Thoroughbreds Starved, Abandoned, Shipped to Auction

The news hit our Facebook news feed early on a Saturday morning. The Hooman Akbary Thoroughbreds were about to go through Carson’s auction. It was April 5th and we, along with several other rescues, had been trying to get the herd of 40 starving Thoroughbreds into safekeeping for weeks with no luck. Now they were at the auction, with kill buyers ready to buy them “by the pound.”

Murphy’s Law dictated that this would be the ONE Saturday of the year I had to work (the College where I teach was having an Open House. No way out of that). So that left Robert on his own, with only a two-horse trailer and whatever money he could scrape together on short notice. We hit the highway at the same time – me with a short drive to work, Robert with a couple of hours’ driving ahead of him, trying desperately to get to the auction before the horses were snatched up by the kill buyers.

For 11 of the 34 that were shipped to the auction (6 were held back through a side-deal), that was exactly what happened. They were bought by kill buyer Jonathan Lalonde, and would be headed to a Quebec abattoir in short order, despite having no EIDs (the “passport” required by the government to “guarantee” a horse has been drug-free for 6 months). Of course, lack of legitimate EIDs has rarely slowed the slaughter pipeline down. The documents are regularly forged, as The Toronto Star’s Mary Ormsby has documented in print.

But these 11 were lucky – a deal was struck and the horses were bought out of the kill pens by a rescue organization.

Robert was able to buy 9 horses from the auction, ranging in age from 2 to 18 years. These should have been sleek, fiery race horses or plump and happy brood mares. Instead, they were starved to the point where one of them was unable to stand on her own after lying down to rest. She had metabolized her muscles in an effort to stay alive and lacked the strength to get to her feet without assistance.

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Little Kate – propped up by hay bales as she gathers the strength to get to her feet.

The eighteen-year-old had a body condition score of 1, her hip bones threatening to poke through skin left hairless by lice and rain rot

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Eighteen-year-old Naomi (Bold Mist) – hipbones protruding, all fat and muscle gone, hair loss due to lice and rain rot.

All were weak, sick and starving, but worst of all was the little colt we nicknamed “Little Man.” He’d gone down at the auction and thrashed in his pen. Instead of pulling him from the sale as the rules dictate, the supervising vet simply gave him a shot of Banamine, watched as auction staff lifted the colt to his feet, and allowed him to be prodded through the auction ring to be sold “as is” for $25. (We were relieved to discover a few weeks later that this particular veterinarian is no longer practicing).

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Little Man the day he arrived, the auction tag still on his hip.

Little Man made the long trip to our farm on Saturday, and although weak, seemed to be holding his own. But by Sunday morning he was failing and in obvious distress. We called our vet, but knew the verdict before he delivered it. The umbilical hernia on the colt’s belly was bulging with intestines that had slipped through the opening in his abdominal wall months ago and been left untreated. Adhesions had formed. The little colt’s digestive tract was choked off. The colt was suffering badly.

There was a slim possibility surgery could save Little Man, but he was starved and sick and too weak for another long trip. The kindest thing would be to have him euthanized.

Yet even in his deplorable state, Little Man had followed us around in the morning sunshine as we waited for the vet to arrive, grateful for a little gentle grooming of his matted winter coat and the kind words that were all we had to give him. The vet administered the drugs, and as the colt lay dying in the snow, sadness competed with anger and a feeling of helplessness.

We were unable to save Little Man, but I like to think we made his final hours a little less horrible.

Of the other eight rescues, seven are still with us, now fat and healthy and in various stages of training for their new careers (details in my next post). One found a home with breeders shortly after we brought her home.

Of Hooman Akbary, the “trainer” who’d once owned the horses and the farm, there has been no word. Rumour is he left the country after abandoning the horses, much as he’d fled England a few years earlier after a similar fiasco.

Many people pulled together on that Saturday a year ago, putting up money to buy a horse, offering a trailer-ride or a few weeks’ free board while we made room at home for our new herd of rescues.

To those kind souls, a heart-felt “thank you.”

To those who caused or condoned the suffering of these beautiful creatures, shame on you. I hope the memory of what you’ve done haunts you for the rest of your days.