Saturday, May 8, 2010

Super (Horse) Saver

My friend, Maeve and I talk about what we’d do if we won the lottery or hit it big at the track. Generally it’s a given that we’d pay bills and buy a farm. But what happens when you hit it’s ‘a little’ big at the track?

The first thing that came to mind was that I would get the horses’ teeth done & finally get that hitch on my truck. Then there was a list of bills I could pay and various other things that I probably should do with the money. We spent a little in Kentucky but brought most of it home with us to Washington, still toying with what to do with it…

We walked in the door about 6:30pm on Tuesday & started to haul my luggage upstairs. There was a note on my computer from my son, Corey, telling me he’d emailed me the location of my truck & key so I logged in and looked for his email. What caught my attention first was one from Facebook saying that I’d received a note from Liz titled “SWAG”, “… thought you might want to know” with a link to the auction board thread about a “Bay Thoroughbred - $450”.

I read through and it seems that a horse had been discovered at Enumclaw Pavilion in the kill buyer’s area. He was reported to be a nice looking, tall bay with aluminum racing shoes on & a swollen ankle. They had ID’d his tattoo with the Jockey Club data base and discovered he was Bucky B Lucky, a horse that once belonged to SWAG Stables.

I didn’t take a long time to think about it, I just picked up my phone and called Keith Swagerty, my friend who owns SWAG Stables. He happened to be at a Mariner game but commented on my Derby trip and my head was thinking “yeah, yeah, Derby…. I can’t think about that right now…we have a problem” so instead, I asked him if he knew what happened to Bucky B Lucky and he confirmed that they had not owned him for about a year. He’d been claimed in a race last spring.

I let Keith know that Bucky was at the Auction yard. Keith wanted to know if he’d gone through the auction and all my indications so far were that he had not been there for the auction on May 2nd and the next auction was not until June 6th. I told him about the gals who scout out the auction for horses and especially hone in on the Thoroughbreds because they’re easily identified because of the tattoo. Keith said he’d like to help get Bucky out of there and wanted to do so well before the next auction. We both agreed to collect information and get back in touch the following day.

I proceeded to contact the folks I knew would be involved in the rescue end of things and found out something horrifying…

I’ve known for some time that the meat buyers go to this auction, which is held on the first Sunday of each month and bid on horses for slaughter/foreign meat markets. It appears that they have a limit of about $200 a horse and these days have no problem bidding against a rescuer. The rescuer’s, many of whom gather on a message board called “auctionhorses” and discuss how to best address keeping horses from going to slaughter, attend the auction to try to prevent horses from being sold for slaughter. They go in prepared to collect information on as many horses as possible and track down information like Jockey Club tattoos and contact owners/trainers and other interested parties before the start of the auction in hopes of saving lives.

There are a few people who routinely bring in, what they consider, unwanted horses and practically make it hard for the horse to go anywhere BUT slaughter.

Lucky had not gone through the auction on Sunday, the 2nd and apparently had been dropped at the Sales Pavilion sometime late Monday. On Tuesday someone went to check on a horse that had been purchased on Sunday but had not been picked up and noticed this new TB without a hip number. He was ID'd by his tattoo: I35193 as Bucky B Lucky. At this point I do not know who that was but I'm very grateful they took note of the new guy.... thank you!!

By all appearances, who ever brought Lucky to Enumclaw meant for him to go away quietly. Because he was dropped after the sale, he would have never been offered to the public for sale and would have been sold to one of the meat buyers and loaded onto a truck (I've heard that would have been this past Thursday or this coming Monday). This is one of those rare instances when I can say that this horse would have been better off going through the auction with the hope of being purchased by someone who would give him a home. Instead he was pretty much rail-roaded directly to slaughter & the deeper I get into the story the more I am convinced that it was by design, not my accident. Someone almost certainly INTENDED for him to go to slaughter!!!

Right after I got off the phone with Keith I learned that Katie from Second Chance Ranch was also trying to figure out how to get him out of there so she and I started working together to get the information straight and get things in motion to get him paid for. Keith and I spoke again and agreed that I would go and pay for him. Katie would arrange for a ride and would make room for him at SCR.

I stopped at my house on the way to Enumclaw and found a birthday card with a check to cover 1/3 of the bail. I decided that I needed a pony for my birthday and officially, Lucky is out in a joint financial effort of Keith, my Dad and myself.

