Liberated from illegal butcher, a horse inspires

Freedom's Flight was next in line to be slaughtered in a Florida slaughterhouse when he was saved. He inspired the creation of the Animal Recovery Mission.

Freedom’s Flight was next in line to be slaughtered in a Florida slaughterhouse when he was saved. He inspired the creation of the Animal Recovery Mission.

Tied to a tree in the Florida Everglades, the Thoroughbred with the fortuitous name Freedom’s Flight awaited his fate: death in an illegal slaughterhouse.

He stood on a shattered leg that had snapped in April 2008 at a Gulfstream Park race, as his face swelled grotesquely and oozed mucus from Strangles, a contagious disease so severe he was nearly choking with it.

Awaiting the thrust of a knife deep into his heart, like the horse in line just ahead, the great-great grandson of Secretariat was far from the eyes of the public, and adoring horse fans. He was in the C-9 Basin in south Florida, only 20 miles from Miami.

And just when it seemed life was really going to end this way, the rattling sound of tires on gravel heralded the arrival of help. The Miami-Dade Police Department along with the SPCA had arrived on scene to the chaos of death and terrified horses.

And it didn’t take the poor horse long to choose a friend among his saviors.

Richard “Kudo” Couto, founder and lead investigator for the Animal Recovery Mission (ARM), was a SPCA volunteer when he accompanied an associate to the killing ground of the C-9 Basin. As the horror of the place washed over Couto, he rushed to the side of the meek ex-racehorse, wanting to comfort him, seeking to reassure him that help had arrived: Freedom’s Flight would not die this day.

Freedom’s Flight
Sire: Pulpit
Dam: Heather’s Flight, by Seattle Dancer
Foal date: Feb. 16, 2005
“The second I saw Freedom’s Flight, I took a picture of him. I couldn’t believe it. Then I went up to him and he put his head and full weight onto me,” Couto says. “Before I started volunteering with the SPCA, I’d vowed I would not adopt a horse, and I certainly never planned to adopt a horse with a broken leg.”

However, as he assisted the others in helping the sick, emaciated gelding get onto a rescue trailer, his thoughts were already forming. And when he later visited the animal in quarantine within a stone’s throw of other illegal slaughterhouses, Couto made a new vow.

“Standing in a horse pasture at the SPCA, I could hear the screams of animals at the illegal slaughterhouse across the street,” he says. “While I listened to the animals being tortured on 97th Avenue, where there were 18 illegal farms at the time, I vowed to this horse that I would seek redemption for him. One day, I told him, I’ll do it.”

Couto spoke truth that day in the field.

Freedom's Flight was the next in line to die in an illegal slaughterhouse in the C-9 Basin of Florida when the SPCA, the Miami-Dade Police arrived.

Freedom’s Flight was the next in line to die in an illegal slaughterhouse in the C-9 Basin of Florida when the SPCA, the Miami-Dade Police arrived.

He adopted Freedom’s Flight from the SPCA and visited him regularly in his quarantine field. It was hot that summer, as he hosed off the sweat and flies, and promised to avenge the suffering animal.

After five weeks, the chestnut had overcome his contagious disease and was placed in a quiet barn far from the cries of dying animals. And for nine long months he rehabbed in his stall to give his shattered leg an opportunity to fuse. “Because so much time had passed from the time he broke it, surgery was no longer an option,” says Couto, explaining that after Freedom’s Flight broke down at the racetrack, he changed hands a few times, and never had the leg properly set.

After about a year-and-half, Couto was able to mount Freedom’s Flight bareback, and almost simultaneously mounted a powerful campaign that has since made significant inroads to shutter illegal slaughterhouses.

Through many undercover investigations, Couto and ARM has documented abuses, partnered with law enforcement, and helped change the fate for so many slaughter-bound horses.

Among their growing list of accomplishments, ARM has played a role in shutting down a long list of slaughterhouses through collaborations with law enforcement, including the Florida State’s Attorney’s Office.

Since participating in the raid of the illegal slaughterhouse, Couto has spent the last 4 years aggressively pursuing animal-rescue missions.

Since participating in the raid of the illegal slaughterhouse, Couto has spent the last 4 years aggressively pursuing animal-rescue missions.

