by Joy Aten
On July 15, I noticed a photo of a chestnut Thoroughbred mare posted on the “End Of The Line Horse Placement” FB page. Her splayed stance and troubled eye betrayed her pain – and then I saw her front ankles (fetlocks). The apologists’ comments were as expected: “NOT the racing industries [sic] fault”; “The ankles are ugly, but I bet she is sound on them.” An industry insider added: “Race trainer didn’t dump her. She was networked for free for broodmare/pasture puff type home. The new home dumped her at auction when she realized trail riding might not be in her future.” Yes, the mare’s appalling condition and the fact that she was in a kill-buyer’s custody – less than a month after her final race (at Mountaineer for trainer Charles Kieser) – had the racing people scrambling. But in this case, there was plenty of blame to go around.
Five-year-old Anita Vacation was raced 32 times, earning 78K. In her last race on June 18, she brought up the rear – “away slowly, trailed throughout.” After that race, an ad shows her “For Sale” at $500, yet only 10 days later, she had been given away – free – and was at her “new home.” The new owner thought she had acquired a trail-sound horse…the true condition of her ankles was not disclosed by the young woman who had networked her. In addition, no reference checks were done prior to placing Anita Vacation: no calls to the new owner’s vet or farrier, no calls to anyone with intimate knowledge of her; and – no visit to her residence, no contract, no right-of-first-refusal. Nothing. Anita was simply dropped off by a transporter who unloaded her on the road and left immediately after. This had bad ending written all over it. For all trainer Charles Kieser and the gal who networked Anita knew, this new owner could be someone who would bring a horse to auction. And she did. Fifteen days later.
But back to those fetlocks. One apologist seemed particularly intent to absolve Anita’s “connections” for her enlarged, deformed joints: “The ankles are big and ugly but most likely set and not causing a problem.” She comments again: “More than likely these ankles are set, and have been set for quite some time.” Then this: “I’ve seen uglier ankles than that winning races…” Disgusting. Truth is, the mare’s connections took a healthy, sound and beautiful filly and in just over two years made a “pasture ornament” out of her. Kieser raced her on those ankles – ankles the veterinarian, after radiographs and a lameness evaluation, concluded left Anita with a “poor prognosis for athletic use” and limited her activity to being “turned out as a pasture horse” and “lightly ridden at a WALK on flat surfaces.” Again, she was RACED on those ankles.
Anita Vacation is safe now, thanks to Mary Johnson (with help from generous others) providing her a true, final home. She is thin from her ordeal, but I’ve no doubt she’ll reach a healthy weight under Mary’s care. For now, she is reasonably comfortable. She is valued. She is loved. And she will not be dumped again.
Anita Vacation was failed by the individual who carelessly placed her and by the woman she was placed with. But she was failed before that pair even entered the picture. While Anita was spared a brutal, bloody, violent slaughterhouse end, she will live with increasing pain – mostly due to progressive arthritis – and she will die prematurely. For this (and for not guaranteeing her safe landing in the first place), we have this awful industry – chew-them-up-spit-them-out, run-them-into-the-ground, use-them-for-every-last-drop-of-worth horseracing – to thank.