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Horses of Unbridled: Saving Ijada: A story of compassion and responsibility

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By Susan Kayne

For Capital Region Independent Media

Through the artist’s eyes: Ijada’s spirit captured by Holly Scism. Contributed photo

In the sprawling landscapes of Texas, where the line between life and death for a horse can be as thin as a broker’s ledger, the story of Ijada unfolds — a tale not just of survival but of the profound bonds that can save lives, even in the direst circumstances.

Rescued from the brink of oblivion on Nov. 4, 2019, Ijada’s journey from a horse meat broker’s lot back to a life of dignity is a testament to the power of her past connections and the ethical responsibility we hold towards the equine beings we have chosen to bring into this world.

To clarify, “past connections” refers to all the individuals who have ever played a role in a horse’s life — this includes breeders, owners, sales agents, trainers, exercise riders, jockeys and grooms, among others. These are the people who, at some point, contributed to the horse’s journey, whether through direct care, training, or simply being part of their story.

Even though these individuals may no longer own the horse or have a direct hand in their day-to-day life, they still are an integral part of the horse’s history. It’s a matter of integrity that these connections translate their past roles into meaningful action, especially when the horse’s life is at stake.

Aiding and funding rescue efforts for these horses is not just an act of charity; it’s a fulfillment of a moral obligation to ensure their well-being, recognizing the deep bonds and responsibilities forged throughout the horse’s life.

When Ijada was born on April 6, 1999, at the glorious Brookside Farm in Versailles, Kentucky, she hadn’t a name. Initially, she was known as Sidonia’s very first foal. A dark chestnut filly. Sired by Jade Hunter and birthed from Sidonia, a daughter of the 1977 champion and Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew. Baby Ijada’s lineage had been carefully selected by her breeder, Allen E. Paulson.

Mr. Paulson was a titan in the aerospace industry but became world famous as the owner of the renowned racehorse Cigar, a winner of 16 consecutive races and nearly $10,000,000. A successful Thoroughbred breeder and owner since the late 1970’s, Mr. Paulson bred 85 stakes winners and raced more than 100 stakes winners and seven champions.

When the gavel struck the block for the final time at $560,000 on Hip #85 at the 1986 Keeneland July Yearling Sale, the winning bidder was Allen E. Paulson. He named his new filly Nureyev’s Best. The following year, she raced in France under the colors of Mr. Paulson and his newest and third wife, the inimitable Madeleine!

Nureyev’s Best won her first time out at age two and a stakes winner in her third year. Post-racing, she was mated with Seattle Slew. On Jan. 25, 1993, she gave birth to a filly who was named Sidonia. After racing and winning for Mr. Paulson, Sidonia was mated with his major stakes winning, stallion Jade Hunter. In 1999, she gave birth to IJADA, just a year and a half before Mr. Paulson died. 

Ijada was among the first group of the late Mr. Paulson’s herd of 225 horses to be sold. Consigned to Keeneland’s September Yearling Sale and represented by Lane’s End Farm, Ijada was sold to Everest Stables for $67,000.

Ijada trained but did not race. In breeding production, she gave birth to four colts. Three became winners with cumulative earnings of $358,600. In 2008, Everest Stable culled Ijada from their band of broodmares. Following her elimination from the herd, a decision that marked her as expendable, Ijada, pregnant with a foal sired by Petionville, was transported from the lush bluegrass fields of Kentucky to the stark, uncertain confines of Louisiana. This move signaled the beginning of her perilous descent into the slaughter pipeline.

The brink of rescue: Ijada endures, awaiting salvation on the broker’s lot. Contributed photo

In Louisiana, Ijada transitioned from a valued broodmare to an animal considered unworthy of support. This is a narrative all too common in the life cycle of Thoroughbreds. Once celebrated for their speed, endurance, and the prestige they bring, too many find themselves discarded when their utility in breeding or racing dims. Ijada’s story, however, diverges at a critical juncture.

When Unbridled discovered Ijada, she had been weighed, tagged and sorted for slaughter. She, along with several other Thoroughbred mares were bought by the pound at a livestock auction in the Bayou. Shortly thereafter, they landed in a horse meat broker’s stockyard in Texas. From there, they would either be resold to anyone, sent to another auction, or shipped across the border to a slaughter plant.

A fresh start at Unbridled: Ijada receives dental care, marking a new chapter of wellness. Contributed photo

The younger and stronger mares sold quickly. No one wanted Ijada. Older, smaller, sickly and wounded, she stood alone as the last Thoroughbred on the lot, and the first in line to be loaded for Mexico. Despite her noble lineage and the successes of her offspring on the racetrack, Ijada’s worth, in the end, was cruelly quantified by the weight of her flesh and bones.

She was rescued thanks to the intervention of a generous community of compassionate supporters led by Unbridled Thoroughbred Foundation and the pivotal role played by Madeleine Paulson, the widow of Ijada’s breeder. The rescue of Ijada was not just an act of saving one horse; it was a declaration of the moral obligation we have towards these sentient beings. Madeleine’s generosity underscores a critical ethical perspective: the individuals who bring these majestic animals into the world have a lifelong responsibility towards them.

On arrival at Unbridled, Ijada chose Zelda for her friend. Contributed photo

In rescuing Ijada, Madeleine not only saved a life but also honored the memory of her late husband and the legacy of a family deeply entwined with the fate of their horses.

In 2023, inspired by Madeleine Paulson and like-minded breeders’ ethical commitment, Unbridled launched its Past Connections Project. This groundbreaking campaign harnesses the collective strength of those historically linked to horses — breeders, owners, sales agents, trainers and caregivers — to safeguard their futures. It not only offers sanctuary to horses rescued from precarious situations but also re-establishes the vital connections between horses and the human guardians of their past.

The project is a clarion call to action, urging anyone moved by the dignity and grace of these animals to contribute to their protection. It envisions a world where every horse, regardless of its past, finds safety, respect and love throughout its life. This initiative serves as a reminder of our moral duty to ensure the well-being of these sentient beings, advocating for a profound shift in how we perceive and interact with them.

Parting with Promise: Susan Kayne’s heartfelt farewell as Ijada departs for her new home at Mud Hollow Farm. Contributed photo

Ijada’s rescue story, emblematic of the project’s essence, illustrates the transformative impact of rekindled past relationships. It’s a testament to the possibility of a harmonious future for horses, championed by Unbridled’s commitment to ethical stewardship and the belief that every horse deserves a life of dignity and freedom from suffering.

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

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