Kill pen horse set to show in The Sunshine State

Future Kings, 17, is climbing up the hunter/jumper ranks just two years after being rescued from a kill pen. Photo courtesy Marilyn Lee

An aging Thoroughbred gelding who dropped like a stone from his glory days, tumbling far from the rarified auction where he fetched $200,000 as a Yearling only to wind up years later at a livestock auction steps away from slaughter, is set to travel to Florida this winter to compete among rarified show horses.

Two years since he was rescued from the New Holland auction in Pennsylvania, a place where meat buyers fill their trucks with unwanted horses and ship them to slaughterhouses, Future Kings, 17, is on the cusp of rebirth, says his owner Marilyn Lee of Sherwood Farms in Ontario. In February, the talented bay gelding will debut in Florida after spending the past year gaining points on the Ontario baby green hunter/jumper division.

Future Kings
Sire: Desert King
Dam: Stellar Empress, by Star de Naskra
Foal date: April 19, 2000
The beautifully built Thoroughbred, who possessed a kind of star power even when he was caked with dust and discarded at auction, has blossomed as a hunter/jumper in the baby greens under the tutelage of Lee’s talented daughter, Robin Hannah-Carlton.

After competing on the A circuit in the Ontario Hunter/Jumpers last year, the pair finished with a respectable sixth-place in the baby green division, proving they can hold their own against much more valuable and highly trained horses, Lee says.

And in January, Kings will enter the show rings in Ocala, Fla. to compete in the Thoroughbred division of the hunter/jumpers, demonstrating his skill and dispelling myths about ex-racehorse Thoroughbreds.

Future Kings and Marilyn Lee enjoy a visit with Santa recently.

“People always ask me about Kings on the show circuit. They comment about how gorgeous he is. And nobody believes it when I tell them he’s a retired Thoroughbred who came out of the kill pen,” Lee says.

Lee just smiles her knowing smile, for some of her best horses have come from very humble beginnings. Years before opening their barn to Future Kings, the mother/daughter team adopted a chestnut gelding castaway known in Thoroughbred circles as the “Everglades Horse.” This animal had been chained to a cement block and abandoned in a desolate stretch of the Florida Everglades before the Lees adopted him gave him a second shot at life. Starved and severely emaciated, Prodigioso was blind in one eye and required eight months of rehabilitation by the South Florida SPCA before he was fit to be re-homed to Ontario.

Prodigioso jumps in 2-foot-9 green horse show Aug. 10. Photo courtesy Reeds Photography

Lee took him in and in no time, the partly blind ex-racehorse began making a name for himself in the show circuit. And now their newest rags-to-riches racehorse will do the same in the Sunshine state.

“We took Prodigioso to Ocala two years ago to compete in Ocala, and now its time for Kings to have his shot,” Lee says. “He’s so great at what he does … he doesn’t have anything to prove to us, but we just want people to see him. He’s achieved more than we ever could have dreamed of.”

Kings is the Irish-bred grandson of a champion U.S. sprinter Star de Naskra. Two years ago, at age 15, he was rescued from the New Holland auction in a joint effort led by Marlene Murray of R.A.C.E. Fund, Gail Hirt of Beyond the Roses, and purchased with a donation by Texas businessman and philanthropist John Murrell.

Immediately after Lee and Hannah-Carlton learned of Kings’ fate, they stepped up to offer him a permanent home.

“My daughter Robin Hannah-Carlton and I both happened to be looking at Facebook and we both found King’s picture. We weren’t looking at him together, but we both recognized how cute he is. We knew nothing about his story, and there’s still quite a bit of mystery about him. He hasn’t raced since his last race at Thistledown in 2006 and we have no idea where he’s been, or how he wound up there,” Lee says.

But in the end it didn’t matter. He wound up where he was supposed to be, with them, in Ontario, setting the hunter/jumper world on fire.

— Author’s note: It has been a great honor to write nearly full-time about OTTBs in the pages of this blog these past seven years, the past two with the financial backing of the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation. I have decided to scale back the blogging effort at this time, but will continue to write an occasional article. Thank you to my readers for the social media support, and to the OTTB owners who’ve helped me tell over 1,000 stories. Happy New Year!

A hellish trip saves 8 from Bastrop Kill Pen

Kay Hanlon Myruski and her 12-year-old daughter Emma rode from New York to Louisiana, and back, to save 8 slaughter-bound horses.

A New York woman and her 12-year-old daughter drove over 3,000 miles, running on fumes and stolen cat-naps, to rescue eight horses from the Bastrop Kill Pen in Louisiana.

Stepping up last week to do the long-distance haul after plans fell through with their shipper, Kay O’Hanlon Myruski and her 12-year-old daughter Emma drove from their home in Goshen, N.Y. to pick up a large horse trailer at Gerda’s Animal Aid in Vermont, before driving south through blistering heat and difficult conditions, all in the name of saving horses who would otherwise ship to Mexico to be slaughtered.

“It was a no brainer,” says Myruski, a longtime Thoroughbred advocate and horse rescuer based in Goshen, N.Y.

With only four hour’s notice that shipping arrangements for the assorted mix of horses had fallen through, she and her daughter jumped in the truck last week to drive 3,000 miles round trip in an odyssey fraught with problems.

It was so hot in the trailer that Kay was forced to smash out the windows with a hammer. And horses were doused with water every two hours.

The pair swung into action after Gerda’s Animal Aid, on which Myruski serves as a board member, initiated a rescue effort to save a seven-month-old filly. After the filly was purchased, arrangements were soon made to save seven more horses, including a beautiful pair of white driving horses, a Tennessee walking horse, a Standardbred and some minis. Because the Bastrop Kill pen no longer sells Thoroughbreds to rescue organizations, none were obtained on this trip, Myruski says.

