The tipoff came early last Saturday.
Thoroughbred advocate Deborah Jones answered her phone in her California home and learned that ten Thoroughbred mares had just been dropped off at the Round Mountain Livestock Auction in Texas, a sale frequented by kill buyers, and if they were to be saved, she’d have to act quickly.
Responding with something akin to a military scramble, Jones immediately phoned Donna Keen of Texas-based Remember Me Rescue to secure stalls for the doomed animals, and then contacted Dallas businessman and Thoroughbred racehorse owner John R. Murrell for funding assistance.
“When I contacted him, I said, ‘John, we’ve got a bad situation here in your state,” Jones says. “I told him about the mares and he said, ‘Lets buy them and get them out of there.’ ”
But it wasn’t that simple. Someone needed to physically go to the auction, situated 50 miles west of Austin, to bid on the horses.
For several hours, Jones, Keen and Murrell made phone calls and sent emails in a desperate attempt to find someone who could physically bid against meat-buyers, and purchase the animals.
“We couldn’t find anyone,” Jones says, “so I called the auctioneer myself. I told him I was an agent working for Mr. John Murrell and that we’d like to buy the 10 mares. I explained we couldn’t find anyone to attend on our behalf.”
With the sounds of the ongoing auction audible over the phone lines, the auctioneer told Jones the mares were due to run through loose, at 4 p.m. He promised to call her back at that time.
“It was so nerve-racking,” says Jones, who emphasized her role was “very small” in the rescue attempt.
When the auctioneer called, he kept her apprised every step of the way as the mares entered the sale; he let her know who the horses were, by name, and whether kill-buyers were bidding for them as well. In all but one case, a meat-buyer was in fact bidding on the well-cared-for, healthy Thoroughbreds.
As the bidding took place, prominent breeders around the country were learning the identities of the 10 mares, horses with elegant pedigrees, who according to published reports in the Paulick Report and Blood-Horse, were owned by prominent Texas racing family Keith and Marilyn Asmussen.
Many breeders who brought these horses into the world stepped forward to offer to take them back, Jones says, noting that Golden Eagle Farm of California offered a lifetime retirement home to Luxury of Time, a 17-year-old daughter of Seattle Slew, and Mt. Brilliant Farm of Kentucky has offered to take back 20-year-old Valid Obsession.
And, others continued to step forward throughout the afternoon to help.
A hauler, who asked only for the price of gas, made two volunteer trips to transport the mares to two separate facilities.
Jones credited Murrell and Keen for saving the day for the mares. Murrell for providing the funding to buy the horses, and Keen for finding stall space for the animals.
Remember Me Rescue, of Burleson, Texas, a federal nonprofit run by Keen, accepted five horses, and a friend of Keen’s made room for the rest at a nearby farm.
“People have been amazing,” says Keen. “They’re coming out of the woodwork to help.”
Although it was sad that such beautiful animals wound up in perilous straits, the Thoroughbred community rallied to their aid immediately, proving, says Keen, that most horse people are quite decent.
“People stick together, and for the most part, Thoroughbred people are really good people,” she says.
All but one mare seem to be in excellent condition, Keen says, noting that one horse, Endless Storm, appears a “little thin.”
The mares are being fed high-quality feed and good supplements as they remain in quarantine, and await results of veterinarian checkups, she says. Once they are cleared, the mares will be made available for adoption.
For his part, Murrell says he was happy to help. The former board member of the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation, and longtime horseman, says he is vehemently anti-slaughter.
“I am against cruelty and abuse in any form, and certainly animal slaughter is cruel and abusive,” Murrell says. “I found out about the mares when Deborah called and asked me to get involved. I trust her judgment, and I acted.”
The following mares were saved by the fast action of Jones, Keen and Murrell: Valid Obsession, 20; Luxury of Time, 17; Adios La Cucaracha, 15; Rhododendron, 7; Our Revival, 12; Endless Storm, 20; Ethel Is Best, 13, Karitsas Punch, 14; Fans Galore, 15; and Empress Jones, 8.
Off-TrackThoroughbreds.com salutes everyone associated with this valiant and successful effort to save more of our beloved animal friends.