By Susan Kayne
For Capital Region Independent Media
Unbridled is a sanctuary, a place of refuge and a safe haven that offers a reprieve to horses from chaotic circumstances as harrowing as livestock auctions and crowded, slaughter-bound feedlots. More than just a space for horses to recover, Unbridled is an education center advocating a new ethical perspective towards equine-human relationships.
Take Rahy, Noelle, Ginger and Sweet Pea — each represents the epitome of Unbridled’s mission. They are emissaries of untold narratives — heart-wrenching sagas that expose the failures of a system that has stripped them of their identities, their histories, and their dignity.
Each horse, like Rahy, Noelle, and Ginger and Sweet Pea, who lands in the slaughter pipeline bears the indelible marks of neglect or betrayal, often from multiple hands that have failed them — breeders, trainers, owners, and finally, the individual who coldly leaves them at an auction.
They arrive from different corners of the equine universe — Thoroughbreds who once galloped on racetracks, Arabian beauties who may have once been show ring stars, or Draft horses who might have worked for Amish farmers. Their disparate backgrounds, varying breeds and unique stories collectively spotlight the different, yet equally painful, paths that led them to the slaughter pipeline. Here, their past accomplishments, their once-promising futures, and even their essential identities vanish. In their place, they are reduced to numbered tags and poundage — a cruel commodification that renders them anonymous and expendable.
But even in the grim atmosphere where their fate hangs in the balance, these horses offer profound insights into the resilience of spirit and the complexity of equine social structures. Observe them closely, and you’ll see friendships forged in adversity — a gentle nuzzle between two mares like Rahy and Noelle, while tethered to steel stanchions in the dim corners of the Unadilla Livestock Auction barn, brings comfort amid the tension of uncertainty.
In the tumultuous sea of panicked horses in the slaughter-bound feedlot of Bowie Livestock in Texas, Ginger stood as a poignant example of maternal sacrifice. Her emaciated frame bore the toll of rationing her scant nourishment, a silent testament to her commitment to protect her foal, Sweet Pea. Ginger’s eyes were ever-watchful, as if each gaze could form a barrier around her vulnerable little filly. And even though she reached the heartbreaking point of running out of milk, it was clear: she had given every ounce of herself, draining her own reserves nearly to nothing, all in an attempt to shield Sweet Pea from the unforgiving world they found themselves in.
In the collective suffering of the slaughter pipeline, we witness not only the capacity for social bonding among horses but also their intrinsic ability to help each other cope. Noelle and Rahy seemed to find solace in each other’s presence. Despite the disarray, they clung to one another, sharing whispered nuzzles and gentle nudges, as if to remind each other that they were not alone in their ordeal.
Similarly, Ginger and Sweet Pea shared an extraordinary bond of maternal love and dependency. Ginger’s every instinct focused on safeguarding her foal, rationing her own sustenance to give Sweet Pea a fighting chance. Instead of succumbing to the dire circumstances and turning on each other, these horses showed an inherent tendency to turn to each other for comfort and resilience. Their actions serve as profound reminders that even in the grimmest conditions, horses possess a complex emotional landscape that enables them to form bonds, provide comfort, and cope together.
They offer glimpses into an overlooked world where their friendship serves as an emotional balm, soothing the mental wounds inflicted by the harsh realities of their lives. Even in their darkest hours, they enact a complex drama of mutual support and shared grief, compelling us to rethink our own ethical frameworks for how these majestic animals should be treated.
The stories of these horses, therefore, serve as an urgent clarion call for a sweeping ethical revolution — one that fundamentally re-evaluates and reconstructs how humans engage with, care for, and most importantly, safeguard the lives and well-being of horses. Because in their struggle and in their bonds, they don’t just reflect the failings of human systems; they challenge us to be better, to do better, and to upend a status quo that has for too long forsaken them.
HEALING TOGETHER: Nurturing Souls in Sanctuary
Since arriving at Unbridled, Noelle and Rahy have been carefully renourished, gaining the weight they desperately needed. While Noelle tips the scale at 1,200 pounds, she is steadily moving towards her healthy weight of 1,500 pounds. Rahy too has packed on much-needed pounds. Upon arrival, her hooves were horribly neglected and oozing with painful abscesses. Now healed, healthy and sound, the duo loves their life unbridled.
They prefer the freedom of a field and the shelter of a shed, to life in and out of a stall in the stable. Their endearing friendship is not just companionship, but an essential part of their emotional recovery.
A NEW PERSPECTIVE: Observations from Another Paddock
Ginger, an Arabian and Quarter Horse blend, watched Rahy and Noelle’s friendship unfold from her paddock, where she spent time with her filly, Sweet Pea. Both were rescued from the frenzy of a feedlot in Bowie, Texas, where they were known by barcodes rather than names. From afar, Ginger might have recognized something deeply familiar in Rahy and Noelle’s tenderness toward each other — a reminder of her protective relationship with Sweet Pea during their days in the feedlot.
CHANGE AND ACCEPTANCE: Evolving Bonds
When Sweet Pea decided she was ready to explore new friendships, Ginger had to cope with her daughter’s natural gravitation towards independence. This made room for new friendships to blossom. Witnessing Rahy and Noelle cope and heal, possibly made this transition easier for her, a natural evolution of equine relationships. With Sweet Pea safely engaged in new friendships, Ginger gathered her courage and trotted in the pasture with Noelle and Rahy.
THE POWER OF FRIENDSHIP: A Mirror to Humanity
The new friendships among Rahy, Noelle and Ginger, and Sweet Pea who has become pals with Cinnamon Sparkles, a rescue pony of the same age as she, serves as a living tapestry of the equine world’s emotional richness and social intricacies. The warmth in their interactions stands in contrast to their cold, numbered identities at livestock auctions. In understanding these friendships, we witness the profound impact of love, companionship, and ethical treatment—values that should extend to all corners of the animal kingdom.
CALL TO ACTION: The Imperative of Empathy
This is not just a story of rescued horses but a lens through which we can examine our own ethical choices. As we see Rahy gain back her lost 300 pounds, or Noelle finding respite from worry, or Ginger becoming a symbol of resilience, or Sweet Pea growing strong and independent, we must recognize that each horse has a complex emotional landscape. Pausing to consider who horses are as fellow sentient beings, and reflecting on how they experience their own precious life is the first step toward creating a more humane world.
Let us all be unbridled in our compassion, so that all horses may be cherished, loved and protected.
Susan Kayne operates the horse rescue organization Unbridled Thoroughbred Foundation, on the border of Albany County and Greenville.