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Horses of Unbridled: The unbreakable spirit of Zelda: A chronicle of compassion and resilience 


By Susan Kayne

For Capital Region Independent Media

Zelda in her stable classroom with local students. Contributed photo

As the world paused and collectively held its breath during the tumultuous throes of the COVID-19 pandemic, amidst the chaos and uncertainty there emerged a tale of resilience, compassion and hope. This is the story of Zoom Zoom Zelda, a horse whose journey mirrors the twists and turns of life itself. 

It was in 2004 that Zoom Zoom Zelda took center stage for the first time. In the bustle of the Fasig-Tipton NY-Bred Yearling Auction in Saratoga Springs, her spirited presence and striking beauty caught the attention of many. Consigned by McMahon Thoroughbreds and proudly presented by her breeder, Rainbow Stable, Zelda sold for $27,000. Six months later, as a two-year-old, she fetched a high bid of $49,000 at an auction in Florida. 

As the granddaughter of the esteemed Exceller, a champion and a millionaire, Zelda’s bloodline speaks of greatness. In the heart of Zelda’s lineage also flows the legacy of the revered racehorse John Henry. A champion whose earnings once held a global record, John Henry’s story resonates in Zelda’s veins, reminding us of the unyielding spirit of equine athletes who etch their stories into the annals of history. 

Amidst the grandeur of her lineage and the high hopes she carried, Zelda’s path took a turn that reflected a different narrative. As she galloped onto the racetrack, the echoes of her illustrious pedigree seemed to fade into the distance. Despite the promise that lingered in her workouts, her race days painted a different story, a tale of disappointments across nine starts at Finger Lakes and Aqueduct.

Zelda with Unbridled’s education director, Michelene Wilson. Contributed photo

The winner’s circle remained elusive, with her finishes never surpassing third place. Often, the dust of the track would settle ahead, leaving Zelda with the dirt of the pack in her face. Racing, it appeared, was not her calling. The transition from the racetrack to her subsequent journey remains shrouded in mystery. 

When Unbridled discovered Zelda, she stood emaciated and lame, having been off the track for many years and now at the age of 17, confined to a slaughter-bound feedlot in the Carolinas.

Paperwork revealed that a few weeks prior to landing on the feedlot, Zelda was discarded through a backwoods auction in Kentucky. With sore feet that caused her to shuffle like a Tennessee walker, she was sold as one. Her tattoo, a testament to her Thoroughbred heritage, seemed to fade amidst the confusion. Lost within the maze of the horse-trading world, she entered the harrowing slaughter pipeline. 

In a heartwarming turn of events, the loving community that stands behind Unbridled rallied with unwavering support, ensuring that Zelda’s life would take a different path. Together, they gathered the funds necessary to rescue her from the brink, offering her a new chance at a life filled with safety and protection. 

Amid this collective embrace of compassion stood Zelda’s original breeder, Richard Zwirn, a testament to the friendship they once shared and a reminder that the bond between humans and horses can transcend financial gain. 

As Zelda found solace and healing within the nurturing embrace of Unbridled, the world around her grappled with unprecedented challenges brought forth by the global pandemic. 

Zelda with one of her young fans. Contributed photo

During a time when classrooms transformed into virtual landscapes and children navigated disruptions to their routines, Zelda emerged as an unexpected yet steadfast source of comfort and resilience. With remarkable adaptability, she stepped into a vital role, bridging the gap between children’s struggles and their need for emotional connection. 

Through virtual platforms, Zelda became a virtual companion, entering classrooms alongside Unbridled’s dedicated education director, Michelene Wilson. With each appearance, she offered not just her equine presence but a compassionate ear, a reassuring presence, and a symbol of unwavering support. In a world gripped by fear and isolation, Zelda’s presence became a lifeline, teaching not just about equine magnificence but also the virtues of empathy and connection. 

Amidst this narrative of resilience, the tale of compassion that Zelda has woven continues in “Canvas of Compassion.” This series at Unbridled invites learners and artisans of all ages to connect up close with Zelda. She is a natural muse to inspire creativity and understanding. 

As we reflect on Zelda’s journey, her story raises ethical questions. In a world that often exploits the beauty and strength of these noble creatures, Zelda’s story is a poignant call to re-evaluate our choices. What are we doing with these magnificent beings, and what ethical responsibilities do we bear? 

Susan Kayne, founder and president of Unbridled Thoroughbred Foundation, welcomes Zelda to the Sanctuary. Contributed photo

Zoom Zoom Zelda’s tale is a reminder that even in the face of adversity, the equine heart is capable of incredible feats. Her journey from auction houses to classrooms, from the brink of despair to the sanctuary of compassion, is a testament to the power of caring connections. Through her, we find hope, inspiration, and a resolve to stand for what’s right. 

In a world where headlines often showcase the darker aspects of humanity, Zelda’s story shines as a beacon of light, reminding us that we have the power to change lives, to rewrite destinies, and to build bridges of compassion that span species and generations. 

Zelda is living in Unbridled’s Sanctuary after being rescued from a doomed fate. Courtesy of Holly Scism

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

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