ARM’s work has been widely chronicled in the local and national press stories, which have aired on many major networks, including a report by NBC.

So much has gone on since Couto first met Freedom’s Flight in the desolate backwater of the Florida Everglades. Both have fought long and hard to right a wrong.

Freedom’s Flight eventually returned to health, and is now resplendent in his pasture. “People are amazed how fast he goes through the pasture,” he says. “Sometimes I ride him, but it’s always a light ride, bareback, with rope on his halter. I think we have a certain trust in each other.”

And the hard riding Couto reserves for his ongoing mission to help end illegal slaughter and animal cruelty by pointing a camera lens and a light into the dark, remote backwater where illegal slaughter has existed for too many years.

Since its inception in 2010, ARM has played a significant role in exposing illegal slaughter operations to the proper authorities, which has led to prosecutions, and stronger laws. Look for future stories on ARM’s successes.

<This story was originally published in August 2014>

58 responses to “Liberated from illegal butcher, a horse inspires”

  1. Janice Scott

    As a minority and a horsewoman and creator of Equestrian Minorities who is also a sociology major I must say it is racist to think any ethnic group has a major role in the suffering of any animals .Judge people as individuals not as groups legal or illegal. Americans so often are guilty of this prejudice. I know of many Hispanics who are fine dedicated horsemen and women.And for the record what ETHNIC GROUP IN AMERICA owns the most horses and racehorses who end up in places like described above.

  2. wendy Folsom

    wish we could get you to help us. we have a herd of about 80 horses that are going days on end with no food, water, or shelter. we have called and called this is on going for more then 3 years, and the state allows this. we have pictures on the site to prove what we say. can you get anyone that will help us

  3. l. melone

    What a tragic story, but with a happy ending for one lucky horse. How is it that Florida is such a hotbed for illegal slaughtering? Thank the stars for people like Mr. Couto. I hope by spreading this story, things will change in Florida. From what it sounds like, it’s an ongoing problem all over the state.

  4. Teresa Melnick

    Susan, I love what you are doing bringing stories like this to the fore front. I do think that the racing industry MUST be held accountable, though. They are over breeding Thoroughbreds and throwing them away by the thousands. I keep hearing about the previous owners who are so upset when they find out what happened to their horse. How did they let the horse slide down the tubes in the first place? How about people who can’t afford to race horses and retire them properly go find a real job and stop trying to make money off the backs of these poor horses? I used to love racing. No more. A few years of volunteering with a horse rescue has turned me off to the industry for good.

  5. Angela

    When we lived in Miami, we used to take the kids to the everglades, there were some areas that were beautiful to walk. one day we saw a lot of vultures flying and landing and when we walked over to the area there were a lot of horse carcasses. The kids were upset. It sickens that we have become so inhumane and cruel. I grew up around horses and all types of animals, it really hurt and broke my heart and my kids never slept well after that. It took them a long time. any type of illegal slaughter as well as the legal are getting out of hand and out of control.

  6. Bob Harris

    Thank you Susan for bringing this to light and thank you Richard for doing what you do for the horses!

    I am saddened almost to the point of tears to read about the horrors these beautiful creatures endure at the hands of humans! Unfortunately, it doesn’t surprise me anymore. Whether it be factory farms, seal slaughters, whaling, big game hunting, “canned” hunts at private ranches and the list goes on, we as “shephards” of the animal world, do a very poor job of taking care of our fellow creatures on this planet!

    As a resident of Southeast Florida and prior to that, San Diego, California, I have witnessed what happens when America opens it’s borders to all of our neighboring Third World countries. Whether these people get here illegally or get in on a “Visa” and never leave, they have really lowered the bar in our American culture and way of life. They bring nothing to the table! No skills, no education, NOTHING!! Ok, they pick vegetables and fruit. Who cares, have Americans do it!! I’ll pay more for food! Heck, I paid $4.00 a gallon for gas this morning! Do you know what gasoline costs in Saudi Arabia? $0.17 a gallon! That’s right, seventeen cents a gallon!! And the Saudi’s are the richest prople in the world!! Thanks to us!

