Shedrow Secrets: Claims My Name

Shedrow Secrets

Claims My Name
By Joy Aten and Jo Anne Normile (author of “Saving Baby”)

There is a worn, broken halter that hangs just inside the entrance to my barn. While a variety of equine tack is certainly ordinary and expected in one’s barn, this particular halter looks out of place. It hangs alone on a wooden peg, across from a planked wall with a tidy assortment of gleaming leather bridles and colorful halters. Every day when I walk into the barn, my eyes are immediately drawn to that tattered old halter. And every day, a plain brown mare with kind eyes is remembered and honored once again. She was “Claims My Name,” and like her broken halter that has a special place in my barn, this broken mare will always have a special place in my heart.

It was the first week of November 2007, and Great Lakes Downs was ending its meet and closing down for good. Owners and trainers were hastily packing up equipment and horses, leaving the small racetrack in western Michigan and heading south for winter meets. We at the rescue were making daily visits to the track. Over a nine-day period, 27 horses that were too lame to continue racing or had become non-competitive were loaded onto our trailers, leaving the racetrack for good and hopefully beginning new lives. On one of those last days at the track, I was approached by an owner/trainer about taking two broodmares from a farm where he would lay up horses over the winter. After a quick phone call to the farm owner, arrangements were made to pick up the broodmares the next day. Although most “unwanted” horses were donated to the rescue, both of these older mares needed to be purchased by the racehorse rescue organization for $250 each.

I had been given the names of the mares and the night before I was to pick them up I did a little research on them, curious as to who they were and where they had been. Claims My Name, I found, was a Kentucky-bred, and although her sire’s sire was the great Mr. Prospector, she was very modestly bred. She had run 50 times in her racing career, and in doing so had traveled to Florida, Texas, Ohio, and Michigan. Her races were always “cheap” races, earning only $19,444 for her three wins, three places, and five shows. No one ever claimed her, but her ownership had changed frequently through private sales. Her last race was in February of 1999 at Tampa Bay Downs, when she came in eighth out of nine horses, over 13 lengths behind the winner. And that was where the trail of her life ended. There was no record of her after that last race, and even the Pedigree On-line Thoroughbred database had no progeny records for her.

I was filled with uneasiness the morning we were scheduled to pick up the mares. I wondered if the farm owner shared the same lack of care and concern for the horses at her farm as the trainer she took horses in for. This trainer’s horses were typically underweight and signs of lameness were usually present. He was also known for leaving his horses on the hot walker for several hours on hot summer afternoons while he visited the local bar. I prepared myself for a disturbing morning.

The farm was small with three or four tiny paddocks, all of them muddy with no dry areas for the horses to stand on or lie down on. Two strands of wire strung from rusty, leaning T-posts made up the fencing. The paddock closest to the road had six or seven Thoroughbreds in it, and although there was no hay available to fight over, one skinny gray gelding was kept in a corner and away from the herd by a more aggressive Thoroughbred, still wearing his racing plates. There was no shelter in any of the paddocks, although the paddock by the road had a tarp lying next to four wooden posts, so I surmised it had once been suspended on the posts, making a “roof” of sorts. The one, small barn on the property had no stalls, only some bales of hay and assorted debris, so it was obvious the horses on this farm lived without any shelter in the harsh, Michigan winters. I shivered looking at the ribby horses, imagining them trying to stay warm in the frigid months that lay ahead.

Claims My Name was not in this paddock, but was in the back of the property with the other broodmare and each of their foals. The mud was even deeper in this paddock, almost to the knees of the mares, and as in the other enclosures, no shelter was available. At this point, it took literally biting my tongue to keep from asking the farm owner how she could justify the horrible conditions the horses were forced to live in. But questioning her would risk offending her and being asked to leave, and thereby ruin the chances of taking the two mares, so I kept quiet.

None of the four in that back paddock moved while we stood at the gate, clucking to them in encouragement to come towards us. Again, no hay was present, so I was silently surprised that the two moms and foals didn’t come up to investigate, at least to find if we had food to offer. All were filthy, with matted manes and tails, and all stood with their heads low, showing no interest in our presence.

Finally, the farm owner waded into the mud to retrieve Claims My Name. Since the foals had not yet been weaned, I was expecting some commotion as the mare was being taken from the others and brought to the gate. But if her youngster was coming alongside or not, I was not aware. All I could see was this muddy, thin mare attempting to walk, one hind leg moving grotesquely with each labored stride.

