(While Thor most likely was not abused himself, he was neglected and thrown away when no longer useful. This is too common and it needs to stop. And just a warning, this story has some very gross details.)
Our beautiful boy, Thor, came into our life in September 2013. It was my son’s 16th birthday and my son has not quite forgiven me for sharing his birthday with a horse.
At the time, I was involved in a young horse rescue who would go into the New Holland Livestock Auction in Pennsylvania to save one or two horses from being bought by the “kill buyers” who ship them to slaughterhouses in Mexico or Canada. It IS, in fact, a thing. New Holland is one of the largest kill auctions on the East Coast. I do not have a problem with euthanasia. I DO have a problem with cramming too many horses – old, young, mares, stallions, wounded and dying – into a trailer and hauling them hundreds of miles to their deaths. It’s reprehensible.
There was another rescue who was allowed to go into the New Holland auction house and take photographs and videos of horses that would be available for auction the following Monday morning. I had been starting to look for my horse and I knew it would be a rescue.
*I need to make a very important point here… going to a livestock auction is an extreme gamble when purchasing a horse. While you can get a good deal on a horse, you should expect to pay a LOT of money for recovery and training. And in the end, you still might end up with a horse that is not suitable for riding.
Back to Thor… I am not a small human being. I am 5’10” and not supermodel skinny. Hell, I’m not skinny in any way. I knew I wanted a big horse. As I like to say, your ass should be smaller than your horse’s ass – anything else is horse abuse. Oh yeah, I’m going to get hate for that one. But I stand by my words.
Thor’s photos showed a dejected black draft-cross. There was a riding video and he was quiet under saddle. SO I BOUGHT HIM. Online. With my credit card. However, I knew that I only wanted a horse of my own and if I could ride him, that would be a bonus. But I bought him primarily to save him from a horrible death. He was already owned by a meat dealer – his fate was sealed unless someone took him home. There is huge controversy over purchasing horses directly from the dealers – and with good reason. At the time, I did not know and I just wanted to save him.
So on my son’s 16th birthday, a hauler picked him up from Pennsylvania and delivered him to us in Maryland. We met them at the quarantine barn and unloaded a skinny, sad, 17.1 hand black-ish gelding. He was wobbly from the trip and he came with another horse, a mare that had been purchased by the rescue. His eyes were suspicious but framed by the longest black eyelashes you’ve ever seen.
We got him settled in for the night and when we returned the next day, we noticed the green snot streaming from his nose. This is why you quarantine, although as it turned out, we weren’t dealing with a virus, but something far more serious. The vet came out for his initial check up. Thor’s water buckets were always disgusting… when he drank, water streamed out of his nose back into the water buckets. He would sneeze “green snot rockets” out of his nose. Clearly something was wrong. In addition, his fecal parasite count was 3000+. Normal is <200. Not 2000. 200.
The vet scoped him and we learned that his epiglottis wasn’t working. Your epiglottis is a flap that closes over your larynx so that food goes into your esophagus/stomach and not your trachea/lungs. His wasn’t working. So his nasal cavity was packed with food stuff and, more scary, food particles were getting into his lungs. The vet was not optimistic to say the least. He brought in an expert from Cornell to perform a full endoscopy. She couldn’t get the scope in far enough to see anything except packed food and a frozen epiglottis. Both vets shook their heads sadly. The prognosis was a death sentence: he would inevitably develop pneumonia from the food particles collecting in his lungs.
I came to terms with the fact that we were giving him a loving home at the end of his life before it came time to euthanize him humanely. We put him on long-term antibiotics and waited. He got nice soft hay that would be easy for him to chew and swallow and his grain was a nice soft mash. And we waited. And then we noticed that his water was clearer and the snot rockets less frequent. And I began to hope. Quietly. Because, in the meantime, my daughter had fallen in love with him and claimed him as her own.