    This is not about being racist, it’s about facts and reality. Every neighborhood that gets populated by illegals, gets destroyed! They bring their Third World culture and crime into our country. Then they suck off the government assistance teat! But it will never stop. Our government is way too soft on the problem. I see it first hand. I feel like a outsider when I go to the store. No one speaks English. You hear Spanish (Cubans, Guats, Hondurans and Mexicans) and Creole (Haitians), but not OUR language. Plus these folks don’t have one or two children, thay have 6, 8 or ten. The burdon these exploding groups of people put on our system is staggering. Police, fire, hospitals, schools, social services, DCF, etc, are over run with illegal issues. Again, they bring northing to the table and many work at “under the table” no tax paying jobs, so no new taxes are pumped into the system. Everyway you look at it, it is bad for America! Whether it be torturing horses or using your local hospital’s Emergency Room as their FREE family doctor, it stinks!! Wait until the 20 million illegal immigrants are made “legal”! This will be the end of America. Many countries in Europe are already seeing it.

    As an animal lover and a doner of many animal rights organizations, this news is not news to me. It does horrify me that as “humans”, we can be so inhumane! People from Third World countries do not have any problem with animal cruelty and torture. To them animals are to be used, exploited and abused. They have no care or feeling for these defenseless creatures.

  7. Delrene

    So horrific to know this is still occurring. Thank you for all you do. He is now a very handsome lovely horse. We must spread the word.

  8. Gloria

    Thank you for saving this valiant horse. Thank you for the courage to take these butchers to task.

  9. Rebecca

    Sharing………..almost crying…..never even dawned on me that people would slaughter them illegally……….Wonderful Wonderful Story.

  10. sally

    Thank you for running this story. Never in my wildest dreams would someone put a horse through hell like he was. The cruelty is beyond my understanding and makes me so sad that humans do this and there is no way to stop the misery. I also have a Secretariat great-grandson, same bright red with a little smaller blaze. He was originally from Florida where he raced and then dumped in a field for 7-8 years with no care. Skinny, malnourished with deformed feet, he was shipped to Pennsylvania to the kill-buyer auction. Thankfully a TB rescue read his tattoo and paid his bail. I am the proud owner of the most amazing little red horse. We still have some feet and body rehab to do but he is on way. Last weekend I rode him for the first time this year!

    1. ME Viccione

      Bless you sally! thank you!

  11. Falcon

    You can also see me in “Running For Their Lives” an HBO documentary and read about me in Bloodhorse’s article “Just Say Whoa” by Diana McClure.

  12. Falcon

    I am a great, great grandson of Secretariat as well, with an eerie almost identical story. See Lucky horse, lucky owner, lucky me.

  13. Lana Marie

    So happy to see that ‘this story’ made it here!!! I have followed what Richard has been doing in exposing these ILLEGAL slaughter farms for a few years now. The fight alone he had with LAW ENFORCEMENT in the beginning – they were NOT on his side. What brought my attention to it was the MANY reports of horses ‘missing’ or ‘butchered’ on their own property. It has a lot to do with the Cuban community that eat horsemeat & it’s black market there of course! As a horse owner, if living in that area…I would have to say put in the BEST SECURITY system you can afford or LEAVE.
    Thank you for printing Freedom’s Flight ‘save’…where he came from & those circumstances need to be shared!

  14. Tammy Rogers

    Dear Susan, I have been shocked we as a human race can be so unfeeling to our fellow animals. I lived on a farm and raised and trained rodeo horses, never in my wildest nightmares did i think this was possible. DISGUSTING BEHAVIOR !!! Thank you so much for making people aware of these practices and what an amazing transformation. Will be looking up this rescue site to make donations….Again Thank you

  15. Sharon

    What a beautifully sad, but inspiring, story! I love horse racing, but the truth needs told. There are so many wonderful owners and breeders that would never allow their horses to end up in a situation like this, but there are those who should not be in the business and would rather turn a blind eye than spend a little bit of their earnings to do the right thing for the horses that give them so much.

    My thanks are out to Richard for his commitment to try to end horse slaughter, and to Susan for reporting it. Thank you for sharing!

  16. cheri vaughan

    Thanks to God for surely he was on the side of those who beat the greasy devils. They are serial killers operating from the lowest pit of hell… House of Vaughan is both horrified and elated at the contents of this nerve wracking story. It is a very important one to be told. Though we may never meet, we love you, Freedom Flight! And your angels!


      So well, said. To all who fight the good fight, your names may be unknown to me and others but in my prayers at night i do pray for you
      and say thanks.

  17. Sandra Matthews

    I hope you have contacted Kate Tweedy and let her know about this horse. You can go to Secretariat’s Meadow on FaceBook. They like to keep track of all Secretariat relatives and I’m sure she’ll be thrilled to hear of the wonderful ending for this horse.

  18. Nicole C

    Absolutely amazing!! It brought tears to my eyes!

  19. cindy

    I think it would be a good guess that the ones doing the butchering were not even legally in the States. Why can’t they be stopped and deported? I guess as soon as they are gone more will come. Too bad not all nationalities have the same respect for horses that we have but they are living here and should abide by our laws or go home. Great story!

  20. LL

    He changed hands a few times and the leg was not properly set. What on earth is the matter with these people???? Why not just put the horse down instead of letting him suffer with the broken leg. The Hispanics doing the killing are probably the same ones who run dog fighting events which I think is also part of their culture. How could the SPCA have a quarantine pasture across from the slaughterhouse and not do anything to help?

    1. Tina

      This is exactly what I was wondering while reading this. If they are illegal, then was the slaughterhouse across the street from the ASPCA ever shut down? Why was it ever allowed to operate to begin with? It’s not like they are hidden if they’re across the street from a business like the ASPCA… Why was the one where Freedom’s Flight was found allowed to stay in operation after the seizure and rescue of him and the other horses? I feel like there’s a lot of “oh well” happening in the legal sector, if a legitimate animal rescue organization that works with law enforcement is then subjected to working in the same space as an illegal business abusing animals.

  21. Maw Kettle

    I appreciate your articles, even when they cause tears and break my heart, but, after being a big fan for all my life, I am beginning to HATE the horse racing industry!

    1. Jen

      Not just the horse racing industry’s fault. You see many, many horses going to slaughter of all types. Many backyard breeders… I have a mare, you have a stallion, wtf? You cannot educate these people. They are just not capable of learning. Its very sad.

  22. Roberta

    What happend to the other poor horses? Were they all left for slaughter? Or was the illegal facility closed down ? Is it right to rescue just one without helping the others? If they find the illegal facilities,can they be closed down immediately? I hope so….

  23. Patricia Raveling

    Recently I posted a couple of younger horses for sale on Ocala4sale site and many of the responses were from Hispanic men living in Miami…I never replied to any of them, knowing that this sort of horrific torturing goes on near there

    1. victoria racimo

      good going patricia — very smart not to have replied.

      1. JAD

        Many Thoroughbreds and other horses end up slaughtered for human consumption not just in Florida illegally but shipped across our borders to Mexico and Canada. Not only is horse slaughter inhumane in that they are not cattle and the captive bolt gun used only stuns them if that and they are killed after being hoisted up by their hind legs and their throats cut to bleed them out. Some are not stunned or were hit with the captive bolt gun many times.
        Horses in the USA are not raised as food animals and are treated with many meds and other things that are banned for use in horses for human consumption. The danger of contaminating the food supply is ignored. The kill buyers will out an EID which is suppose to have the medical records of each horse. They don’t have a clue what meds the horses have been treated with before they buy them, often from auctions or Craigslist ads. Even if the meat is shipped overseas and USA folks aren’t eating it, someone is and it puts their health in danger.
        Please ask your Federal politicians to support and sponsor the S.A.F.E. Act so we can stop the slaughter of USA horses anywhere. Protect the food supply here and abroad. Protect our own horses from a horrible death and from the dangers of theft.
        Thank you for the article and helping to bring attention to this to many people that had no idea.

  24. Cynthia Minchillo

    THANK YOU COUTO FOR WHAT YOU DO!!!! It makes me continue to volunteer and send money to deserving rescue groups that are really making a difference. And what a beautiful companion!

  25. Debra Dias

    I’ve read for years that people in South Florida have gone out to their barns to find their horses butchered in their stalls and of finding mares butchered in pastures with their foals next to them. It’s the immigrants, again according to the news articles, doing this, that see nothing wrong with what they’re doing.

  26. John R. Murrell

    Susan, thank you for exposing this low-life, disgusting industry. I hesitate to call this an industry. It is a despicable practice that is run by people who have no morals or intelligence. Cockroaches always run when someone shines the light on them.

