Because a story really can change the world.

In 1877, the most influential anti-cruelty novel ever, Black Beauty, was published. Written by Anna Sewell from a horse’s perspective to promote animal welfare, Black Beauty sold more than 50 million copies and remains one of the best-selling books ever.

All my life, I’ve worked alongside these magnificent, compassionate animals. Horses have emotions. Horses form strong connections and deep bonds with each other and, remarkably, with us. But chances are you already know this.

Did you know that in 2012, 160,000 American horses were sent from the United States to slaughter plants in Mexico and Canada? As many are set to be slaughtered this year and even more next year.

Laws were changed in the United States to disallow the slaughter of horses in the United States. What did this do? It sent determined stock owners to butchers in Canada and Mexico. This statistic is made worse knowing how powerfully emotive horses are. The truck ride alone is horrific.


Many members of Square Peg’s 18-horse herd were on their way to slaughter when we rescued them. My story — Vaya Con Dios — honors the stories of these horses. If this story moves you, please donate to the Square Peg Foundation and help us save equine lives, affect change, and teach the next generation of humans to respect and value life. Let’s make Anna Sewell proud all these years later.

So pour yourself another cup of tea, sit back, and enjoy the tale. It’ll take 10 minutes and it may even move you.

Caveat: This story contains adult issues that may upset children.

 

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House Music aka “Theo” – OTTB owned and loved by Sigourney Jellins, Square Peg Ranch Head Instructor. Photo by Paul Van Allen

VAYA CON DIOS           

by Joell Dunlap 

Nuzzling the orange cat can be tricky. Sometimes he’s friendly. Most times he swats me with his razor sharp claws. Tonight he’s friendly, but I’m suspicious that he accepts my affection.

At long last, someone turned off the crackling radio. The hay net is full but I’m not hungry. The pain in my throat is a tickle now. I cough, the cat hisses. I knew he was grumpy. My legs have been massaged and wrapped in cotton pillows and the bottoms of my feet are packed with cooling medicine. My right front knee is sore, but tolerable. I shift weight onto my stronger hip and then doze.

From the Racing Report Daily

Third Race: Team Bleau’s Vaya Con Dios disappointed bettors today as the 2-to-1 favorite failed to fire. He struggled throughout the race and loped across the finish line last. “He just never got in gear,” Jockey Charlie Clahain said.

“It looks like we either find softer competition for ‘Dios or find him a retirement home.” Assistant trainer Ann Garrison said.

The cat scurries away. Someone is coming into my stall. I don’t know him. I snort, curling my nose toward my chest to let him know I need space. The snorting makes me sneeze. I don’t like him. He slips a halter over my nose. It doesn’t smell like my oiled leather halter, it smells stale. He tugs the stinky rope and I follow him out into the dark, still sleepy.

My knees are stiff. The man jerks me toward the rig. Another man is waiting at the back of a little trailer. He’s nervous. WHACK! It’s a rope on my hips from the man in back. I pin my ears and kick out and am punched by the man in front. Tired, sore, and wanting to be alone, I walk into the van and look for food in the feeder — there is nothing. The doors slam shut and the truck wrenches into motion. I stumble. The trailer smells like urine and fear.

We’re stopped at the stable gate where words and papers are exchanged before we head onto a smooth highway. I place my nostril next to the broken window to get a stream of cool air. I rest.

We pull into a hot bumpy yard. I’m unloaded into a pen with three other horses. One is old and scared, another is young and curious, one is angry and wants us to know she’s boss. Thickly built and strong, she bristles, neck arched, nostrils flared, I can smell her estrus waning. I turn my back to her, I’m not interested in a fight. Quick as lightning, BAM! She wheels and lands a vicious kick on my hip.

Fury fires though my body. My legs strike out at her, at the soreness in my knees, at the filth of this place, and at the fact my breakfast and soft clean stall are somewhere else, not here. She submits, licks her lips and lowers her head. She has conceded leadership. The others avert their eyes.

The young horse sidles up beside me, tries to be friendly. I pin my ears back and snap teeth at him. I back up to sulk in the corner. The older horse slinks away. I position myself to show I mean him no harm. My flank is screaming with pain from the mare’s kick. She’s limping and bleeding but there is no satisfaction in that.

Hungry flies probe my eyes and nose. They crawl up my legs and torment my belly. It’s maddening. A single flake of hay is thrown into the pen. I know it’s mine to eat — these horses won’t challenge me — but I’m not hungry. The old horse and I stand and watch the others tear it apart. I’m thirsty but balls of manure float in the water trough. Undrinkable.

I lick the rusty fences for some moisture and find nothing. The sun reflects off the hard ground and stings my eyes. I dream of soft bedding. I long for the smell of cooking oats or the crunch of a peppermint offered from a friendly hand. I miss the orange cat.

Horses come and go. A vicious pony replaces the angry mare. Immediately, he has it in for the old horse who is afraid to sleep. I corner the pony, peppering him with kicks and mustering my scariest screams, but in no time, he’s back to his terrorizing.

