left messages saying he didn't understand why I won't call him back, but that he misses me and would like to talk to me again. Again, never asked about the babies.
Now a lot of people asked why I didn't go directly to Animal Control when I finally got possession of the babies. Here's why: back then, I was afraid of things. Afraid of getting sued, afraid of violent retaliation, afraid of the assholes I worked so hard to get horses away from. Since then, I've lost a lot of my reasons for being afraid. I no longer have a facility full of horses to protect, and I drive a different car every year because I get bored and buy something else so good luck trying to find my car in a parking lot to damage, and I'm a damn good shot with a handgun, so if you come after me, make sure you're bulletproof. Also, go ahead and sue me, I dare you. I'm a 24 year old college student who has two boarded horses and $400 in my checking account. I'm uncollectible, asshole. I have nothing left except my big mouth, which is why I'm taking it into my own hands to call out the sorry excuses for human beings who want to do things like this to horses and find a way to justify it in their minds.
I don't know where Tom's ex-wife is, I know they lost the farm in Durand when they divorced, and I know Tom is currently in Metamora training Saddlebreds for the farm owner and peddling horses to whomever he can sucker into paying him for them. I certainly invite anyone to call the phone numbers on their website or the MULTIPLE fliers he hangs up at MSU during horse shows advertising hay for sale or the local Metamora, Oxford & Lake Orion tack shops (cell phone: (989) 721-7105). Maybe pick his brain a little, ask him about the babies he sold in the summer of 2011...see what he has to say. I'd be quite curious if he even remembers them...
I know watching Oliver die last week made me damn sure I'd never forget them...