Sunday, July 28, 2013

Luigi's Honour - Part 2

Three weeks ago, I was bitter, angry and full of resentment towards most of the human race.  See, I don’t usually get to deal with the GOOD people.  I get the "pleasure" of dealing with the people who ruin and throw away what often end up being perfectly good horses, after they’ve healed up (physically and emotionally), and then I have to go and clean up their mess and try and right their wrongs.  The horses are always the victims.  It’s not fair, and consequently, I’m sure anyone can understand why I have very little faith in the human race as a whole.

Three weeks ago, a horse named Luigi’s Honour unexpectedly walked back into my life and while our time together has been short, his presence has taught me that maybe I’ve been wrong.  Maybe these horrible, hurtful people that I’ve dealt with are the exception, not the rule. 

When I first published the blog about Luigi (click here), I didn’t have much faith that the horse world would respond the way that they have.  I try and avoid asking for help when it comes to personal rescue missions I undertake, I’m a little proud, a lot stubborn, and I don’t like admitting that I can’t do something on my own, but his story needed to be told.  When I published that blog, I had no idea of the magnitude of support I’d receive, and for that, I am humbled and amazed at the generosity of virtual strangers.  Together, they raised $1020 towards the Luigi effort, a little over $900 remained after GoFundMe and WePay’s fees (mandatory for all fundraising through their website).

Through Lisa at Day Dreams Farm Rescue, I was put in touch with a wonderful woman by the name of Gail Hirt at Beyond The Roses Rescue & Retirement.  She specializes in the rescue and rehabilitation of Thorougbred ex-racehorses, and although she was currently at maximum capacity, she got right to work networking and trying to find a solution for Luigi’s situation.  Yes, he had an offer of a home back at his owner’s place down in Pennsylvania, but shortly into Gail’s work, she connected with LongRun Thoroughbred Retirement Society in Ontario, Canada.   Now, as a frequent rescuer of in-danger horses and ponies, I’m of the belief that if one horse can raise awareness of the all-to-often plight of the ex-racehorse and serve a greater purpose in life other than pasture-puff, then they should be allowed that opportunity.  Do I have any doubts that Luigi would enjoy the pasture-puff life?  No, not really.  But he’s only seven years old, and for him to live out the next twenty-something years in a pasture would be a waste of the attention and publicity he’s gotten through this endeavor.  People need to know how easily a great horse like Luigi can end up in a bad situation.  Not every “good home” is the real deal.  Luigi’s trainer agreed with me on this, and said that as long as I can guarantee Luigi’s safety and happiness, he and the owners fully support the decision to find him an ambassador career. 

Anyway, LongRun’s criteria for accepting a horse into their program included the stipulations that the horse have been Ontario-bred, and have come directly from the racetrack.  Luigi fit that criteria, and after I filmed an evaluation video for the staff at LongRun to see him, his wonderful personality, and his awful fetlocks, he was accepted into the program and I made the arrangements to export him to his new Canadian home.  Fortunately, I have an absolutely wonderful veterinarian who did the health papers and Coggins at cost for me, and I had extra vaccines and dewormer at home to bring Luigi up-to-date in time for travel.  Saving money without compromising quality of care is always a good thing.  I found out several days before our trip that Luigi's original owner has made a very handsome donation to LongRun towards the cost of Luigi's retirement.  The wonderful folks at LongRun commented on Part 1: 

"Thanks to the hard work of Gail at Beyond the Roses Equine Rescue, and Jackie who bailed this deserving guy out of a truly bad situation, we are proud to announce that Luigi will be coming home to Toronto, where his accomplished career started.

We welcome all of you to continue to follow Luigi's story as he joins us at one of our amazing foster homes via our website, facebook - or twitter @LongRunTB.

We hope everyone is as excited as we are to welcome him home - one of his first owners is also going to be assisting us in his retirement and is happy to know that so many people cared enough about his horse to ensure he had a safe ending.

Thank you to everyone who got involved and chipped in to ensure this boy got the dignified retirement he deserves.