I’m tired. I think about daily baths and a clean stall. Hunger cramps my stomach. I dream of cooked oats laced with salt and chunks of carrots.

The water trough is crusted with green slime. It sticks inside my nose and lips. The mud around the leaking tank sucked off one of my front shoes. My bad knee catches. I think about laying down but I know the skinny dogs pacing outside the pens will attack when I’m down. I stand and sulk.

I’ve gotten to know the old horse. He lived in a pasture with friends. He’s confused and scared. He is dying.

The stupid young horse made friends with the vicious pony. They flick their noses at the hungry dogs. They prance back and forth every time the old trailer pulls into the yard with another beast. They chase the old horse every time I doze off.

A man halters me and brings me into the yard. A snarling dog circles us and I snake my head with pinned ears until she tucks tail and runs away. The man holding my lead-rope jerks hard and stomps toward me with teeth bared. I remember the heavy punch from our first meeting and step back.

He presents me to two men with yellow eyes. They smell like chewing gum and cheap, stale cologne.

“I thought you said this horse can race?”

“Hombre, this horse is fast — I tell you. Look at the muscles! He was at the big track!”

“He can barely walk, he’s done. I need something to run right now. I told you.”

“All this horse needs is a little bit of magic dust and he can fly for half a mile. He knows how to win.”

“$2,000 for a cripple? No way.”

“A cripple who can fly. Look at him. And he’s mean, you saw him go after my dog. Mean horses run. You know that.”

“Show me something else — I don’t want a horse this old.”

“Gimme $1200 for him. He’ll run I swear.”

“I’ll give you $600 for him.”

“I can do better than that for meat.”

“Liar. I know what meat prices are.”

$750?”

“$600 is the best I can do.”

“I’ll show you this other horse I got, maybe you take two?”

A clump of grass teases me, just out of reach. My belly screaming for moist food, I strain hard and get a good mouthful before a swift kick to my chin forces me lift my head. I’m torn between gratitude for the morsel of green food and an urge to stomp all three men into the ground. I keep myself out of trouble by chewing grass in my mouth.

In the pen, the pony and his ornery side-kick are cornering my elderly friend. He’d made the mistake of helping himself to some of the hay left by the water trough. I don’t want to care. I want to brood in what’s left of the shade in the opposite corner of the paddock but I can smell the cancer that bubbles up underneath the skin of the old horse’s belly and I know he can’t defend himself. I charge in, head lowered and tail raised. I rush between my cowering friend and the marauders and then start to glower, to paw the hard scrabble, and let my outrage take hold.

Stupid young horse scurries and pony turns away nonchalantly. For now, my old friend is safe to cower in the corner. I glare at the pirates and lower my head to take a large bite of the hay on the ground. It’s bitter and dry and I eat every bite, daring the pony to take it from me. I can’t eat for my friend, but I can keep my strength up to protect the two of us. Behind me, I hear the old horse nibbling at dried manure.

A loud and dangerous smelling truck pulls in. I stomp, too tired to care. The dogs circle the vehicle, pissing on its tires. Men push horses through a chute and into the trailer. Hooves clatter on the thin wooden floor, cries echo off the aluminum walls. The belly of the rig shudders with it’s growing load. Our pen is the last one emptied.

I stand close to my old friend shielding him from the threats that lurk everywhere.  Stupid young horse tries to stay with the pony but he’s lost in the fray. We load into the trailer with the rest. But the pony has eluded the handlers. He’s frantically running around the pen. Terrified, he ducks and dives and spins away from the men.

Rivers of sweat run from behind his tiny ears, around his wide eyes, and drip from his quivering chin. We watch through the slats of the trailer as the men shout and try to corner him. Each time they have the pony cornered, he charges past them, knocking them over.

“Enough!” A big man picks himself up off the ground where the pony knocked him down, storms across the yard into a shed; the pony panting and watching. The man squints and aims and we all jump when we hear the report of the rifle. Another crack and the pony crumples on the spot. As the truck starts up and the trailer pulls away, we shudder at the sound of starving dogs feasting.

Twenty or so of us are standing as still as we can, trying to stay on our feet. The floor is greasy with nervous excrement. We sway against each other as the vehicle lurches down the road. We are so packed we can’t turn our heads to see where we begin and another horse ends. We muster our collective senses of smell, taste and sound to gain awareness.

A slamming thud and a shift of bodies tells me a horse is down. The smell of fear and sickness reaches my nose. It’s my old friend.  A horse reacts to the crush of his falling body on her legs. She squeals and lashes out. A chaos of panic and kicking and thrashing ensues until a hard left turn of the truck causes us all scramble to stay upright.

The fray re-ordered us. I can see my friend, down and battered, his head jammed against the wall at a horrible angle. The damage to his body is grave. Blood trickles from one nostril, his breathing is labored. He sighs and tries not to move but horses step on him as they do their best to remain standing in the moving space.

