I am very proud to announce that I am now an official sponsor of a Story Dogs team here on the Sunshine Coast, sponsoring Ella and Charlie (pictured). Story Dogs is a registered charity that supports literacy programs in schools by sending in a volunteer human-canine partnership to help students on their paths to becoming confident, enthusiastic readers.
I first came across the concept several years ago via an American website and then looked for a similar program in Australia. I looked into volunteering with my Golden Retriever Daisy, but quickly realised Daisy was too much of a clown and I didn’t think we’d pass the behaviour test! Now, with my son starting Prep this year, I came across the program again and was truly excited to discover that I could add my name to the list of enthusiastic sponsors who help to keep this program running around the nation.
While the sponsorship money is pooled across the country to ensure that no child misses out, the beautiful faces of my personal sponsorship are Ella and Charlie, who volunteer at St Thomas Moore primary school here on the Sunshine Coast, and I have committed to sponsoring a Story Dogs team each year that my son is in primary school.
As a former English teacher and now author, I know that reading is the keystone skill to a life of opportunity.
You don’t have to be an official sponsor to help out too. You can donate or volunteer your time. Just visit the Story Dogs website at www.storydogs.org.au.
This is Tansy with me moments after winning her at auction at the Gympie sale yards in 2011. I went head-to-head with ‘the dogger’ (slaughter man), who was very keen to win her as Thoroughbreds have a high level of muscle tone and therefore get the doggers more money by weight at slaughter. My husband stood beside me. ‘Again, again,’ he kept saying, his eye firmly on the dogger. There were hundreds of horses there that day; we couldn’t take them all. But she was lucky. She got us; and we got her.
Every year, I like to share her story. You can see by Tansy’s face just how defeated she was that day. She was dripping in sweat, having been standing in this yard for many, many hours, with barely a drop of putrid water for relief. We had no idea how long it had been since she’d eaten.
Tansy doesn’t particularly like people but, bless her, she is one of my most well-mannered horses. Her training was good but the racing system broke her.
She is a thin horse because she has now lost all her front top teeth so can’t graze well. She lost her teeth due to neglect. The racing industry is there to make money, not to love and care for horses. If they can get away with not spending some money on dentistry they will do it. Now, I can fatten her up if I hard feed her twice a day but it’s really not good for her gut so we walk a fine line of watching her weight slide down, then up again as I put more hard feed into her, then stabilise, then slide again.
Last year, I thought we’d have to euthanise her. Her off-fore fetlock had ‘blown up’ a couple of times since I’ve had her, but then it blew up and stayed that way and she was terribly lame. X-rays revealed an old fracture–a racing injury for certain, according to the vet. He said she would have been stabled for a while to see if it would come good, then when it didn’t they would have tried to breed from her, and then she would have been discarded to slaughter.
This is the reality of racing. This is the story I saw over and over again as I literally pulled horses out of slaughter yards in my three years running a horse rescue charity.
As it turned out, a cortisone injection helped her fetlock through the worst of the pain and now the joint has fused she is more comfortable.
I don’t blame Tansy for not having a lot of time for people. People clearly let her down over and over again.
She now grazes as best she can in our ten acres and she will be loved and cared for for the rest of her life.
But I know for certain–because I saw it firsthand–that the majority of horses in this country are not lovingly euthanised and buried under a gum tree. They enter the cycle of horse slaughter, often with terrible, painful injuries and illness, and spend weeks being trucked around, fed rubbish food, kept in pens where other horses attack them, live in fear and die that way.
I know you don’t want to hear it.
Trust me, I don’t either.
Last week, I said goodbye to Anastasia.
I first met Anastasia six years ago via a Facebook page. She was in a slaughterhouse holding yard and the dogger (horse dealer) was asking $600 for her, or she’d become dog meat. From a market value perspective, $600 was crazy. But the moment I saw her photo, I started crying.
(Now, briefly, I already had five horses, most of them rescues, and I had recently founded and was running a horse rescue charity. So, seeing horses on death row was nothing unusual for me. I had made it a policy for the charity not to associate with horse dealers directly, but more fool me, I checked this site and simply knew I had to rescue this mare for myself. She even ‘told me’ her name: Anastasia. It just popped into my head so clearly, and when I looked up the meaning it meant resurrected, which seemed perfectly fitting for her situation.)
My husband and I scraped together the money, paid the dealer, and my friend Jane offered to drive over and pick up Anastasia. When she got there, Anastasia was standing in a yard and body parts of other horses lay on the ground around her.
