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Press Stories 1980-2004
The Last RideSarah Atlas
Harness Horse Retirement & Youth Association, Inc. Spring 1997
Note: The Harness Horse Retirement & Youth Association is no longer in existence. Thank you Anne for your dedication and perseverance in helping to save so many Standardbreds.
This spring issue of our newsletter is being dedicated to all the horses who have taken that long final ride to the slaughter house. Following is a poignant story by Sarah Atlas, a HHRYA board member, who went on an investigative journey to view first-hand what the last few hours of a slaughter bound horse's life is like, on a van shipment from Central New Jersey to Trois Rives, Quebec. It should be noted these horses came from all over the eastern seaboard.
The call came. It was time to go. My friend, who drove the 18 wheeler didn't know that I was there as a witness, just companionship and a spare hand at the wheel, he thought.
"Meet me at the local truck stop," he said. "Here's your chance to drive the big rig. "
I never asked him where we were going, I just grabbed an overnight bag and took off for Newburgh, New York to meet him midway on his journey.
After we exchanged greetings, I was shocked to see a double-decker stock trailer filled with horses rolling to the death house. Like prisoners on their way from Cologne to Dachau during the war, huddled together in cattle cars, these horses were en route to a similar fate - a Canadian stock yard to meet the Killers. There was a host of breeds and colors. A blaze, a star, an Appaloosa, a few Thoroughbreds, a couple of Standardbreds, some once loved child's pony. All with one thing in common, they were too naive to know that hours from now they'd get an air-gun-launched bullet between the eyes.
Eight hours into the haul (six for me) we were in Quebec.
We were there now, but three hours too early. The Killers wouldn't arrive until 6 a.m. and the slaughterhouse was as lifeless as the horses shortly would be. They were herded herded tightly on board, standing in manure and urine seeming to sense their reprieve and acted relieved. It gave me time to ask him some questions and think back on the trip.
Earlier, prior to boarding, the horses had, for the most part, been kept in holding pens at the dealers after they arrived from a number of sales. Some came directly from notable yearling venues. Others were mules, donkeys or old used-up draft and work horses.
Along the highway they had no water or hay - but they did receive provisions earlier this day - although I was told that this wasn't the usual procedure. Why feed a dead horse, right! That applied too the brood mares, heavy in foal.
As I remember the ride, we stopped just before we reached the Canadian border. We pulled over to make sure the inmates were standing. The one thing that's not allowed by Customs officers or Federal veterinary official is a downed animal, or the load gets turned away. Just in case one was down, he could plug them in with a cattle prod. All preparations were in place. Thank God, all of these were standing, and I didn't have to watch anything more shocking than what was already happening. So, down the road a piece, when the inspectors looked in with a flashlight and sealed the trailer with a tag, they handed over the necessary paper work - and the trip continued.
It was frosty cold that night, I thought during the drive. How those poor, abused arthritic horses must have been feeling. At daybreak, we still awaited the Killers. I got out of the truck to stretch and I came across a horse's hoof and leg from another load. It, Iike I, stood lifeless, between the sun's glory and cruelty. I cried. But I realize at I wasn't crying for that limb laying near the brush. Nor for the 40 some odd on board the trailer. The tears were for the millions more that would arrive. I knew then, seven years ago, I had to do something to stop the flow.
The killers arrived. With bull whips and cattle prods with hoots and hollers they pushed them down the manure covered ramps, as I watched them slip and fall losing their footing.
Some that couldn't get out of the way were trampled to death - right then and there. And out of this mess, like the messiah, was this beautiful quarter horse. A mare, maybe seven or eight. Age didn't matter now as she faced the Eternal. But she stopped to look at me. Mane freshly pulled, new shoes, and a coat that into gleamed into the Universe, showing of a far-away groom who shared love with sweet feed and a curry comb. She didn't just look at me. She stared. And I'm not sure, her asking,
"How did this happen to me?"
I thought "What can I do?" But did nothing. I probably should have haltered her right then and stopping this insanity single handedly. Like a tourist on the streets of Munich, in 1942, I stood mute and still pay for that moment.
Lined up and cold-bloodily assassinated - every day in this nation. In every state. Every county. Every breed. It's a long ride from New Jersey to Quebec. But years later that mare still lives in my heart, in my hopes. She lives if we give her life. If we let her play in our fields. If we ride her, pet her and groom her. And if we can't do that, we can do Something. If we stand together and love her then she still lives. What happened that night? Why didn't I do something to stop it! Won't you help me now, to ensure this doesn't have to continue!
There are things that you can do through HHR&YA. You can provide homes. You can provide temporary (foster care) shelter. You can volunteer time. You can provide (501-C) tax deductible contributions. You can spread the word, instead of passing the buck. You can hold a local fund raiser, (car wash, bake sale).
And if things are so bad that you have to give the old girl away, don't sell her like cattle to the butcher or to some stranger who is the highest bidder.
This newsletter and Sarah's story is dedicated to the following horses who took their last ride. Sarah personally worked with some of these mares on a breeding farm. What wonderful mares they were. Could not homes he found for them? The average purchase price for these horses was $350.00: