As a large truck idled nearby like a predator lurking to take unwanted horses to slaughter, a young woman approached a skittish gray mare hiding in a paddock corner.
Frightened and evasive, Perfect Love held her head down and kept her posture low until out of the corner of her good eye, she spotted an attractive young Connecticut woman approaching with a lead rope.
Desperate to get the lovely gray ex-racehorse as far away from danger as she could, Acacia Courtney stepped boldly, but quietly toward the mare. And the animal turned to her new friend, allowing her to clip on the lead rope—an acquiescence she had not made for anyone at the feedlot, and walked willingly toward the waiting van.
“Clipping that lead rope to her halter was a big moment in my life,” says Courtney, 21. “There were so many horses who wouldn’t make it out of there, and there was a big trailer backed up to a loading ramp, ready to take them to slaughter. It was very chilling.”
Foal date: April 2, 2006Like fleeing a battle zone on the last flight out, Courtney walked the mare to her family’s horse trailer and led her on.
Sherrie Courtney, who often describes her daughter as Snow White because animals and children flock to her, watched the exchange and worries the animal might spook or bolt. But she didn’t. And the mother gladly paid $50 above the meat price to buy Perfect Love for $417.
With the animal safely aboard, the door closed and locked, they both hopped into the front seat of the truck, and made the two-hour journey home to Connecticut.
By the time they unloaded the mare and peeled the meat label from her hind end, two lives had changed. For the mare, a life of comfort and love awaited as she was retrained to be Courtney’s riding horse.
The mare took a lot of patience. For months, she stood at the back of her stall as though willing herself to be invisible, Sherrie Courtney says. “She wouldn’t look at me when I came into her stall, but she really seemed to have an affinity for my daughter,” she says. “Acacia was the one who broke through to her by loving her, hugging her and spending about two years working with her.”
The younger Courtney also saw her life altered from the experience.
The tall, slim young woman who has competed for and won pageant titles as well as equestrian awards —she was named Miss New York City last year—has embraced horse-welfare advocacy as a central mission.
When she was 18, Acacia Courtney started a small nonprofit Racing For Home, Inc., and successfully rescued and rehomed 15 horses in three years. It is work she is proud of, so important that when she competes June 28th for Miss Connecticut, she plans to discuss her experiences at Camelot and her life spent helping horses like Perfect Love.
The Fordham University communications student hopes to use the platform to discuss the urgent needs of unwanted horses.
“There are so many horses who need a home,” she says. “Some of the most rewarding moments I’ve had with my horse have been in the show ring, when I tell people that this beautiful horse who looks so flashy is a half-blind ex-racehorse we rescued from a feedlot.”