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From barcodes to beloved: The redemption of Ginger and Sweet Pea


By Susan Kayne

For Capital Region Independent Media

There is an unbreakable bond between Ginger and her filly, Sweet Pea. Contributed photo

In the vast expanse of America’s hinterlands, a harrowing tale unfolds. In a crowded feedlot in Bowie, Texas, they reduce horses to mere statistics, their individual stories fade amidst the overwhelming magnitude of their collective plight.

Among the unwanted in May 2022, two souls hovered close, pleading for a lifeline: Ginger, a young mare with a blend of Arabian and Quarter Horse attributes, and her delicate filly, Sweet Pea. Neither was known by name, but rather by barcodes — cold, indifferent indicators of their impending fate in a slaughter plant in Mexico.

The slaughter pipeline’s bleak nature often conceals individual stories of betrayal, pain and suffering. The statistics are staggering. In 2022, 16,362 American horses shipped across the border to a violent death in Mexico. Livestock trailers like metal prisons on wheels, alien and menacing, replaced the open pastures that once cradled them. Instead of the endless horizon, they now faced a future shrouded in shadows. The sharp symphony of panicked whinnies and discordance of hooves clanging against metal revealed tales of stolen freedom and shattered trust.

For many, it was an abrupt departure from days filled with the familiar embrace of a caretaker’s hand and the gentle lullabies of grazing upon rustling grass. The world they knew — a world of open fields, warm touches and gentle whispers — had been traded for a cacophonous, overcrowded metal cage.

With every jolt of the trailer, every turn and abrupt stop, anxiety rises to a rapid metronome for all — each racing heartbeat a testament to their shared plight. These equines, once symbols of majesty and companionship, have been stripped of their identities. Each horse, once cherished and loved, now lost in a sea of strangers bound for a slaughterhouse.

Ginger was malnourished when she was saved from the slaughter pipeline by Unbridled Thoroughbred Foundation. Contributed photo

As each horse suffers a violent death, their blood is a silent testimony to a society’s forgotten obligations. But every number has a name, a heartbeat, a desire to survive. And it’s up to us to ensure their stories, though silent, are never forgotten.

Ginger and Sweet Pea were among those numbers, their tale emblematic of thousands of equine lives hanging in the balance.

In the tumultuous atmosphere of Bowie’s feedlot, gates banged and swung open to drive equines onto a trailer for their very last ride. Inside, the shriek of mares and foals, and lifelong friends torn apart echoed as sacred bonds were mercilessly severed.

Destiny redirected Ginger and Sweet Pea to a neighboring enclosure, a temporary holding hub for collection. Here, amidst ambiguity, they met Heather and Heaven, a senior mare and a young filly, two more beneficiaries of Unbridled’s compassion. While unfamiliarity loomed, a collective solace united them. Ginger and Sweet Pea could quietly breathe.

Ginger’s will to protect Sweet Pea amidst their horrifying circumstances was palpable. Despite her own diminishing health, she shielded her filly from the surrounding chaos, even at the expense of her sustenance. Sweet Pea, in her innocence, clung to her mother, their bond serving as a beacon of hope in an otherwise hopeless situation.

Sweet Pea’s bones are visible through her coat due to being underweight when she was rescued. Contributed photo

Extracted from the teeming masses, they loaded onto a thickly bed trailer with nourishing hay and fresh water to begin a 1,400-mile journey to Unbridled. For many, this might seem a mere transfer from one place to another. But for Ginger and Sweet Pea, it symbolized a pivot from despair to a future filled with potential.

The transformation post-rescue was remarkable. The skeletal forms that arrived at Unbridled were skillfully and slowly nursed back to health by devoted volunteers. Ginger’s once-empty gaze now gleamed with gratitude, and Sweet Pea’s playful antics in the Sanctuary’s fields stood in stark contrast to her earlier vulnerability. Their recovery wasn’t just physical. Emotionally, they began to trust again, forging bonds with both their human caregivers and fellow rescued equines.

Yet, it’s essential to recognize that Ginger and Sweet Pea’s story, though triumphant, represents only a fraction of the broader issue. Thousands of horses continue to face the grim reality of the slaughter pipeline. These equines, irrespective of breed or background, are relegated to a life devoid of compassion or understanding.

Ginger with her filly, Sweet Pea. Contributed photo

A Letter from Ginger:

To all who lend an ear and heart,

Just over a year ago, I stood on the precipice of oblivion. Starvation gnawed at my very being, while my precious Sweet Pea’s pleas for nourishment went unanswered. Our environment was unforgiving. Without nourishment I could not produce milk. Sweet Pea’s survival is a miracle.

Our transition from that bleak pen in Texas to the embrace of Unbridled is a testament to the transformative power of compassion. Today, Sweet Pea and I bask in the warmth of our newfound haven. Each sunrise paints a day filled with hope and promise, a far cry from our past shadows.

For this life, for Sweet Pea’s joyful frolics, and for the peace we’ve found, our gratitude knows no bounds. Unbridled not only saved us but has also allowed us to thrive, to become symbols of resilience and redemption.

While I am eternally grateful for our second chance, my heart aches for countless others still ensnared in that cruel pipeline. It’s a plea, from one grateful equine soul, for humanity to recognize our worth, our emotions, and our innate desire for love and care. By taking responsible action and advocating for a world where equines are treasured, you can ensure no horse suffers as we did.

In heartfelt gratitude, Ginger

Far from the slaughter pipeline, Ginger and Sweet Pea now enjoy safety and security at Unbridled. Contributed photo

Ginger and Sweet Pea’s story is a call to arms, urging us to recalibrate our moral compass and champion equine rights. It’s not just about saving horses from slaughter but about recognizing and valuing the intricate tapestry of emotions, memories and experiences that define each equine life. Will we heed the call?

Susan Kayne is the founder of the horse rescue organization Unbridled Thoroughbred Foundation, on the border of Albany County and Greenville.

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