Bridleless Wyatt improves after binge, a Houdini

The aftermath of a binge-eating spree after escaping his stall. Wyatt is kept in ice boots to help protect against onset of laminitis.

The aftermath of a binge-eating spree after escaping his stall. Wyatt is kept in ice boots to help protect against onset of laminitis.

Bridleless Wyatt, known on racetracks far and wide as Donna Keen’s beautiful, “kill-pen save” who ponies racehorses without a bridle on his face, had a brush with illness last week after eating himself sick.

Wyatt, who has Houdini’s knack for getting out of his stall, managed to escape last week and find his way to an unlocked feed storage room.

After consuming three bags of feed—oats and two kinds of sweet feed, Wyatt lay down in the aisle of the shedrow and snoozed, and then later wandered about, checking on other horses, says Keen, who watched the episode unfold later while reviewing footage from the cameras she trains on Wyatt’s stall.

“We keep a camera on his stall because he’s a Houdini,” she says, noting, “I didn’t think he could get out of this stall. But, he had knocked his hay bag on the ground, and he was mad, so he began working to get out of his stall.”

Pushing his butt up against the gate, and with persistence, he used his weight to knock the door off its runners. Once it became unhinged, he used his neck to slide it open, and walked right under the guard chain.

Wyatt’s quest for a late-night snack triggered an immediate emergency response to prevent colic or laminitis, says Keen, adding, “I didn’t want to wait for him to colic. When I saw the feed room and what he’d been into, I called the vet right away to come flush him with oil.”

After several worrisome days treating Wyatt against the ill effects of a late-night raid on a feed bin, he is allowed a few bites of feed.

After several worrisome days treating Wyatt against the ill effects of a late-night raid on a feed bin, he is allowed a few bites of feed.

In addition to the feed, Wyatt consumed unknown quantities of a white powdery supplement, which, when flushed from his system, sank to the bottom of a collection bucket and hardened. This, more than anything, worried Keen. “This really scared us because we worried it settled so hard,” she says. “We worried about it causing an impaction if it settled in his intestines.”

In addition to tubing, Wyatt was also treated with a regimen of medications and electrolytes, and given plenty to drink. He is being sedated and kept away from all but a few bites of food. And his legs have been wrapped in ice boots, as he is forced to stand in ice to help mitigate any threat of laminitis, she adds.

“We’re probably looking at a $3,000 vet bill,” says Keen, a race owner and trainer and founder of Remember Me Rescue. “But he’s bright and perky now. We’re just waiting out the laminitis” by keeping his legs cold. If all goes accordingly, Wyatt will be back on the job soon, a little thinner. And Keen will redouble her efforts to keep Wyatt contained in his stall at night. “He’s a character,” she says. “There’s never a dull moment with Wyatt.” ♥

T Bred iconAuthor’s note— If you enjoy stories like these, please consider visiting the blog’s new store, Off-Track Products. Proceeds will help sustain this blog in the future, and go to charity.

Many hands helped Coaltown Legend home

Coaltown Legend is hugged by his original breeder and first race owner, Kate Feron.

Coaltown Legend is hugged by his original breeder and first race owner, Kate Feron.

The coal-dark Thoroughbred who had run so many miles and whose body had shrunk around protruding ribs, did not “die in the dirt” as some had feared.

Hope and change prevailed last week instead.

Instead of breaking down in his last race, as was predicted in conversations on social media, 9-year-old Coaltown Legend, an animal whose beauty still shone after years of dogfights and 64 starts, made it home to retire on the New York farm of his birth.

The turning point was a spontaneous appeal by Thoroughbred lover Deb Jones, urging people to pay attention and keep tabs on the horse, schedule soon to run at Penn National. Jones’ plea was first met with a murmur that led to a rumble and eventually grew into a movement to bring the horse off the track and back home to NY.

“(News of Coaltown) was posted on Facebook and Akindale reached out. By Wednesday it was settled and Thursday he was home,” says Akindale Rescue Manager Erin Chase Pfister, who credits the yeoman efforts of the gelding’s past owner Angelo De Fillipis, who worked in tandem with Brooklyn Backstretch writer Teresa Genero to negotiate for the horse’s retirement to Akindale, and to Pennsylvania shipper Althea Roy, who volunteered her time and costs to transport the horse, and to the animal’s original breeder, Akindale trainer Kate Feron.

Coaltown Legend
Sire: Jump Start
Dam: Avril a Portugal
Foal date: May 11, 2005
Earnings: $328, 084, 64 starts
“There were a lot of people involved in this,” adds Pfister, who acknowledged the good that Deb Jones’ Facebook post did to illuminate a situation in which many had privately tried to help, but that only changed when horse lovers on social media began to rally round the striking, dark horse. Coaltown Legend finished fifth at Penn National July 19 after a slow start, and retirement was soon his.

There were many relieved past connections, and tears of joy when tired and weary Coaltown rolled into Akindale on Thursday.

