Last April, the tired-looking chestnut gelding appeared to have reached the end of the line as he stood, meekly waiting, in a New Jersey feedlot.
Shaggy and unkempt, his mane grew in scraggly strands down his neck. And, about the only thing that looked clean on the ex-racehorse was his hip sticker. Bright green, it identified him not by his race name, Whippany, but as Hip No. 699; he was now a horse to be bid on and either sold to meat buyers who would ship him to slaughter, or perhaps by bidders with a more charitable intent.
As fate would have it, his destiny would hinge on a photograph. One that captured asoulful depth in his eye, and became an unshakable image that ultimately compelled a Bermuda riding instructor to intercede on his behalf.
“When I first looked through the photos of available horses at the Camelot Feed Lot, I didn’t see him,” says Esther Douglas.
But when she looked a second time, a new picture had been added to the album. This time, she saw the dainty face and kind expression that compelled her to buy the feedlot horse.
So on April 28, 2011, Whippany’s path in life changed in an instant, veering away from the bloodstained floors of a kill chute and toward pink-sand Race name: Whippany
New name: Cam
Registered name: What a Deal
Sire: Private Interview
Dam: Fairy Dust
Foal date: 2006 beaches and the island country of Bermuda.
Loaded into a cargo container outfitted with stalls and piled high with bedding, hay, and constantly refreshed water buckets, he sailed for three days over the choppy Atlantic to reach his new home.
Waiting on the dock, Douglas watched with awed fascination as a giant crane lifted the container from the ship, and set it down gently; curious horses poking their heads out and contemplating all the commotion.
“When we went to get him out of the container, he whinnied when we first opened the door,” Douglas says. “He was great. He backed right out, and then when he figured out he had to get on a van, he gave a great sigh, and walked right on.”
An hour later, Whippany, who is now called Cam, arrived at Spicelands Equestrian Center and was invited to chill out at the last riding academy on the island.
After being quarantined for several months at a barn in New Jersey, and sailing for three days, the ordinarily sure-footed Thoroughbred took his first wobbly steps around his new paddock.
“Horses tend to get wobbly when they travel by sea, like people do, so we gave him time to recover his land legs,” Douglas says. “He just floated across the paddock! He was gorgeous, and obviously so happy to be able to move around.”
After which, Cam received a sudsy bath before being led to a warm stall, where he promptly laid down for a four-hour nap.
As Douglas got to know her horse, the first she’d ever owned outright, she grew more and more impressed with his gentle demeanor and willing-to-work mindset.
“His personality was amazing. He was super quiet and when I rode him, it felt like he was looking after me, making sure I was okay,” she says. “He has such a huge heart and all he wants to do is try for you.”
And Douglas, in turn, did everything she could to make his transition to his new life as a riding-school as smooth as possible.
When her farrier discovered that Cam was suffering from abscesses in all four feet, they went to great lengths to heal his soreness. Because his hoof condition prevented the smithy from nailing on traditional shoes, a special glue-on shoe, which is often used with Thoroughbreds, was fitted to his sensitive feet.
“In a sense, what we’ve done is given him a pair of Dr. Sholls,” she says, chuckling.
Today, Cam is really doing well. He has adapted beautifully to the island life, taking walks to the ocean, and beginning work as a lesson horse for older children.
And beyond that, he’s more than a little fond of galloping across beaches, and plunging into water. Or just for taking lazy hacks and cuddling with at the end of a long day.
“I think about it all the time, about how he could have wound up at a meat-packing plant,” she says, “but instead, he came to Bermuda to be my dream horse.”