When I got to the auction, I was helped (using that term loosely) by a woman at the front desk who had no idea what horse I was talking about because he had no sale number and after much more grumbling than I cared to endure, eventually I bought the horse on a Bill of Sale that simply says "Thorobred $450" When I asked if they'd like to clarify that with any identifying marks or information...or if they had any paperwork, they simply said "NO". I was allowed to let myself into the auction yard, hook up the horse and Hana from the SAFE message board and I walked him down the street to her house.

The plan was that he was going to remain at her house until Saturday when he'd be picked up on Saturday.

We were able to locate the information about the current listed owner and trainer of Lucky and I called the owner, Jeff D. who was in the middle of golf tournament today but took the time to talk to me about this horse. I initially asked him if he had the registration papers (which he doesn't) and why he wasn't racing any longer.

He said he claimed the horse last year, ran him a few times and then he was diagnosed with bone chips on his front/left ankle. He was given time off but returned to training in January 2010. The reports were that he was doing well but recently had some swelling post-workout so it was concluded that he was done racing. Jeff indicated that he could still be used as a trail or pleasure horse but he just wasn't going to be racing any more. He told me that he'd tried to ask around his horse friends to see if anyone was willing to take him and no one was so he trusted his trainer, Roy Lumm to re-home the horse. From what I've heard, this is not the first horse from Roy Lumm to find itself on its way to slaughter.

When I told Jeff how I got Lucky, he was clearly upset and said that he never wanted the horse to go to slaughter. He thanked me several times for getting him out of there and is quite concerned about how he got there. He admitted that he doesn't know that much about horses but his daughter does and would have been absolutely crushed to learn that Lucky had gone to slaughter. He's asked me to keep him posted on the progress and anything we might find out about how Lucky ended up there...seemingly under covert intentions!

It's my understanding that Keith will be contacting the trainer to see what he has to say about all this but there is one clear observation here:

The best way to keep clear of the prying eyes of the rescuers is to not go to the auction at all. Dropping a horse the day after the sale pretty much seals the deal for the horse, as it is far too easy to quietly disappear using this method. I don't buy for one minute that this was a coincidence, I believe someone MEANT for Lucky to go to slaughter without even a fair chance. We've checked around and not one legitimate rescue was ever contacted to take this horse before he was dropped at Enumclaw.

What I also hate about this process is that Ron got to set whatever price he wanted and we had to pay it. I'd like to point out that this was not a case where I went to Ron or the Meat Buyer post-auction after I had a chance to buy him before...this horse never went to the auction. The public never had the chance to buy him and he was never going to auction & this is not an auction was a done deal had someone not acted on his behalf otherwise, no one would have ever heard of Bucky B Lucky again. His last days would have been terrifying and by all indications, this once pampered racehorse met some angry and aggressive horses at the auction yard and had some pretty nasty bites and scrapes.

He had no fresh water and refused to drink out of the cement trough in the yard. He and the other horses were eating hay when I arrived but there seemed to be no effort to keep the horses safe or safe from each other.

When I walked up to the gate, I saw him eating hay. I called to him and he turned his eye and an ear to me. When I smiled and said “Bucky, come here…” he lifted his head and took a few steps toward me. I slipped inside the gate and he actually came all the way up to me. He allowed me to touch him and once I started petting his forehead and neck he started rubbing on me as if to indicate he was accepting me as an ally. It reminded me of the moment I met Coconut and how she came and placed her head in my chest as if to say “Please help me….” Bucky B Lucky had a very similar reaction.

Because I knew of this horse from watching him run at Emerald Downs and his former owners, I felt an obligation to help.

While initially Katie was going to make room for him at SCR, today Katie, Jaime and I decided that since there was an opening + considering my ongoing work with Save A Forgotten Equine (S.A.F.E.) that it would be a great option for him to be able to join the program.

There have been several folks who have helped in the process of getting him out of Enumclaw...

Katie at Second Chance Ranch has been a tremendous source of support during this process and I don't know how I could have navigated this insane course of action without her!

Hana from the S.A.F.E. message board gave him a place for a couple of nights and took very good care of him before we could get him hauled out.

