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Horses of Unbridled: Miss Kitty’s journey home


By Susan Kayne

For Capital Region Independent Media

Miss Kitty loves to graze. Contributed photo

Dear Reader,

The story of Karen Sue’s Kitten is one of stark contrasts – of immense promise and profound despair, of abandonment and salvation.

Born on March 11, 2007, this exquisite filly descended from an esteemed lineage. Her sire, the legendary Kitten’s Joy, carved a name for himself in the Thoroughbred racing world, renowned for his speed, agility and spirit.

Kitten’s First, the dam of Kitten’s Joy, was campaigned by the late Sarah Ramsey when she and her husband Ken Ramsey raced horses separately. The mare’s name derived from Ken’s nickname for Sarah: Kitten. Ken and Sarah Ramsey bred Kitten’s Joy, her son by El Prado, born in 2001. Through this son, “Kitten” became less of a nickname and more of a dynasty.

In 2004, Kitten’s Joy was named the American Champion Turf Horse. Upon retiring to stud, he became one of the most influential American turf sires in North America and achieved great success with his runners in Europe. Karen Sue’s Kitten was born to Kitten’s Joy’s very first crop.

Under the watchful eyes of handlers who saw her not as a sentient being but as a potential champion, she was primed for greatness. Her early days were filled with the promise of glory and the burden of profit-driven human expectations.

The world of racing is unforgiving. Despite her best efforts, the repeated pounding of racing and training caught up with Karen Sue’s Kitten. Retired from the racetrack, she was bred once, producing a beautiful colt in 2018 named Hooper’s Joy, whose whereabouts are now unknown. After nursing him, uncertainty plagued Karen Sue’s Kitten. Her journey from the racetrack to motherhood, to a riding and barrel racing competitor, to the harrowing reality of the slaughter-bound stockyards of Stroud, Oklahoma, starkly illustrates the disposability of these majestic creatures in an industry that values profit over compassion.

Kitty is beautiful inside and out. Contributed photo

Now, I turn this narrative over to Karen Sue’s Kitten, or as she is now lovingly called, Miss Kitty, to share her journey in her own voice…

Hello… My name is Miss Kitty, and my tale begins with the memory of my mother’s muzzle as she nuzzled me to my feet, her gentle nickering encouraging me to take my first wobbly steps. The sweet scent of hay and the warmth of straw enveloped us in our stall. But even then, I sensed the watchful eyes of the humans, and I heard their whispers of “champion” and “winner” as they gazed at me and mom.

As I grew, the gentle touches of my mother were replaced by the firm hands of trainers. The soft earth of the pasture gave way to the unyielding surface of the track. My days became a whirlwind of sensations: the bite of the bit in my mouth, the pressure of the saddle on my back, the sting of the crop against my flanks. The rhythmic pounding of hooves became my lullaby, the roar of the crowd my alarm.

I ran with all my heart, my nostrils flaring, drinking in the wind. Shouts from the rail rang in my ears. Each race was a blur of color and sound, my muscles burning, my breath coming in great gasps. I didn’t understand the stakes, but every fiber of my being was on alert.

Then came the day when the occasional pain in my body and legs did not leave, and suddenly the world tilted. The familiar hands that once praised my gallops now prodded at me with impatience. I was relieved when I was led away from the racetrack. But then, another nightmare began. I missed the tender days beside my mother.

And then, it was my turn. I became a mother. As I gazed upon my foal, his coat still damp from birth, his legs trembling as he struggled to stand, I felt a fierce love unlike anything I’d known before. He was perfect—a miniature mirror of myself, with the same curious eyes and velvet muzzle. I promised I would protect him forever, whispering soft nickerings of comfort as he nursed.

Kitty arrived with dual-hoof abscesses in her hind foot that required a special shoe and protective bandage. Contributed photo

But even as I reveled in the warmth of his small body pressed against mine, a cold dread crept into my heart. I remembered how I was torn away from my own mother, her desperate whinnies fading as I was led away. What could I do? I had no say in his fate, nor mine. The humans who controlled our lives would decide, and I could only hope that someday, somehow, he would find kindness and love.

The memory of my foal colt never left me as I was given away, landing for what would be the first time in the stockyards at Stroud; a nightmare of strange smells and sounds. The comforting scents of oats and leather were replaced by the acrid stench of fear and despair. The gentle whinnies of my stablemates gave way to the desperate neighs of the forgotten. I stood trembling, my ears flicking back and forth, trying to make sense of this new, terrifying world.

Only narrowly escaping slaughter, I was rescued and promised a forever home. A sweet young girl showered me with attention, but soon she asked me to race around barrels at breakneck speed. Those tight turns made every bone in my body ache, especially my stifles. I couldn’t understand why she was slapping me, whipping me, spurring me, yanking the bit in my mouth. The pain was as bewildering as the racetrack’s whip had been.

When I could no longer perform, I was tossed aside again, falling out of favor and sent back to the chaos and fear of the Stroud stockyards. This cycle of hope and despair cut deeper than any physical wound.

It was in my darkest hour that the angels of Unbridled appeared. Their touch was different—not demanding but comforting. Their voices spoke of safety and love, concepts as foreign to me as the harsh reality of the stockyards had once been. As they led me to my new home, I dared to hope again.

Now, in the quiet of quarantine, I’m learning a new language. The language of kindness, of patience, of love without condition. The hands that touch me now are gentle, seeking only to comfort, not to control. The voices around me are soft, their words of praise given freely, not contingent on my performance.

With each passing day, the painful memories of betrayal and loss fade like mist in the morning sun. My dreams are no longer haunted by the metallic clang of starting gates or the frenzied shouts of the crowd. Instead, they’re filled with the rustling of grass beneath my hooves, the warm sun on my back, and the companionable nickers of my newfound friends.

Kitty with a visitor named Karen. Contributed photo

As I stand at the threshold of this new life, my heart is at peace. The world I knew of constant change and demands seems like a distant storm, while this new existence feels like coming home. To those who read my story, know that your kindness ripples through our world like a gentle breeze, bringing hope where there was only despair, and love where there was only brokenness.  

Smoozzles, Kitty

Miss Kitty’s journey from the glittering expectations of the racetrack to the harrowing threat of slaughter and ultimately to the safety and love of Unbridled Sanctuary is a poignant reminder of the sentient lives at stake in the Sport of Kings. 

Miss Kitty’s story is not just a tale of rescue, it’s a mirror held up to our own humanity. It asks us to look beyond the fleeting thrill of sport and the allure of profit, and instead imagine ourselves in her horseshoes – feeling the fear, the pain, the confusion, and ultimately the relief of true kindness.

Kitty is healing with abundant love and care at Unbridled. Contributed photo

Her journey compels us to acknowledge that in each gallop, each whip, each moment of neglect, we’re not just using a resource, but shaping the one precious life of a sentient being who feels as deeply as we do. In Miss Kitty’s eyes, we see a reflection of our own vulnerability and our shared capacity for suffering and joy.

Susan Kayne is the founder and president of Unbridled Sanctuary, an equine rescue on the border of Albany County and Greenville.

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