-The LongRun Team"

As I write this, I’m somewhere in Canada in the passenger seat of my truck (it's my brother's turn to drive).  I’d love to tell you where we are, but all I know is that I’m surrounded by farmland as far as I can see and the GPS says we’re 148 miles from home.  We’ve been on the road since early this morning, and quite frankly, I’m bored to death.  I tucked Luigi safely in a deep, plush stall in his new home with LongRun several hours ago (he immediately grabbed a mouthful of hay, drank half a bucket of water, then dropped and rolled with the most satisfied grunt and groan I’ve ever heard from a horse).  He’s happy there, and every other horse on the property was in great condition and equally as content.  I wish I could say I was sad to leave him, but I’m really not.  Instead, I have this peaceful sense of contentment and satisfaction that another horse survived and will go on to be happy for the rest of his life.  Maybe that’s closure for me?  I don’t really know, but it’s a good feeling, and I sincerely hope everyone that has contributed to saving Luigi’s life feels the same thing.  Here are a handful of photos from our journey...

Loading up to head "home" one last time...

It almost seems like he knows what's waiting for him.

Getting to look around at the first of many fuel stops...
(Don't worry, we were parked here, I don't travel with trailer windows down)

Finally off the trailer and heading to his new home.

Almost there...

SUCH a comfy stall!  He immediately approved the culinary selection.

My final words to him were "Alright.  Be good, okay big guy?"  
"Yeah, yeah, whatever lady.  Just give me the damn cookie."

I can’t help but feel like a savvy shopper though, this trip (as long as it is), was still shorter than taking him to the other farm by about fifty miles.  Plus I don’t have to drive through Ohio (where I’m pretty sure I’m still wanted for a few unpaid speeding tickets I got back in high school).  We did this trip with my new-to-me GMC pickup I bought a few weeks ago.  It’s 12 years old, with 208k miles and change, and gets a whopping 8.5mpg with the trailer behind it.  The gas gauge isn’t exactly functional, so I was a little apprehensive about this trip, but buying gas by the litre thing isn’t nearly as annoying when your receipt says you got 59.26 litres for $77.99.  Pretend that 59.26 is gallons, and it doesn’t hurt as bad.  At least, not for the first three fill-ups.  By the fourth, it’s lost some of its humor.  Also, I’ve realized that the exchange rate here does not work in my favor, restrooms are called washrooms (and you’ll get a strange look if you call them something else), and 100 kilometers per hour isn’t nearly as fast as it sounds.   Also, they don’t have guns here, and as a CPL-holder, that makes me slightly sad for them.  I’m tired, and I want to go home.  And shoot a gun…preferably at a 100 kph speed limit sign.  

As a final note, I want to thank everyone one more time for making this possibility a reality for this horse.  Without everyone that stepped up and helped, whether it was hauling at the last minute, providing stabling for him while his fate was in the works, veterinary care, networking and sharing his story, or making financial contributions towards this effort, it couldn't have happened without all of you.  Please know as you finish this blog: You ALL saved Luigi's life.  It wasn't just one or two people, it was a whole network of people that I can't even begin to list individually here.  Clearly, there ARE good horse-people out there, and thank you all for proving that to me.  

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Luigi's Honour

I've kept my mouth shut for months now, and I've finally been pushed to my breaking point.  In the last twenty-four hours, every ounce of anger and hatred I've suppressed against Locust Breeze Farm in White Lake for the past six months has been stirred up and has finally boiled over.  What I thought I could walk away from and ignore, I can't.  I saved a horse that was literally hours from shipping to the kill pen today, and it was solely because of the woman that owns and operates Locust Breeze Farm.  And so as I write this, please keep in mind, this one's for the big bay Thoroughbred named Luigi.

Last November, I moved my beloved Tyler to Locust Breeze mainly to have him closer to my house, but also because we were somewhat "asked" to leave the Goodrich farm where Cleveland still lives.  Why, you ask?  Because my dear, sweet hellion of a four year old took to climbing through the fencing, and not-so-politely knocking on the farm owner's back door at 4:30am looking for breakfast.  Needless to say, it scared the hell out of the farm owner to have something banging on her door at that hour, so I did what a responsible owner would do and moved him right away.  We went to Locust Breeze.  

Things were alright in the beginning.  Stalls were bedded, horses were fed, Tyler's SmartPaks were being given on schedule, there was always good-quality hay stacked up and available.  I was content.  I don't particularly think I'm difficult to please as a horse owner, but I do have certain expectations and require those to be met without compromise.  My horse needs to be fed what I ask for, in the amount that I specify.  I've had this horse since he was orphaned at a day old, I know him, and I know what it takes to keep him in good physical condition.  "Sure, sure, no problem!" said the woman that owned the facility.  