When she was brought through the gate and onto dry ground, the reason she struggled to walk was something I had never seen before. I had loaded horses onto my trailer with broken legs and torn tendons, gaping wounds and bloodied injuries, but never something like this: Her hoof was coming off her leg. I took the lead rope from the farm owner, continued towards the trailer and over the screams in my head, all I heard was silence. This suffering mare never called for her baby, never turned back to see the little filly she was leaving behind, never stopped her awkward, forward movement. Head hanging low, she quietly and obediently limped alongside me. Only when we were in the trailer did I finally become aware of the horrible stench coming from her sloughing hoof.

I dialed my own veterinarian before I had the truck in gear. His clinic was a mere 30 minutes from where I was, but I wished at that moment for a snap of the fingers that would have us there immediately. Traveling to the clinic, I winced with every stop and start, every minute bump in the road, unsure of how Claims My Name would tolerate the trip. I was thankful our plans included another transporter to a separate, local foster home for the second mare, leaving me able to direct all of my attention towards the damaged mare in my trailer.

The vet tech came out to meet us before I was out of my vehicle. Claims My Name had been eating the fresh hay I had for her in the trailer, so I had decided to let her stay and eat as long as possible. The tech took one look at the mare’s hind leg and said she would be back with the vet. It was a short walk from the trailer to the grassy area where Dr. Visser asked me to bring Claims My Name. He knelt down to examine her leg, and when he stood and looked at me, his eyes were filled with tears and he said nothing for a moment or two.

The last hour had gone so slowly. The time to get Claims My Name from farm to clinic where she would be released from her suffering seemed to take forever. But now there was not enough time, not enough time to tell her how beautiful she was, not enough time to tell her she deserved so much better, not enough time to whisper to her that I would never forget her. Now everything around me felt as though it was in fast-forward, yet she seemed to slump to the ground in slow motion. As the vet gave the final injection that would stop her heart, I held her head and promised her she would always be remembered.

And every day, she is.

Within the month, the farm owner conceded to sell three more Thoroughbreds to the rescue and to donate the two foals that had been left behind when we took their mothers. The “skinny gray gelding” was one of the three purchased, and after six months of great care at a foster home, “Juan’s Bouncer” became the stunning beauty we’re certain he once was. He has since been adopted into a permanent home. “Runaway Easter,” a timid chestnut filly, was terrified of trailers. Yet the day we picked her up, her hunger won over her fear and with her whole body trembling, she walked on with her head buried in the hay I held in my arms. This little 3-year-old suffered from neurological problems and needed to be euthanized.

Two other Thoroughbreds at this farm, “Gotta Beau” and “Leader of the Pact,” were not as lucky as their former herd mates. The farm owner would not consider selling the younger Gotta Beau, but she would part with Leader of the Pact for $1000. That amount made it impossible for the already financially strapped rescue to obtain him. The emaciated and lame chestnut gelded son of Charismatic, 1999 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner, was bred by a well-known and respected farm in Kentucky. Numerous calls to the lucrative Thoroughbred breeding and racing operation for help for Leader of the Pact went ignored, even after being promised a call back.

Approximately one year later, the farm owner called requesting to donate Leader of the Pact. He immediately came into the program but by this time, all hope for a new life was gone. The gelding had endured White Lines Disease that had gone untreated for many months, and according to the examining vet, he had over 20 pockets of abscesses in his front feet. Help for Leader of the Pact came too late, and the suffering gelding was humanely euthanized.

Gotta Beau’s whereabouts are unknown.

21 Comments

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  1. I can’t “like” this kind of racehorse ownership….. Those poor horses should NEVER have to work so hard to be treated so terribly. And I think that goes for ANY animal that “works” for the human race. It’s not just Thoroughbreds that get abused and neglected, and I know that.
    I am Honored to have my racing mare “Miss Jamboree” from her 1998 year of racing still living the good life here on our farm. No mud, just pastures of grass to keep her happy. She gave me my Dream of owning and racing my own TB so many years ago, it is the least I could do for her. It’s a shame more owners can’t see it that way…..
    Thank you for sharing this life moment with us :)

  2. Thank you, Traci, for giving Miss Jamboree the life she deserves. If only all retired horses could be so fortunate to have a caring owner. And thank you for reading Claims My Name’s story. I want her to live on in people’s hearts.

