Pamela + Stella
Some say, the grass is always greener on the other side.
Often times, this statement proves false, but for one little pony it could not have been closer to the truth. Stella’s start is still unclear. Somewhere along the road, this precious paint pony was dumped at an auction, picked up by a kill-buyer and sentenced to death.
Stella was found in a kill pen, a holding pen that serves as the intermediary between the auction lot and the slaughterhouses. Kill-buyers attend horse auctions to purchase horses being auctioned off for next to nothing. From there, kill-buyers ship their horses to a kill pen where they are jammed into small pens with dozens of others. Often, theses horses are ankle deep in feces and mud; their injuries go untreated and wounds unaddressed. It is here, in these dismal conditions, that the horses await their fate. Each miserable moment draws nearer the day the super-sized rig loads them up and ships them off.
Sometimes kill-buyers post ads online featuring the horses that are sound enough to be rehomed. Like any businessman, the kill-buyer is looking to make money. If an individual or rescue organization is willing to pay a few bucks more than the slaughterhouses, that lucky horse is sold off to the highest bidder. Many argue these practices are motivated by money, while others claim it is the genuine desire to give the horses a second chance. Either way, these practices give slaughter-bound horses one last chance to be rehomed. A few horses are lucky enough to find new homes. Unfortunately, this doesn’t happen often enough.
The ASPCA found that every year, approximately 150,000 American horses are trucked across our borders to be slaughtered for human consumption. Horses bound for slaughter are commonly shipped to Mexico or Canada, spending more than 24-hours at a time in crowded trucks without food, water, or rest. The methods used to kill the horses rarely result in quick, painless deaths. Sometimes they even remain conscious during dismemberment.
While one might argue that rescuing a horse from a kill pen perpetuates the system by padding the pockets of kill-buyers, the alternative for that little horse, a horse that was overlooked by auction bidders and rescue organizations, is to be sold to slaughter. Ideally, every horse person would adopt horses from a rescue organization – or better yet, attend the auction to buy up the inexpensive horses preventing kill-buyers from getting their hands on them in the first place. However, the idealistic approach isn’t always realistic. Traveling the country attending various auction events is not possible for most. If you find the right one, rescue organizations are absolutely amazing. There is no argument against first going to a rescue to find your next four-hooved friend. However, if you can’t find what you’re looking for through a rescue, then why not save a life nonetheless? Saving a horse is saving a life, no matter how you spin it.
Tossed away and overlooked, Stella and dozens of other horses sat in the kill pen. Each hour that passed was one hour closer to when the super-sized trailer was set to arrive, load up, and ship them to Mexico. Stella would have been one of the many horses set to be slaughtered that day. That is where her story would have ended.
Like most girls, I’m an online shopping addict. Unlike most, I’m addicted to horse shopping. I’m always admiring horse ads that are posted to various Facebook groups, or browsing through equine search engines. I’ll be the first to say this is not a good idea. When buying a horse, one should always meet and ride the horse. Be sure talk to a professional you trust, and have a vet perform a pre-purchase exam to ensure the horse is healthy and sound. Don’t buy a green horse if you don’t have experience or have a professional to help you along the way. Even though online horse shopping is probably never a good idea, a little window-shopping never did any harm.
One night, while lying in bed scrolling through said posts, a black and white paint pony popped up on my feed. When I clicked for more details, I saw a three-year-old, 14.3 hand mare who was sweet, young, broke and seemingly sound. What was unusual was her price tag. She was for sale for a few hundred dollars. Curiosity kicked in, I picked up my phone and called the number listed on the ad. It was then the sad truth behind her low price was exposed. The gruff voice explained she was priced based on her age, health and weight. Initially confused I thought to myself, what an unusual way to price a horse. I asked what his connection was to the horse. Was he the owner? The trainer? He responded— the buyer. A kill-buyer.
Before this moment, I had very little knowledge about the horse slaughter industry and how overwhelmingly prevalent it is in the U.S today. Despite outlawing the operation of slaughterhouses in the U.S., the export of horses for slaughter is still entirely legal.
Unfamiliar with the ominous term “kill-buyer,” I continued to inquire and in my usual peppy tone, I asked him to elaborate. Without skipping a beat, the now seemingly annoyed, gruff voice explained the slaughter system: go to the auctions, buy cheap horses, give them one week to sell online, if they don’t, no problem, the slaughterhouses buy them up either way. He then kindly mentioned that this little mare, named “Lot 743,” was set to ship on Tuesday.
My heart dropped. I couldn’t believe it. A beautiful little horse was being sentenced to death, due to no fault of her own. I went to bed that Sunday night knowing I had to find a way to help.
Unfortunately, many assume that kill pen horses end up in these grim situations because they are “bad” horses or have some kind of incurable issue. Sometimes this may be true. However, most horses are sent to auctions and fall into the slaughter system due to overbreeding or their owners stumbling into financial difficulties. Those sending their horses to auction may never know their horse was sold for slaughter.
First thing the next morning, I reached out to a vet in the area. I scheduled a pre-purchase exam to ensure that if “Lot 743” was to be rescued she could live a long, healthy, pain-free life. I explained the urgency and the vet was out that day to do the exam. He called me right away to inform me she passed the vet check with flying colors. The second the call ended, I decided to take a chance. I opened my laptop and transferred the payment. In that moment, “Lot 743” dodged her death sentence.
Within a few hours, the paint pony with the yellow “Lot 743” tag around her skinny neck, was on a trailer headed to Dallas where grass-filled pastures welcomed her with open gates. The first day I met her, she was sweet, personable, and calm. I spent three days, morning and night, simply getting to know this little mystery mare. In that time she quickly became my shadow. Wherever I walked, she followed closely behind. She learned to love the crunch of an apple and the caress of a curry comb. Although very green, she tacked up and rode off without a hitch. She has a long way to go, but plenty of time to get there.
“Lot 743”, now re-named “Stella,” was rescued and turned out in Dallas in October 2016. She will have the winter months to rest, relax, and recharge. In March 2017, little Stella will begin her training as a polo pony at the Chicago Polo Club. She will be shipped to her forever home in Illinois where her new fate will begin to unfold.
I guess for some forgotten ponies, the grass really is greener on the other side.