In early January, four off-the-track Thoroughbreds showed up from out of state.  They had been shipped up from the Pennsylvania/Ohio area and given to the barn owner by a very reputable race trainer under the pretense that they would have good forever homes and be used in her developing therapy/riding lesson program.  (I know what you're thinking: OTTB's as therapy horses?  Seriously?  But it was not my program, and therefore not my problem).  One of these horses was named Luigi's Honour.  

Luigi wasn't particularly tall, maybe 15.3, with a front right sock, a left hind sock, and a very crooked star between two very quiet eyes.  I'm not a Thoroughbred-fan as a general rule (most of you already know I will do my best to avoid dealing with one), but I appreciated him for his puppy-dog-quiet disposition and good manners, even at six years old and fresh off the track.  When he went through temperament testing, he was nothing but a rockstar.  Luigi was, however, profoundly sore and needed time to heal.  He sported a baseball-sized lump on his front right fetlock, and was obviously in pain.  Instead of receiving proper vet treatment and REAL rehabilitation care, he was essentially pushed to the back burner at the barn and spent his days in the pasture, and stalled at night.  I never saw him receive so much as a gram of Bute from the time he showed up to the time I left.

Luigi's Honour upon arrival at Locust Breeze (Jan. 2013)

Luigi has a heart of gold and the patience of a saint (Jan. 2013)

Tarps are CLEARLY not scary! (Jan. 2013)

Three months had passed from the date of our arrival at Locust Breeze, when I noticed Tyler had begun dramatically dropping weight.  I asked that his intake of Safechoice be increased from four to six pounds per feeding (AM & PM), I even began paying an extra $25/month for the extra grain.  I started soaking hay cubes and bringing them out daily to add to his meals and changed his SmartPaks to include a weight builder.  Tyler kept dropping weight.  One night, I stuck around at feeding time to see what exactly my horse was eating (grain and supplements were always kept locked in a cabinet away from the boarders).  What she dumped into Tyler's feeder was NOT Safechoice, but some grey pelleted feed, and certainly not the six pounds I was paying for.  I got angry, very angry, but I kept my mouth shut and quietly spoke to several other boarders who also noticed decreased in their horses' weights.

Right around that time, Tyler had been growing very violent.  On any given day, he was biting, striking out, screaming bloody murder and attempting to mount anything that stood still long enough to allow it.  This was NOT my horse.  Fearing that my little problem-child was potentially a "Three-Nut-Wonder" (I was there when he was gelded, we took two out and all of their accessories came with them), I had a testosterone assay done by my vet.  I had to pull blood for it myself, as my vet was only one of a large group of equine vets that refused to come to Locust Breeze because of the erratic, psychotic outbursts and episodes of screaming, hollering, and randomly evicting boarders and verbally assaulting veterinarians that the barn owner was quickly becoming famous for.  I got to witness several of these tantrums, and it deeply disturbed me that this woman was supposed to be caring for my horse.  When the testosterone assay came back at five times the normal count for a stallion during breeding season, I knew something was drastically wrong and that I needed to act fast before my horse hurt himself or someone else.  

Under the pretense of "Tyler is going for exploratory surgery" since I knew I would be unable to keep my cool if this psycho confronted us for leaving, Pat and I packed up my tack, loaded Tyler (who, for the first time in his life, leaped onto my trailer before I could get the door completely open and stood like a veteran show horse) and headed over an hour north to a well-known trainer whom I've known and trusted for more than ten years.  If anyone could fix Tyler, she could.  I didn't believe that my sweetheart of a horse, who has never shown any stud-like behavior in his four years on this earth, could all of a sudden turn into a hormonal, raging asshole and it DID NOT have something to do with this woman.  When we left, she actually had the audacity to stand in front of Tyler's stall with tears in her eyes and say "I just really hope he's going to be okay" before wiping her eyes and going in the house.  I lost half a month's worth of board, plus the additional money I was paying for that "extra grain".  When I left, I never spoke to her again.  We unloaded at the new barn and upon opening my SmartPak drawer, I realized it was completely full.  Tyler was supposed to run out that week.  It had obviously been a very long time since my horse had gotten his supplements.  Ironically enough, after leaving Locust Breeze, Tyler has never had another "asshole attack" since.  He quickly put back on the 150+ pounds that he lost at Locust Breeze (a lot when you're only 14.1), and has been nothing but a gentleman ever since.  Several weeks after I left Locust Breeze, I was informed by several different people that the barn owner was regularly buying cattle and "all stock" pelleted feed at the feed store in large quantities and feeding it to the horses because it is incredibly cheap.  It is also loaded full of hormones to encourage massive amounts of growth in livestock meant for meat production, hence the astronomical spike in Tyler's testosterone levels.  I also learned from their respective owners that two other geldings underwent extreme behavioral changes for the worse as well during that same time frame.