“It’s getting harder and harder to get these places to open their doors” and allow rescue workers to intercept Thoroughbreds in the slaughter pipeline, she adds.

By all accounts, this was a hard journey. Besides the gut-wrenching experience of leaving behind Thoroughbreds, and knowing that as quickly as eight horses were saved from the pipeline, their places would soon fill with other horses, the journey in and out of the sweltering south was plagued with problems, she says.

Emma, 12, has saved many horses with her mother. But this was the longest trip she has made.

As soon as they crossed into Ohio, the pair was delayed when they were forced to stop to get malfunctioning trailer lights repaired. And when they finally rolled into Louisiana, temperatures and humidity were so high Myruski says, “You’d break a sweat if you bent over to tie your shoelace.”

It was so stifling in the trailer that in desperation Myruski broke the windows with a hammer in order to get cross ventilation, she says.

And after the horses the horses were loaded and they were en route home, the heavy trailer burst a tire, forcing them to backtrack to make repairs.

“The tire dealer didn’t want to do it. So I pretty much begged. I explained that I had eight horses on board, and a 12-year-old daughter with me. I pleaded and the man finally agreed,” she says.

When they finally got back on track, Myruski and her daughter worried because the sweating, scared horses refused to drink from water buckets. “It is so true that you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink!” she notes.

Stopping every two hours for fuel, the pair poured buckets of water on the horses to cool them down. And just when they worried that the animals would become completely dehydrated, they slowly started to drink. And by the time they made it to a quarantine farm in Virginia, the herd had downed 250 gallons!

This horse was nicknamed the “babysitter” because he could keep the others calm.

Each horse is now doing well, according to Gerda Silver, head of Gerda’s Animal Aid, and the organizer of the rescue.

She notes that the young filly that started the whole effort has been officially adopted, and that every horse will have a place to go, whether to a foster farm, or stalls in Vermont.Each horse is now doing well, according to Gerda Silver, head of Gerda’s Animal Aid, and the organizer of the rescue.

“Normally we’d never try to do something like this. But, I had some really good adoptions recently, and miraculously I had the room to take in more horses,” Silver says. “And we’ve got this network of people to help. We have a friend in Virginia, a Navy veteran, who wants to open a facility, and she’s planning to keep some. We have some minis who are going to Long Island to be gelded and fostered, and we already have people interested in adopting the others.”

But the three-day rescue effort, which concluded over the weekend, was bittersweet, the women say.

“The saddest thing, for me, was that when Kay drove away from the lot, she looked in the rearview mirror and she saw the most beautiful Thoroughbred still standing there. It’s the ones you can’t help that really make you cry,” Silver says.

Myruski agrees.

“For as many as we take, the slots of those saved horses are immediately filled with many more” slaughter-bound horses,” Myruski says. “I don’t blame the dealer or the holding pens. I blame all the people who send their horses there, and the ignorant backyard breeders. We’ve just got way too many people producing horses.” — This story was originally published on June 22, 2016. Off-Track Thoroughbreds has recently reduced its publishing cycle, but will bring readers new stories, from time to time, in the near future. Thanks for your patience and loyalty. 

TRF auctions exciting race legend memorabilia

An opinionated OTTB at the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation hopes Santa puts something good in his stocking this year because he's been very, very good!

An opinionated OTTB at the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation hopes Santa puts something good in his stocking this year because he’s been very, very good! Today is Giving Tuesday, and the horses at the TRF welcome a small donation.

Saratoga Springs, NY – Items celebrating the racing careers of such Thoroughbreds at Triple Crown winners Secretariat, American Pharoah and Affirmed, as well as legends like Man o’War and Seabiscuit will be offered during the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation’s Second Annual Online Holiday Auction fundraiser that begins Monday, November 21st at 8 a.m. concluding Monday, December 5th at 10 p.m.

The auction will not only will benefit the horses in the TRF herd, but will make holiday shopping for racing fans that much easier. All auction items have been donated to the TRF and proceeds from the auction will benefit the TRF’s herd of former racehorses. Simply go to the following link:

The halter worn by Triple Crown winner American Pharoah is among the exciting TRF auction items.

The halter worn by Triple Crown winner American Pharoah is among the exciting TRF auction items.

Auction items include a halters worn by 2015 Triple Crown winner American Pharoah, and 2015 American Champion Two-Year-Old Filly Songbird; several items, including the identification package, related to the legendary Secretariat; signed photographs of 1978 Triple Crown winner Affirmed and his rival, Alydar; a bronze of the great Man o’War; and a framed, limited-edition news package of Seabiscuit’s victory over 1937 Triple Crown winner War Admiral in their “Match Race of the Century” in the 1938 Pimlico Special.

Secretariat's Universal Home Identification System will be auctioned to raise funds for racehorses retired at the TRF.

Secretariat’s Universal Home Identification System will be auctioned to raise funds for racehorses retired at the TRF.

Also available at this auction are memorabilia of John Henry, one of the top horses of the 20th century, Funny Cide, the first New York-bred to win the Kentucky Derby; Songbird, the juvenile filly champion of 2015 and signed goggles and whips worn by Hall of Fame jockeys John Velazquez, Laffit Pincay Jr.; Jerry Bailey and Edgar Prado.

About the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation: The TRF is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit tax-exempt organization entirely dependent on public contributions. Founded in 1983, the TRF is the the oldest and largest equine sanctuary of its kind. Its mission is to save Thoroughbred horses no longer able to compete on the racetrack from possible neglect, abuse and slaughter. Most of the horses in the TRF herd live at TRF Second Chances Farms at various correctional facilities across the country. Donations from generous individuals, businesses and foundations account for 100% of the TRF budget. For more information contact TRF at 518-226-00287 or visit, or to make a donation on Tuesday Giving Day, please do so here: