Big winner nearly dies on the way to slaughter

Press Exclusive earned $400,000 on the track and foaled 9 babies before she was a “downer horse” on slaughter truck.

Press Exclusive earned $400,000 on the track and foaled 9 babies before she was a “downer horse” on slaughter truck.

All that money, nearly a half million dollars worth of racetrack winnings, couldn’t help her as she thrashed in panic and fear.

Flailing beneath the hooves of 30 other terrified horses, last December in a tractor-trailer heading for a Canadian slaughterhouse, once-winning race mare Press Exclusive had lost her balance on the truck, and her place in the world.

No longer valuable as a racehorse or a broodmare — she gave birth to nine foals—she fell down among the legs and hooves of the other slaughter-bound horses, and was pummeled as she struggled beneath them, writhing in the shavings and manure.

“By the time she made it to Ottawa, where the kill buyer off-loaded her to do paperwork before proceeding to the slaughterhouse, a sale-barn vet wanted to kill her immediately because she was in such bad shape,” says Mindy Lovell, longtime Thoroughbred rescuer, owner of Spring Hill Farm and operator of Transitions Thoroughbred Program.

Press Exclusive
Sire: Press Guard
Dam: Gosh
Foal date: May 5, 1996
Earnings: $436,810
Covered from head to toe with deep cuts and abrasions, Press Exclusive sustained four fractured ribs and blows to the face that caused grotesque swelling.

Of all the horses Lovell has pulled from the junk heap of discarded horses, the mere mention of Press Exclusive brings her to tears.

“She made $436,000 on the track and produced nine foals, one after the other, as soon as she retired. The last foal that was weaned off her just ran through the Select Yearling Sale at Woodbine and sold for $16,000!” Lovell says. “With a horse like that, with high earnings and nine foals, Jesus, God, that’s not what she deserves at the end of the day.”

And so on a fateful day in December of 2012, as a veterinarian hovered near, insisting the sorry animal be euthanized on the spot, her poor condition making her unfit even for slaughter, Lovell and her personal horse-shipper intervened.

The veterinarian who manned the Ottawa holding facility where the truckload of slaughter horses had stopped and temporarily unloaded, agreed to send the mare on to Lovell, despite deep skepticism. Already labeled “condemned” for meat sale, the once flourishing horse wobbled on weak legs to a transport waiting to carry her off to Lovell’s Ottawa farm.

Her eyes were swollen shut from blunt trauma sustained en route to the slaughterhouse.

Her eyes were swollen shut from blunt trauma sustained en route to the slaughterhouse.

And when she arrived, a few days before Christmas, and Lovell saw her for the first time, fear clawed her heart.

“I’d seen a lot of emaciated horses before, but there was something really wrong here,” she recalls. “I asked my vet if it was necessary to euthanize her, and she said it was worth giving her a chance. She said the next 48 to 72 hours would tell us if she would make it. If she stopped eating, or she got down in the stall, it would be ‘game over.’ ”

Lovell had agreed to purchase the animal, sight unseen, after receiving word from her network of horse-rescue associates of the animal’s need. She’d raised the necessary funds to purchase the mare from the meat buyer, and when she finally saw the animal’s condition, she couldn’t give up. Not yet.

Even after Lovell’s veterinarian judged the mare’s body to be a 0 on a scale of 1-5, and the horse’s fate seemed hopeless, Lovell started in immediately trying to get proper nourishment and medication to the injured animal.

The mare was given antibiotics and Bute, and coaxed to keep eating, even when it seemed all hope was lost.

“The biggest worries I had with Press was her reluctance to eat,” she says. “So I started feeding her peppermints.”

Press arrives at her permanent sanctuary home at Equine Advocates in upstate New York. Pictured with Susan Wagner, president of the charity.

Press arrives at her permanent sanctuary home at Equine Advocates in upstate New York. Pictured with Susan Wagner, president of the charity.