  3. … there should be laws in place to prevent this from happening …. I am deeply shocked and disgusted by the greed people display, by the lack of empathy for another living creature
    RIP Claims My Name and all the others known and unknown

  4. Another wonderful save by Joy Aten. I remember talking to Joy several years ago as she made plans to “save” Juan’s Bouncer and two other horses. I believe that they were yearlings. I did donate to help acquire those three horses. I am glad that I was able to be a part of this rescue and I am thrilled that Bouncer is doing well. Joy, what happened to the other two horses that were a part of this?

  5. One good thing I take away from these sad stories is that Great Lakes Downs is no more.
    It was even agreed among those in the industry that this track should cease operations.
    Hopefully, the suffering of more animals was prevented when they closed for good.

    • Mike, I couldn’t agree with you more. There are several more that need to close including one here in central Ohio.

    • I hope you are right, Mike. I still shudder when I drive by the “remains” of Great Lakes Downs. Thank you for coming to Horseracing Wrongs, and for reading the stories of horses that deserve to be remembered.

  6. hey Mary, sorry I didn’t see your post asking about the other horses earlier!…but the other broodmare, the two foals, and the third horse (that was taken at the same time as Juan’s Bouncer and Runaway Easter) were all adopted out by CANTER. I left CANTER in 2008, only several months after the rescue of Claims My Name, and before all of the adoptions. I pray they are all safe in their adoptive homes.

  7. Reblogged this on Starstone and commented:
    “The time to get Claims My Name from farm to clinic where she would be released from her suffering seemed to take forever. But now there was not enough time, not enough time to tell her how beautiful she was, not enough time to tell her she deserved so much better, not enough time to whisper to her that I would never forget her.”
    I must stop reading these stories…

    • Thanks for sharing her story. She deserves to have people know her name. And I still look at her halter every single time I walk into my barn…

    • Starstone,

      Speaking of stories. I see from your blog that you have 3 Arabian horses and that you have a book about horses that you wrote. I am looking forward to reading it. I only saw it on kindle. I did not see it as a paperback. When will it be released in hardcover ?

      From your blog

      “Surviving the Equestrian World, is out now, both as a paperback and as a kindle, and will be released shortly as a hardcover as well. Surviving the Equestrian World is about my life, with my horses, it is about all of my very different horses, it is about my very special, very troubled Poseidon, and it is about how I learned what “horsemanship” truly means. It features a section of my training methods, explained in detail and illustrated.”

      • Hi, if you check out the page on my blog that is called “Surviving the Equestrian world,” there are links for both the kindle and both the paperbacks. The hard cover will be out sometime during this year, when I have had the time to go over it :) Thanks for asking.

  8. Thank you for sharing this story! Although I honestly do not know all of the background of what happened between then and now, I’m now the proud owner of Gotta Beau, who was mentioned. I hope you get to read this and know that he is safe. He is my dream horse and I love him very much.

  9. Sara…I am beyond thrilled to know Gotta Beau made it out of racing alive! In my story about Claims My Name, Gotta Beau is the “aggressive TB with racing plates”. The environment these poor horses were forced to live in was horrific, and everyone of them was underweight. Gotta Beau was very thin, as well….he was simply trying to survive. I followed his races after that day and when he finished last, 31 lengths behind in the summer of 2008, he didn’t race again.
    Thank you for posting here, for letting us know Gotta Beau is alive, well, and safe! I would LOVE to see photos of him…I’m certain he looks like a different horse than when I last saw him! Thank you!!

    Patrick, could you please provide Sara with my email address so we can correspond privately?

  10. Thank you, Joy, and everyone else for helping these unfortunate horses. It is heartbreaking to read about the mare, Claims My Name. There has to be something seriously wrong with anyone who can cause and ignore such suffering. I hope and pray that person and all the others involved in that sad operation are permanently out of the horse business.

  11. I cannot understand people who do not take care of helpless animals. They could give them away instead of selling, but they want that almighty dollar no matter what. It’s a shame that some horse-loving people from the police department can’t go out with people who want these horses and force them to let people take them. Maybe one day? There will be a special place in hell for these sorry people.
    We adopted 3 shelter dogs and we enjoy them so much.

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