By Susan Kayne
For Capital Region Independent Media
Imagine that in your golden years, after doing all that had been asked of you by people you trusted, accepted and worked alongside, you find yourself in a life-or-death crisis, and not even one of them show up to help.
Like our own elderly, senior horses are often perceived to be a burden to care for, instead of being embraced as blessings among us. The most marginalized of the equine species are older mares who had been used for breeding. When they are no longer able to stay pregnant, they are at the highest risk of slaughter.
When Beauty came to the attention of Unbridled in January 2021, she had been sorted for slaughter. She was frightened and trembling to stay warm. Her thick black coat of fur wasn’t sufficient to protect her malnourished body from the unseasonable cold spell sweeping across Louisiana.
The bright oval USDA labels glued to the top of her tail and the right side of her neck signified that she had been weighed and cleared for shipment to slaughter. On the horse meat broker’s lot her identity had been exchanged for a barcode and her life’s worth priced upon the flesh clinging to her bones.
Her enlarged and heavily calcified right ankle looked like an old racing injury. Her rounded belly and extended udder were those of a veteran broodmare. The only clue to anything about her were patches of gray, silver and white hair clustered around her eyes and across her delicate cheeks. She was old.
Beauty was defenseless against the apathy and indifference that surrounded her. Yet amid a sea of strange people and unknown horses, she searched for a familiar face. Who was she looking for? What memory gave her hope when the world she had served had turned its back on her?
The horse meat broker called her by number: 850C. Likely her hip number when he bought her at a local livestock auction. Her ebony coat could be likened to Black Beauty, so the team at Unbridled called her BEAUTY, and set about to save her life.
Securing Beauty’s safety was the first step in her long journey home to Unbridled. On Jan. 30, 2021, when Chester and Gail Markowitz learned of Beauty’s terrible fate, they stepped in and funded her rescue.
The slaughter pipeline is a Petri dish of highly contagious sickness. Strangles, the most prevalent, is like COVID in humans. Beauty would require quarantine, careful nourishment, and veterinary care to strengthen her for transport to Unbridled.
When Beauty arrived in April 2021, her attitude was upbeat. She pranced around the paddock. Her nostrils flared and her tail lifted in the wind. Her attitude belied the needs of her fragile body — she needed to gain 250 pounds to achieve a healthy weight.
Beauty is petite and elegant like an Arabian or a Morgan. Research on the tattoo under her upper lip confirmed her real identity. Beauty is a Thoroughbred. She was born on Jan. 4, 1998, in Florida. Her registered name is BANK SHOT.
As a two-year-old she sold for $75,000 in a training sale in Ocala. Racing only at the age of five, Beauty debuted on Jan. 17, 2003, at Santa Anita in California. In that same year, she raced 16 times while crossing the country. On Oct. 23, she ran for the last time in a $2,500 claiming race in Charles Town, West Virginia.
After her final race, Beauty’s chain of custody went cold. Her injured ankle limited her use for riding. She was used for breeding, but not Thoroughbreds. No foals from her are registered through the Jockey Club.
She may have been a surrogate, or reciprocal mare. She is tiny and gorgeous — she may have been used to produce show ponies. Her history post-racing, and how she landed in the slaughter pipeline, may never be known.
On Jan. 4, 2023, Beauty celebrated her 25th birthday. She is in excellent health and weight. socializing with her girlfriends Joy and River, gentle grooming, finely shredded apples and carrots, and soft peppermints are among her favorite things. Her teeth are few, so her treats must be bitesize. Beauty is now the equivalent of an 80-year-old human.
Amid the great tragedy of our culture of use is that when mares like Beauty grow old, barren and unsound they often disappear into the slaughter pipeline. They are erased and denied the dignity of being seen for the immutable gift of their equine spirit that remains.
Beauty’s story invites us to ask ourselves some uncomfortable questions.
Susan Kayne operates Unbridled Thoroughbred Foundation on the border of Greenville and Albany County.