Two weeks after we bailed out of the Locust Breeze hellhole, nine more horses and their owners abruptly left without warning in the course of one day.  Several of the horses, owned by one boarder, were in such poor condition that as far as I know, Locust Breeze is still under investigation by Animal Control for what she did to them while in her care.  On that day, not a single flake of hay had been found in that barn for more than twenty-four hours prior.  That same day, during one of her infamous tantrums, the barn owner evicted two more horses and their owners by throwing their tack into the driveway and tying their horses to the fence at the road.  In total, she lost eleven boarded horses that day.  Good business practices, eh?

Once everyone I knew had abandoned the sinking ship that was Locust Breeze, those four OTTBs were virtually lost.  I had occasionally wondered if they were still alive, what had happened to them, and if they were starving to death like the other walking skeletons that were still in her field.  I can't save them all though, so I did my best to push it to the back of my mind.  Until I got the phone call one day from one of the former boarders who knew the horses and personally knew the trainer that gave them to the owner of Locust Breeze:

"You're never going to believe this.  Remember Luigi?"
"That bitch sent him back to the track."
"Wait, nooo....Luigi the horse with the blown out ankle?"
"Oh my God.  He's going to die there."

See, the woman that owns Locust Breeze made a very fatal error when it came to these four Thoroughbreds.  The trainer that gave them to her is one of the few responsible race trainers in this world that actually cares where his horses end up.  When he found out about the mass exodus from Locust Breeze, he looked up the four names of the horses he had sent there, and realized that the most crippled, debilitated, certainly-not-fit-to-be-anywhere-NEAR-a-racetrack horse was, in fact, racing in Mt. Pleasant under a "trainer" who lived not five miles from Locust Breeze.  Luigi had 37 starts prior to coming to Michigan, winning a boatload of money, but time had taken it's toll and the trainer knew Luigi deserved a good retirement home.  Instead of shipping his horse off to who-knows-where, he tried to do right by Luigi and find him a forever home in what he thought was a reputable, responsible barn.  Now his beloved horse was back on the track racing against time to see if he'd come out of each start on the track alive.  The trainer confronted her repeatedly, this was NOT their agreement, and he wanted Luigi back.  Luigi's owners refused to let their horse die like that.  I don't know how she responded, as I wasn't witness to the conversations, but I have a pretty good idea.  The biggest kicker to the entire thing is that Locust Breeze's owner KNEW Luigi wasn't fit to be racing, she says so right in the ad for him on her farm Facebook page!

Fast forward a month.

Two days ago, Luigi was dumped off by the woman's race "trainer" at a nearby sale barn where my roommate works.  She came home from work and as I was working away at my computer selling off some extra tack, she said "Dude, I had to ride a Thoroughbred today with the BIGGEST ankles I've ever seen".

I stopped typing.  I knew a Thoroughbred with at least ONE big ankle. 

"Off the track?"
"Yeah.  He's SO lame though."
"I think I know that horse."
"I have to see him."

An hour later, she and I were at the sale barn, and pulled the bay horse out of the stall.  A quick look at the markings compared to an old picture from last winter confirmed my fear.  It was Luigi's Honour.

Luigi at the sale barn. (July 2013)

Looking at the horse standing in front of me, I was amazed that he was standing at all.  BOTH front fetlocks were swollen to the point that it looked like baseballs had been strapped to them, his front legs were dotted from the knees down with white scars, and he had old poultice residue on his legs and race plates still on his feet.  He was still the same, sweet, puppy-dog Luigi I remembered though, despite how clearly broken he was, and as we took the identifying pictures we needed, he cuddled with his head at my chest and stood quietly as I scratched his forehead.  I don't know exactly what this horse had been through in the last few months, but it obviously wasn't good. 