Feron bred Coaltown Legend and named him in honor of her father, a non-horsey accountant who had a funny kind of fixation on the great Hall of Fame horse, Coaltown. She raced Coaltown Legend successfully until he was claimed away from her in 2010. After that, she frequently put out the word that that she would take the horse back to Akindale, no questions asked.

But Coaltown Legend passed from owner to owner, racing his heart out until last week, when he put in a poor run at Penn National. Though the horse was destined to be given to someone else, Coaltown Legend was turned over to representatives after past owner De Fillipis and writer Genero prevailed upon those involved with the horse to allow him to come home.

Coaltown Legend arrives at Akindale Thoroughbred Rescue last Thursday. His breeder and first owner weeps as she takes the lead rope.

Coaltown Legend arrives at Akindale Thoroughbred Rescue last Thursday. His breeder and first owner weeps as she takes the lead rope.

De Fillipis explains: “I told everyone involved that this is a pretty well-known NY bred, that people loved him, and that he needs to be retired. I was pretty thrilled to get the horse released to me.”

And he was also relieved. De Fillipis, who owned the horse at one point, but was forced to sell him during hard financial times, says he kept tabs on Coaltown Legend, and spent a few sleepless nights worrying.

When the underweight racehorse arrived Thursday, Pfister says Coaltown was on edge. “It was as if he was thinking, ‘Now where am I?” she says. But overnight, his attitude changed.

“I think he remembers his home. By morning he was a different horse. It’s like he’s figured out that there’s cookies and hay and he’s going to be fed—he’s in really good spirits.”

As he reached his regal, dark head over the door of his new stall, playing with admirers, he accepted a knowing hug from Feron, who cried when he arrived. “To see him again, I can’t express what it was like,” Feron says. “He always had a special place in my heart. This was my special horse.” ♥

T Bred iconAuthor’s note— If you enjoy stories like these, please consider visiting the blog’s new store, Off-Track Products. Proceeds will help sustain this blog in the future, and go to charity.

45-horse charity seeks help as it transitions

A volunteer works with Slewy at Second Chance Ranch in Washington. Photo courtesy Second Chance Ranch

A volunteer works with Slewy at Second Chance Ranch in Washington. Photo courtesy Second Chance Ranch

Second Chance Ranch, a Washington state charity with 45 horses, is struggling to meet its obligations as the 20-year-old organization transitions away from horse rescue, according to founder and president Katie Merwick.

After announcing in January a plan to “wind down” the rescue side of her certified 501 (c) 3 nonprofit, which has responsibly re-homed an estimated 1,500, Merwick says donations to her charity have evaporated, and she is struggling.

“I announced in January that we were planning to wind down the horse rescue by May 2015. The problem right now is that we have no budget, we’re $30,000 in debt, and people are fronting us hay,” Merwick says. “We held a fundraiser event earlier this year, and we didn’t even cover our costs.”

Merwick, 51, cites the changing landscape of horse rescue, which has seen a sharp increase in the number of charities competing for funding, as a factor in the growing financial strain that began for her charity in the late 2000s.

“There’s so many charities popping up, and this makes grant funding more competitive,” she says, noting that larger charities tend to attract the greatest amount of funds.

Dinner is served!

Dinner is served!

In the next year, Merwick will actively work to re-home all but five Washington champion racehorses, while she personally shifts gears to parlay her decades of experience in the horse world into an educational outreach effort, in which she will self-publish educational books and material, and host seminars and clinics.

Her goal will be to help horse owners fix broken relationships with their Thoroughbreds, a subject she has deep experience with, as she works to use her expertise in a proactive way.

Second Chance Ranch will not dissolve its 501 (c) 3 status, and the herd of 45 will remain with her until she can get them re-homed. Although her goal is to complete the transition by May 2015, horses yet to be re-homed will remain with her until she can find them suitable homes, she says. Horses remaining with her in permanent sanctuary are: The Great Face, No Giveaway, Flying Notes, Chickasaw Park, and a Warmblood named Konig.

Second Chance Ranch has operated for 20 years and has re-homed approximately 1,500 horses.

Second Chance Ranch has operated for 20 years and has re-homed approximately 1,500 horses. Photo courtesy Second Chance Ranch

In the meantime, Merwick hopes to lend her expertise to other nonprofits, teaching them best practices for matching the right horse with the ideal new owner, and to teach seminars to horsemen helping to address and correct bad behavior. “I want to be a resource for people, and to teach them how to fix relationships with their horses,” she says. “So many people have been calling on me for my expertise, and I would like to do more of this.”

She has decades of experience to fall back on. Prior to founding Second Chance Ranch 20 years ago, she worked as a private horse trainer. She reaped financial success by training clients and their horses, and by re-training and selling Thoroughbreds off the track.

As Merwick looks ahead to this next phase of her life with horses, she will continue to work hard to ensure the best care for her herd of 45. Those interested in donating to their care are invited to do so at http://www.secondchanceranch.org. ♥

T Bred iconAuthor’s note— If you enjoy stories like these, please consider visiting the blog’s new store, Off-Track Products. Proceeds will help sustain this blog in the future, and go to charity.