As is the case in these situations, we didn’t know anything about her history. She appeared to be about 20 at the time, and the dealer claimed she’d been a ‘clerk of the course’ horse (those white/grey horses you see following racehorses around the track). That may or may not have been true. What was obvious immediately, after she’d shakily backed down the ramp off the float, was that she was very gentle and had had a lot of life experience, that she hadn’t eaten for quite some time (no manure for a long time and she was dehydrated), and that she had tendon issues in her back legs, and it was possibly for that reason that she’d been thrown away to the slaughter yard.
Despite her weakened back legs, she embraced her second chance at life. I had to lock her up in a yard by herself at night so she could eat (she was an excruciatingly slow eater and was so gentle that she was bullied by the other horses). But every morning, when I went to let her out, she’d be banging on the gate to get out, making a terrible commotion, whinnying and grunting at me to hurry up. She still climbed hills and took herself off on adventures through the paddocks. More than once, when she didn’t come back for dinner with the others, I set off across fields to find her and make sure she was okay, and when I found her I would tell her she had to come home, and she would walk back with me, side by side, with no halter or lead, taking her time and stopping occasionally on the steepest parts to have a rest.
After my son was born, it was Anastasia (along with my shetland pony, Sparky) who became his teacher. And she was the most most gentle, safe, patient, beautiful friend for him. What a blessing and gift she has been. With deep love and reverence, I watched him walking under her belly and between her legs, or laughing wildly as he threw hay up in the air and it landed in her hair, and more recently, going up to her as she lay on the ground and resting his body across hers, telling her that It’s okay, Anastasia. I never had a second’s fear that she would hurt him. Not one. She was trustworthy to a fault.
A couple of weeks ago, she had an eye ulcer and I had to put ointment in her eye three times a day. I didn’t even need a halter or rope on her. I would stand in front of her and lift her head and place it over my left shoulder while I opened her eyelids and squeezed in ointment. She never complained. Stoic till the end.
But it was those tendons in her back legs that were her literal downfall.
A couple of months ago I looked out to the yards at the house and she was lying down. Nothing too unusual in that, except I saw her do it three times in quick succession. I went out to check on her and she’d blown another tendon, probably having fallen down one of the hills she so loved to climb. I got the vet out and we bandaged and iced and gave her pain medication. But a couple of weeks later, just as it was starting to heal, it rained. Really rained. With mud under her feet, she had difficulty standing and the other leg (the “good leg”) suffered the same fate. Another blown tendon. Both legs went into bandages. The vet came again. She had cellulitis. We gave her antibiotics. We x-rayed to make sure nothing was broken. I realised that rain would be the ultimate undoing so in quick time we got out an earthmover to flatten earth and a hustled a builder into coming out urgently to build her a shelter. Some more rain came and she stood in her shelter knowing she couldn’t step outside on those wobbly legs. We filled the shelter with a deep pile of wood shavings so she could lie down, which she loved, and rolled in it till golden shavings filled her white mane like glitter.
My barefoot trimmer came to trim her feet, as she did every six weeks. Anastasia lay down for her to do it — a unicorn getting a pedicure.
Twice daily, I dosed her with pain medication (bute). But she wouldn’t eat it in food. She wouldn’t have it with molasses and bread. I tried honey, apple sauce, peanut paste. But she refused it all until I discovered that she loved organic brown rice syrup on fresh fluffy white bread. That was the trick. 🙂 Then I had to cut the sandwiches into rectangles so she could eat them, as she only had “three working teeth” left, according to the vet.
On we battled until ‘the good leg’ dropped further. Now, she was walking on her fetlock joint on the ground. It was a complete rupture of the suspensory ligament in that joint, one that would never recover. Still, the vet hesitated. We put her in big bandages again and waited to see.
But later that afternoon, she lay down. And barely got up again. The next morning when I checked on her, she lifted her head to greet me, before flopping it down once more. The light was gone from her eyes. She’d let go. I called the vet, he agreed it was time, and we let her go on the spot where she’d loved to sleep in the morning sun. I wove sprigs of yellow wildflowers into her mane and tail, and wedged lavender down into the bandages around her legs. And we buried her there.
I kissed her and let her go, saying, You don’t need legs when you’ve got wings.
Fly free, beautiful girl. The honour and privilege has been all ours.
** I also wrote a book called Horse Rescue. It is published under the name Joanne Schoenwald. If you are interested, you will find more of Anastasia’s story in that book.**