I lean my head into the strong back of the horse next to me. She shudders and I sigh to show her I am neither trying to dominate nor seek her protection. She echoes my sigh while I close my eyes and dream of sweet straw beds, of rich alfalfa hay, of immaculate white bandages supporting my massaged legs, of a groom singing softly while rubbing my coat with a clean towel. He’s patting me with big hands and offering me peppermints.

I’m awakened from my sweet dream by a scream of brakes and a crush of bodies. The van fish-tails wildly back and forth. The smell of acrid smoke is everywhere. Something big slams into the side of the trailer. The violence of the impact causes two horses to flip into the air.

The floor is a frenzied mess of terror. Blood and urine spray the walls as a score of horses try to flee the locked aluminum cage. Legs are tangled with tails and throats. I look up to see sky but my legs can find no purchase. Everywhere flailing hooves meet soft bellies, hard skulls meet harder walls.

We thrash and panic until our bodies collapse in an unholy heap. It’s all we can do to lay in place, panting and snorting, letting panic rule. Except for the moans and a steady pounding at one end of the cage, it’s quiet. We are still, we are down, and we are trapped.

We are waiting to die.

At last, when the rear doors of the trailer are jimmied open, daylight and fresh cool air cascade over us. Two uniformed men stand sweating between us and solid ground. One frantic mare jumps over the near corpse that was my old friend, powers past the men, and bolts into oblivion.

“Jeezus!”

The other officer radios for back-up, closes the hellish door, sinks to the ground, and repeats “Jeezus!”

Nate Hamer had just finished up his last bite of frozen waffles  and was savoring the last sip of his one daily allotted cup of strong coffee when his wife presented him with the morning paper.

 San Diego County Journal

TECATE, CA Hwy 188 was closed yesterday for three hours while authorities cleaned up after a tractor trailer wreck. The trailer contained 23 horses presumed to be headed for slaughter in nearby Mexico. Three horses were dead at the scene, one escaped from the trailer wreckage. Its whereabouts remain unknown. Six horses were euthanized at the scene due to the extent of their injuries and the rest were taken into custody by the San Diego Humane Society. The driver of the truck fled and has not been found.

A mechanical malfunction is presumed to be the cause of the accident.

The San Diego Humane Society needs help to find homes and health care for the 13 surviving horses. They are of all ages, breeds, and backgrounds. Many are presumed to be Thoroughbreds taken from a recently foreclosed breeding facility in Temecula. 

If you can help with the horses, please contact the San Diego SPCA immediately.

If you have any information about the owner of the vehicle, please contact the San Diego County Sheriff immediately.

Nate’s wife of 38 years took his plate and, against doctors orders, refreshed his cup of coffee. She placed the dishes in the chipped sink and poured herself another cup as well. She sat down, folded her hands, and watched Nate read and re-read the article.

He sighed “We don’t have any more room.”

“I know.” And she did.

“Where are we going to put them?”

“I have no idea.” And she didn’t.

“I guess the Bleau’s might have been serious when they said they’d send the broodmares to the auction if we didn’t take them.”

She didn’t answer, there was nothing to say.

“Well, let me see if I can talk Javier into hauling some for us. Maybe Tammi and her mom can foster one or two. Do you want to go with me to the shelter?”

“No, I’ll stay here.” She sipped and cradled the cup in both hands. “We can’t take them all Nate. You know that.”

And he did.

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Please, check us out! Google us, see us on Yelp!GuideStar, and Great Non-Profits. Ask the people at TCA and at California’s CARMA. When

My troubles are all over, and I am at home; and often before I am quite awake, I fancy I am still in the orchard at Birtwick, standing with my old friends under the apple-trees." last line of Black Beauty, By Anna Sewell 1877 photo by Deborah Rod
My troubles are all over, and I am at home; and often before I am quite awake, I fancy I am still in the orchard at Birtwick, standing with my old friends under the apple-trees.” last line of Black Beauty, By Anna Sewell 1877
photo by Deborah Rod

you’ve done your due diligence and determined us to be dedicated and effective, please help us to help these amazing animals.

Your donation goes straight to care and feeding of Square Peg horses. None of the money you donate ever goes to me personally.

We have a hefty goal for this fall’s fund-raising campaign. Let us bring you along on this amazing journey.

For each $35,000 donated to Square Peg, we can rescue one more Off Track Throughbred (OTTB). What does this mean to the horse? It means a permanent sanctuary at Square Peg Ranch. It means compassionate, capable animals like Vaya Con Dios can settle into a forever home.

We’ll update you with stories, pictures, and even videos of how your gift granted one of these animals an amazing new lease on life.

We all know about the power of the internet to share stories, photos, and experiences. If “Vaya Con Dios” moves you, please share the story with your local horse club, your friends, your horse crazy niece, and anyone else who loves or respects animals. Together we can make a difference and save lives.

Thank you.

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