    1. Susan Salk

      John Murrell,
      Thanks for writing in! 🙂

  27. Kathy A

    Shared and tweeted.

    And Richard Couto is truly one of God’s angels here on earth.

  28. Michelle

    Thank you Susan, for bringing the illegal slaughterhouses of Florida to light. I had no idea this was happening and furthermore, am shocked to find out the meat was possibly being served in Miami! Unbelievable this could happen in the U.S. I will never, ever understand how the breeders, owners, and trainers can let this happen to these horses who give EVERYTHING.

    And a huge thank you to Richard Couto for the amazing work he does in helping to get these places shut down and of course, for rescuing Freedom’s Flight – what a turnaround…he is GORGEOUS!!!

  29. Ann Barker

    tears ran down my face. children and animals have no voice, save ours. what incredible life’s work to save them. my heart and admiration are with every soul who protects and rescues. Bless your heart, Mr.Couto. I love happy endings. Freedoms Flight is now a beautiful, happy Spirit thanks to you.

  30. Sarah Bates

    Thank you for sharing this story and thank you so much to all of the people involved in stopping this disgusting operation. I’ve wondered after reading similar stories: is it not possible to trace the last trainer, previous owner and/or breeder to hold them accountable – at least to some degree – for these circumstances? I realize that the dumping of previously valuable performance horses is complicated (and common unfortunately), I cannot help but wonder if more can be done to penalize or at least shame those who allow the horses to end up in these circumstances. I can easily google and find the breeder, trainer, etc. It just doesn’t make sense to me that someone who has taken responsibility for an animal should be able to ‘wipe their hands’ so easily.

  31. Nina Courtney

    Thank you for all you do, but I would love to know who buys meat from these illegal slaughter houses?

  32. JoAnne McKenzie

    I just looked Freedom’s Flight up on Equibase. I don’t know when or where his leg was broken but it wasn’t in a stakes race at Gulfstream. In four starts he never broke his maiden. He never ran in a stakes race. I looked at all his charts and he was never eased or pulled up. If he broke down while at Gulfstream it most likely was in a work.

  33. Cris

    Um, Florida, what the heck exactly is wrong with you? Jeez. Even if a person was somehow immune to the cruelty of illegal slaughterhouses, would they really want to eat meat from animals with strangles and other conditions? What a horrible thought this “killing basin” is.

    Much honor to the people who rescued this horse and work to shut down these dreadful places.

  34. Gayle Pruitt

    Susan, What an amazing story! Thank you for publishing this, and huge thanks to Mr. Couto, ARM and the SPCA for combatting the horrible conditions down there.

  35. Susan Kayne

    So glad Freedom’s Flight was rescued and found a loving partner in Couto. The rest of story is extremely disturbing…..


    Susan, i am shocked and horrified as well. but ever so grateful that you found this story. It is another, devastating eye-opener. On the one hand, a true story of unbelievable cruelty inflicted by humans on our precious horses and on the other, the true story of what a handful of caring humans and how their right actions helped change the ugliness and course of life for these wondrous, helpless creatures. Honors to Cuoto and his pals at SPCA Florida. If only we could COMPLETELY change things NOW!

  37. Colmel

    I wish to re-blog this! I know that many of my readers are in Florida (the state in which I grew up), and they should be aware that this ILLEGAL and disgusting practice is happening there. Perhaps some of them will want to help!

  38. ann fox

    Sharing & twittering…spreading the word …to be for warned is to be for armed…

    1. Susan Salk

      Thank you! I’ve been myopically focused on all the work going on elsewhere, and of the old-fashioned success stories, that I didn’t know it was such a “killing field” in Florida.

  39. TBDancer

    “Kudo” Couto earned his nickname and Freedom’s Flight is a fine poster pony for the racehorse that is thrown away when fate deals it a blow. A FINE story, Susan. And two big “thumbs up” to ARM.

    1. Susan Salk

      I don’t know how I never realized just how terrible it was in Florida. I had no idea! I’ve done a few stories about roadside horses, abandoned to die. But, I am astounded that all of this butchering of horses was taking place, and Mr. Couto says he believes the horse meat was being served in Miami. I thought I couldn’t be shocked. But, wow.

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