By Susan Kayne
For Capital Region Independent Media
Bride is a beautiful rescued Thoroughbred mare living in Sanctuary at Unbridled. February 8th was her birthday. This year she is celebrating a milestone – a quarter-century.
Her health is vibrant, and she is so welcoming that you would never know the severe hardship she had suffered.
Bride is trusting. She enjoys communion over carrots and appreciates thorough grooming. She will lean into you to ask for scratches in those hard reach spots. A well-placed curry comb under her belly, on her back, or atop her tail elicits wiggling lips of gratitude.
Her stall is her nest. Her daily ritual is to paw her bedding into a ball in the middle, and knees first nestle into the thick pile straw. Bride is the embodiment of a horse who feels safe. Both day and night she will lay flat out on her side and dream in full REM-sleep.
Bride’s journey to Unbridled began on Facebook. The post that read, “two mares, in their 20’s, in Pen for three weeks, shipping in morning.” In other words, without an immediate lifeline, she and her friend would be separated and violently killed in a slaughter plant.
At the time of the post, Bride had no name. Her photo with the post showed a defeated soul with a large green X spray painted across her haunches. The stress of fighting for survival in the Kill Pen had left Bride with a vacant stare. Without a say in her fate, she had surrendered to circumstance.
A kill pen is industry jargon for a holding hub for horses cleared by the USDA for shipment to slaughter in Canada or Mexico. In a kill pen, nerves are raw. Hundreds of horses who once knew comfort and love, sense the danger at hand. When bonded partners are torn apart, their frantic roars and desperate screams heighten fright and panic.
When over 1,000 Facebook shares failed to secure a home for Bride and her friend, another organization set out to have the mares euthanized. Their rationale: “It would end their misery sooner.” One way or the other, without an intervention their lives would end unnoticed in the kill pen of Rotz Livestock in Shippensburg, Pennsylvania.
It was a miracle that Bride and her friend were still alive, and together. For some reason, when shipments loaded, they had been bypassed. For the three weeks that they lived in the kill pen, hundreds of other horses had come and gone.
At nightfall on Feb. 29, 2020, Unbridled stepped in and took command of the future for Bride and her loyal friend named Lovey. In the kill pen, Lovey protected Bride when she had no strength to defend herself.
Bride and Lovey arrived emaciated and exhausted. The length of their friendship is unknown, but their bond is deep, and they are inseparable.
The cumulative burden of so much unkindness had taken its toll on Bride. Her tendons in all four legs were painful and thickened from overuse. Scars encircled her fetlocks and hooves, and a patchwork of white hairs dotted her withers (the highest point between the shoulder blades), mapping the site of sores likely caused by the collar of an ill-fitting harness.
The symmetrical pattern of balding on the top and sides of Bride’s tail are consistent with the long-term effect of a crupper. A crupper is a stiff leather strap that is looped under and around the base of a horse’s tail and affixed to a harness or saddle. Its loop leverages the tail as an anchor point to prevent a harness or saddle from slipping. Its discomfort can be terribly annoying to the horse. The pattern of blemishes on Bride are characteristic of a harnessed and heavily used road horse in service to the Amish.
For the first few months at Unbridled, Bride could barely lift her hooves to walk. Lovey
shadowed her every step and stood guard over her when she lay down. In REM-sleep,
Bride’s hind legs scrambled and scurried to the beat of memories. Over the past few years, Bride has regained her strength and at last sleeps in peace.
At the end of February, Bride and Lovey will celebrate three years at Unbridled. With daily care and an abundance of love, they are now fully recovered from the physical neglect they suffered. The trauma of their emotional wounds is far deeper and unseen but for the occasional animated conversations we observe in the paddock.
At Unbridled, Bride and Lovey are beloved by visitors and volunteers. Their true worth shines bright as companions, study buddies, and patient listeners in Unbridled’s community literacy program, Read To The Rescues.
Susan Kayne operates the horse rescue organization Unbridled Thoroughbred Foundation, on the border of Albany County and Greenville.