Sonja Meadows reached carefully through the slats of the dingy, white horse van and gently grabbed the lip of the frightened-looking Thoroughbred.
Working quickly, she flipped the chestnut’s lip, revealing the bright pink flesh underneath, and a tattoo identifying him as a racehorse.
Snapping a picture of the partial serial number, 1-2-8-2, Meadows worked quickly from the parking lot of the New Holland Auction, a livestock facility where horses are routinely sold into the slaughter pipeline.
The seconds ticked as she placed an urgent call to California-based Thoroughbred advocate Deborah Jones. Standing in the parking lot near the trailer that housed three unfortunate creatures, Meadows outlined the scenario to Jones.
“I was walking through the parking lot of New Holland on Oct. 3, 2011, at about 11 o’clock in the morning, when I spotted a trailer that belongs to a known” shipper in the slaughter pipeline, says Meadows, executive director of Animal Angels, Inc. “I was able to flip lips and take partial pictures of tattoos.”
Race name: Hawser
Dam: Homme de Loi
Foal date: March 7, 2005As soon as Jones received the call, she went immediately to work trying to identify the bay. First, she verified the gelding’s name through his lip tattoo and visual markings, and she backed up her findings with conformation from the Thoroughbred Research and Protective Bureau of Maryland.
The horse was identified as Hawser, a six-year-old who last raced in two claimers at Gulfstream Park.
Because of the valiant efforts of both Meadows and Jones, Hawser was returned to Kim Boniface, his previous trainer, and ultimately delivered to Dodon Farm, where Steuart Pittman agreed to retrain him.
According to a video posted on Pittman’s Dodon Farm website, Boniface believed she’d found a new owner for Hawser, when she learned that her horse was pretty far from a good home.
“She thought she had found him a good home but he actually ended up on his way to New Holland. When she got word of that, she got him back,” Pittman says. “And now she’s putting money into having him trained, so he can find a good life.”
Pittman agreed to retrain Hawser about six months ago, after Boniface contacted him, he says.
“Every year at the Maryland Millions Auction fundraiser, I donate a month of training for your favorite ex-racehorse,” Pitman explains. “She bought the package and said she had just the horse, that he’d been found on a trailer.”
When Hawser arrived at his farm, however, he was fat and healthy, Pittman reports. He notes that the good-natured gelding has also proved to be easy to work with.
“He was very brave and good on the trails,” he says. “And, I took him on a hunt, and he had a good brain.”
After working with the eager student for many weeks, Hawser was found to be a “little off,” however. A further investigation of his condition found that he had some cartilage loss in his ankles that would prohibit him from strenuous competitive sports, Pittman explains.
But that doesn’t mean Hawser wouldn’t make a great pleasure horse, he adds.
Already training well in dressage, he has been a promising student. And on the trails, he is fun, and not at all spooky.
Hawser is listed on the Dodon Farm website for free; however, Pittman and Hawser’s connections want to make sure he goes to a very good home.
There has been some interest in him, but thus far, no takers.
As Pittman waits to see if Hawser will find a new home, he plans on keeping him on his farm. In the meantime, he says, Boniface continues to contribute financially to his veterinary care.
It took a lot of teamwork to get the unassuming bay to where he is now, and they’re not about to give up on him.
“This is a horse that a bunch of people have gone out of their way for,” Pittman says. “He’s hard not to like.”
Meadows was glad to be in the right spot at the right time to help the likeable guy.
“It’s very fulfilling work,” Meadows says. “We’re hoping that through exposure of situations like Hawser’s, we can raise awareness and help these horses find loving homes.”
*Those interested in adopting Hawser should contact Steuart Pittman via his Dodon Farm website.