The peppermints led to a healthy, fattening diet of hay, hay pellets, 18 pounds of daily grain, beet pulp and nutrients to aid digestion.

Gradually, signs of defeat were replaced with a reawakening of spunk.

“The day I walked into the barn in the morning and found her pawing for her breakfast, I was absolutely ecstatic, which is the opposite reaction I’d usually have to a horse pawing for feed,” Lovell says.

For months she kept vigil over the horse, and it took even longer before she was able to slow her hurried step to the barn to double check, one more time, on the fragile animal’s wellbeing.

By late winter, Press Exclusive was well enough to take a walk outdoors.

Her eyes were no longer swollen, and the cuts and other signs of trauma had also healed sufficiently for the mare to eagerly walk on the lead line, tentatively at first, and with increasing vigor.

“When I began to notice shavings on her coat, I knew she was able to lie down at night” and this reassured Lovell that she was out of the woods.

As she recovered, many fans and interested parties, shocked by the horse’s condition, had their eyes opened to the horrible fate that can befall a racehorse, she says.

Fans, as well as those who had been touched by the once great mare, opened their hearts and wallets to aid her recovery. An owner of one of her offspring even paid the “bail” money to make the initial purchase that rescued her from the slaughter pipeline and an executive at Purina paid for six months worth of feed, Lovell says.

Press Exclusive in a November 2014 heads into the winter with a round belly at Equine Advocates in upstate N.Y.

Press Exclusive in a November 2014 heads into the winter with a round belly at Equine Advocates.

“A lot of people came through to help Press,” she says. They included Susan Wagner, executive director of New York-based Thoroughbred charity Equine Advocates, who offered the biggest gift of all: sanctuary.

On Sept. 10, fully restored of her strength, her swagger, and her Alpha Mare personality, Press Exclusive was relocated to her permanent new home, where she won’t be asked to do anything except to enjoy a romp in green paddocks with other horses.

In a transfer facilitated by Marlene Murray of the Race Fund, Wagner and Lovell agreed that the best thing for the fine mare was R&R, with no possibility of being bred or sold.

“Everybody followed her story. I remember waiting for her to arrive, and we were all waiting to see what she looked like, and what her condition was. We’d never seen a picture until she arrived right before Christmas,” Lovell recalls. “It was so bad that I had to warn people that it wasn’t pretty. She actually fell when she stepped off the van for the first time.”

She adds, “People were so shocked. She was such a great horse, and my hope now is that if her story can help make a difference, and inspire people to find other options for their horses, then she’s done her job. Press Exclusive was not an isolated incident, so I hope she will help a lot of people think twice about where their horses are winding up.”

—Author’s note: Stories like this one on Press Exclusive are now made possible through the sponsorship of the nation’s oldest and largest Thoroughbred charity, the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation. Please consider clicking this link and reading about their very special Special Chances program:


24 responses to “Big winner nearly dies on the way to slaughter”

  1. Daphne Ferreira

    Bawled my eyes out as I read her story. I am sorry to say that that problem with racehorses is world wide wherever there is racing. I live in South Africa, and we also have an incredible collection of people called the National Horse Rescue Unit. They started off just rescuing Racehorses, but now any equine is welcome. Well done to all those concerned.

  2. Patty Hamilton

    Press Exclusive is one of the lucky ones that survived. Thanks to the fast actions of Mindy Lowell and her helpers. It is so sad that so many these TBs are just disguarded like trash after the owners are done making money off of them. There are so many horses that need forever homes. I only own one horse right now but if I could I afford more I would. That horse would definitely be a rescue.

  3. Linda Tegarden

    Not in the horse business, so my opinion probably doesn’t mean much and I realize the story was written expressly with the purpose of plucking heart strings. Why is it important that she was a half a million dollar winner on the track or that she produced foals that sold for large sums? Why does that make her worth saving and a story as opposed to some nondescript pony on somebody’s farm that costs too much to feed and vet?