Right front fetlock (July 2013)

Other angle of right front fetlock (July 2013)

Unfixable "dumped" horses at a sale barn like this generally go to one place, the killer's trailer, and they generally do it within 24 hours.  Remember, Luigi was VERY lame.  Hate it all you want, but that's the way things operate.  There's no recycle bin for all of the broken horses that humans create, even if we humans are the ones that broke them to begin with.  Generally, they simply get thrown away.  Unfortunately, in Michigan, broken racehorses are a dime a dozen, and every horse is worth something to the meat man.  I didn't know what it was going to take, or if it was even financially feasible for me to try and save Luigi, but I had to try.  It's not like I have some emotional attachment to this horse, but I knew he had been wronged by the people he trusted to care for him, and that somewhere, there was a man looking for him to try and keep him safe.  Knowing that, I had little choice but to at least try to help.  I spent the next several hours on the phone with several people, including Luigi's original trainer, letting him know that we found his horse, he wasn't safe, by any means, but that I would try to help.  

After doing some more homework on Luigi's race history last night, I realized that Luigi had raced as recently as last Saturday, as in five days ago, on those same god-awful legs. 

Here's his complete race record:
Yes, this horse won more than $188K dollars in just six short years, was supposed to have a forever home as a therapy horse, and STILL ended up virtually staring death in the face.

He failed miserably in his last race, similar to the other two races he had run for the owner of Locust Breeze and her "trainer", and the best I can figure is that he was loaded up shortly thereafter and dumped off at the sale barn.  Talk about getting rid of your problems.  Screw the horse, get him off the feed bill!  Dump him wherever you can and cut your losses, I guess!  

I ended up having to scrape together $200 from my used-tack internet sales to buy Luigi from that sale barn, a sale that simply could not have been orchestrated without the help of my roommate and two of my very good friends who literally dropped what they were doing and offered their hauling services and rig to get him out of there just a few hours before he was scheduled to be picked up by the local kill buyer.  His original owners and trainer have a pasture open for him in Pennsylvania to retire in peace, and desperately want him back, but finances are making this difficult.  My feeling is that these people did right as best as they could by Luigi, but a lying barn owner at Locust Breeze betrayed both them and the horse.  If there's a way that I can help raise the money to get him home to them, I'll do the driving myself.  He is currently safe at a boarding barn owned by a wonderful couple who, upon hearing his dire situation, immediately opened up a small rehabilitation paddock and stall for him to rest in (and are charging me a VERY reduced board rate) until we can raise the funds to get him back home to Pennsylvania to retire in the life he deserved all along.

Safe and sound until he can get home to Pennsylvania (July 2013)

For everyone involved who immediately put their own lives and plans on hold in the last 24 hours to help me save the life of just one crippled ex-racehorse, Lindsey, Andrea, Emily, Nathanael, Christina, I cannot even begin to thank you guys enough.  For those of you who want to help contribute to getting Luigi home to his family in Pennsylvania, please use the link below to make a donation.

Donate To Send Luigi Home:

It's quick, easy, secure, and literally every dollar puts us a little closer to sending Luigi to the retirement that he deserves.  I'm not putting any real cap on the donation request, but the program requires me to come up with a number, so I'm going to say $1500.  We're taking only what we need for fuel and food for the trip (fortunately it's close enough that we won't need a hotel), and anything above and beyond that will be split 50/50 between Day Dreams Farm Equine Rescue & Rehabilitation ( and Beyond The Roses Equine Rescue & Retirement ( another 501(c)3 that specializes in Thoroughbred ex-racehorses.  I feel very passionately that even though I can't afford to save more than one of the millions of "Luigis" at a time (either Thoroughbred or Standardbred) that fall through the cracks and end up staring death in the face, I can do my best to support those organizations that have similar goals.  

Oh, and by the way, I guess I really don't hate Thoroughbreds as much as I thought...that's a good thing, right?

One Final Note:  To the best of my knowledge, Locust Breeze is under the same owners and management as it was when myself and the others were there.  Should anyone ever consider boarding there, I invite questions and can give a long list of angry former boarders whose horses were also harmed during their time there.  Shortly after moving Tyler to the new trainer's facility, he was diagnosed with EPM and has been responding well to treatment.  I fully and completely hold Locust Breeze and the psychotic woman that owns it responsible for what has happened to him.  Karma is a bitch.