Keith Swagerty stepped up for his former horse simply because he cared. There have been some reports that Keith was the breeder and I don't believe that to be the case. He once owned and raced the horse but he is not listed as the breeder. According to the Jockey Club, he was bred by Steve Meredith & Roy Dane

Here's Lucky's breeding:
His Sire is Kentucky Lucky by Seattle Slew
His Dam is Dixie Dew by Rolls Aly & Sister Slew (Slewledo.... Seattle Slew)

His stats: 18 starts, 3 wins, 4 places, 2 shows. Career winnings approximately $18k

VERY our minor league ranks, wouldn't you agree?

Tonite, my friend Kelli and I picked him up from Hana's (of around the corner from Encumclaw Auction fame) and drove him to SAFE. He actually got in the trailer with just a little hesitation. He appeared to be settling in well when we left.

So truly, I was able to help out financially with rescuing this horse because I still had in my wallet my winnings from the Derby. Les mentioned that it seemed natural that I would pick the name “Super Saver” as my Derby horse. At the time I thought it was nod to my mad bargain shopping skills…but perhaps he meant it as a tribute to my work saving horses!? Super Saver won the Kentucky Derby, which allowed me to help this horse…so a racehorse gave me the money to help another racehorse…which makes him a Super HORSE Saver!!!

A wining lottery ticket or a well-placed bet at the track would give me the ability to give him a home myself, but I think that his placement with S.A.F.E. is the next best thing to keeping him. I get to watch his progress closely and hopefully one day I’ll get to see him go to his wonderful new home.

Maeve and I still get to daydream about having enough money to fulfill our every wish…many of which include horses…

Things finally look peaceful for Lucky

ETA - December 2, 2010:
This turns out to be my single most popular post and gets hits almost daily so I'm going to update the story with the following....

Bucky B Lucky is the center of a front page story run in the Seattle Times on 11/9/2010

And just about a week later in the Monroe Monitor

He also has now completed his rehab and has had a test ride, see the details on his SAFE Message Board Thread by Jaime:

"I rode Lucky today for the first time. We would have been on him sooner but he was pretty sore on his feet until we finally put front shoes and pads on him, and then we couldn't seem to go a day without him pulling one of them. But we have them back on, plus bell boots, so hopefully they will stay now.

Lucky was super under saddle. Really, really nice horse. Great to saddle, not girthy, opened his mouth right up for the bit. Stood quietly while I mounted. Lunged, but tense on the lungeline and so I didn't do much lunging. Once I was on the most surprising discovery was that he was actually quite lazy. Not balky at all, he would go forward, but at a rather leisurely pace. He didn't really seem to understand how to move forward off the leg, but never felt unsafe or sulky about going forward. After getting tired of thumping him with my legs I picked up a jumping bat, which he also didn't care much about, but did inspire him to move a little more forward and we walked and trotted for 20 minutes or so both directions. He's green, but he steers fairly well and is very willing. He did not feel at all lame...but he needs to learn to relax into the contact and use his back a bit more before his stride will really open up and feel nice, right now it feels a bit short and stiff. But that's tension...not lameness.

After I rode him a bit one of our volunteers Katie (who is a beginner) got on him and walked him around for a while and he was just as calm and relaxed as he was for me. Really nice horse...hard to believe he was recently off the track, he was just so calm and laid back. I am really hopeful for him now - this is a nice horse who is sound enough for easy trail riding - and probably calm enough for a relative novice to ride safely as well."

..and lots more in the works for this awesome horse!


  1. Lucky truly was lucky in this situation. The fact that he was snuck in after the auction only to be discovered when an AH member went to take pictures of another horse bound for slaughter shows that miracles do happen. He is so lucky to have found a place with SAFE and with you! Kudos to SCR as well for initally stepping up to house him, and a big thanks to SWAG for caring for their horses.

  2. This is late, but again, THANK YOU for saving him!! I am still so upset as to how he got there!

  3. I am new to your blog, and love it. This story has me appauled, sad and feeling sooo frustrated. I am SO GLAD there are people like you in this world who make it their mission to rescue horses. I will help in any way I can but you people have all this knowledge on how this system works which really gives you the inside scoop on how to save them! I trained at Rose's stables, and I live close to Amici's so it was fun to read about familiar places....Great post, and Thank you for saving Lucky!