    Happy of course that she was saved and hopefully Press has years and years left to romp in the grass. Why are any horses shipped to Canada or Mexico to be slaughtered?

    1. Patty Hamilton

      Press Exclusive made money for her owners that cast her away after they could not get anything else out of her. For what this horse gave of herself in turn the owners should of gave her a good life. Not a ride to the slaughter house.

      1. Milly

        Is there any way that this type of business from ex throughbreds could be stopped?

  4. Elaine Nash

    Susan Salk, thanks so much for this story and the others you share here. When it comes to the mission of helping at-risk equines, it’s so important for people to be educated, be inspired, and be motivated- all of which happens as a result of people reading your blog. Please keep bringing us these stories to enlighten, encourage, and yes- sometimes enrage us. You do important work.

  5. Nina Eckhoff

    Several years ago, I had the good fortune to visit Equine Advocates and meet Susan Wagner. Press is a very lucky girl to have been retired to such a fine facility. Thank you to all who rescue our beloved OTTBs.

  6. cheri vaughan

    I can think of few stories that bring clearer into focus the horror, the trauma and joy in the end. *Tears*, no more words.

  7. Delrene Sims from Carlsbad, Ca

    Addendum: I googled Transition Thoroughbreds and donated via Paypal. Thank you for posting this article. Paypal made it easy to contribute. I’m so glad this horse is enjoying a well deserved retirement. No more babies and lots of playtime. She is quite a survivor. I hope every day of her life is filled with nothing but horsey happiness.

  8. Delrene Sims from Carlsbad, Ca

    Please tell me how to contribute to the sanctuary where she now resides. Is it in Canada or the U.S.A? Not sure how checks transfer. I am in California.
    Thank you for all you do.

  9. Tanya Sullivan

    Its a shame how some horse owners and breeders, especially race industry people do not value life over money. That will be their ending!

  10. Cynthia

    So awesome! I will share her story.

  11. WINTER HAYven

    God bless you all and may Press live a long and serene life……

    1. Sue Bishop

      Press Exclusive is doing well at her home at Equine Associates and I’m honored, as a volunteer there, to fill her feed buckets. She has green grass in season, the best grain, supplements, hay, treats, health and hoof care, people who love her, and girlfriends to share her pasture.

      1. Sharron Roddy

        Give Press Exclusive a huge hug from me. Thanks God Bless you all

  12. Lynne Jones

    Relative to comment above. “bid” should have been bit, and “live” should have been life.

  13. Lynne Jones

    Press, I wish I could have helped. Ria, I’m with you except I have better ideas what to do with this slimebag that dumped her in the auction/slaughter pipeline.

    TO MINDY LOVELL & SUSAN WAGNER: GOD BLESS YOU. I WISH I LIVED IN THE AREA OF BOTH YOUR RESCUE/SANCTUARY AND I WOULD BE ESTHATIC TO HELP WITH THESE HORSES. I’m trying my small bid by helping save a few. If I had an enormous amount of money, there would never be a dog, cat, or horse/donkey that would ever go to be killed because they didn’t have a forever loving home and, most of all, if I had to spend the rest of my live driving or flying, I would inspect their homes every six months thereafter to ensure that they continued to be taken care of properly. I CRIED READING THIS, BUT THE OUTCOME MADE FOR A PERFECT CHRISTMAS STORY. I JUST WISHED PRESS NEVER HAD TO GO THROUGH THIS HORROR.

  14. Ria

    Has anyone ever learned who, exactly, is the person who put poor Press into the slaughter pipleline in the first place? Whoever it is, I’d like to shove that SOB’s face in the dirt – and that’s just for starters.

  15. nancy atkinson

    Perfect Christmas Story! Hope the owners are prosecuted

  16. R.A.C.E. Fund, Inc.

    One of the most courageous mares that ever lived. We love you Press. You are a fighter and survivor. You will never be mistreated again.

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