Let me backtrack for a moment back to quarantine. During one of our early visits, my daughter and I went out to graze and groom him. My daughter (13 at the time) was in the paddock, and I will admit, she was in a dangerous spot picking his hooves between him and the paddock fence. She shouldn’t have been there and then the mare in the next paddock charged at him over the fence, teeth bared. I held my breath because they were about to get into it over the fence above where my daughter was squatting down. I couldn’t believe how stupid I was to allow her to be in such a dangerous place. That mare came at Thor and I SWEAR TO GOD that he looked down at Anna beneath him and stood quietly. He did not respond at all. He didn’t move away. He didn’t go after the mare. He just stood there. She could have been killed but by the grace of this horse. He protected her.
Another time, after we moved him to his regular barn after quarantine, she went to get him out of a very, very muddy paddock. She was at the gate haltering him when another horse came exuberantly galloping up thinking it was dinner time. The horse couldn’t stop because of the horrible mud and careened into Thor. Once again she could have been trampled – she, herself, stuck in the mud. Thor just stood there and took the blow of the other horse and protected her. He didn’t try to run off or push away the other horse. He just stood between Anna and the idiot. Believe me or not, it was an amazing thing to witness.
Back to his story… Thor quickly became Anna’s horse and she became his person. She started working with him under saddle. He wouldn’t turn in nice soft circles – he would throw out a shoulder. He would trip a lot. A LOT. I have to hand it to that kid… she learned to ride with, as she put it, “teeth-gritting determination.” Winter turned into spring and we hit our six-month anniversary with him. We noticed that his water buckets were clear. The green snot rockets were a thing of the past. And the vet was amazed that he was still alive. The only thing he could figure was that Thor had sustained some type of traumatic injury to his throat, but that enough nerve had survived to regenerate. I finally allowed myself to really hope that he would make it.
He’s now been with us for three years. We’ve moved to a beautiful facility with large green fields. He is the boss of his herd. They defer to him at feeding time. If he is in the barn, they wait for him at the gate. He leads them to the grass and to the auto-waterer. He is a quiet leader. Only needs to pin his ears at the other boys if they are misbehaving. Occasionally a new horse is introduced and tries to shake things up. He kicks their ass and they settle in. It’s all part of being a herd.
But… the title of this post is “Abuse and Neglect,” where does that come in? I don’t know Thor’s past from before he showed up at the auction house. An educated guess, based on the New Holland marketplace, is that he was an Amish plow horse discarded when he was too sick to work anymore. Instead of euthanizing him, why not make $500 by selling him as meat?
There’s a lot to discuss here. Horses are simply farm equipment to the Amish. This is true. Horses are not their pets – and I can respect that. But I cannot respect or condone allowing an animal to suffer, especially after they’ve given so much. Not all Amish are bad people. But too many are involved in puppy mills. Too many allow their buggy horses to stand in the hot summer sun without shade or water. Too many cast aside their old horses like trash. Pennsylvania, like too many states, does not have animal cruelty laws. Horses come into the auction house sick and dying. They are supposed to be sound (not lame) in order to run through the sale auction. And yet, there are horse rescues who go weekly to purchase one or two, the worst of the worst, and euthanize them on the spot, saving them from the horrible trip to the slaughterhouse.
And the problem is NOT just the Amish. Overbreeding is a huge part of the problem. Breeders have to be responsible. Profit breeders like to blame the backyard breeders. I was at a conference once… a big standardbred breeder spoke up: “The backyard breeders are the problem. They need to understand that it’s a lifetime responsibility.” Think on that for a while. How many large-scale breeders take care of their offspring from birth to death? How many promise a lifetime home for the horses they breed, the ones who are conformationally imperfect? They ones they can’t sell? But they expect everyone else to. The Jockey Club has come under fire for the same problem, and thoroughbreds are not supposed to come through the auctions. They do.
The SAFE Act (Safeguard American Food Exports) would help to eliminate horse slaughter. Our horses are pumped full of medications and vaccinations that make them unfit for consumption, even if you don’t have a problem with eating horse meat. For more information: https://awionline.org/content/safeguard-american-food-exports-safe-act.
So no, Thor was most likely not abused. Neglected, yes. I promised him a forever home when I bought him. I didn’t know whether forever would be a month or ten years. I will live up to that promise.