The mare’s bandaged feet oozed with abscesses, useless to deflect the blows that rained down upon her.
One sharp kick, and then another, came without mercy from a band of frightened horses who tore at the tattered coat of the weakest among them.
As she lay in the soft mud of the Hermiston Auction in Oregon last February, her life spiraled away.
“There were a couple of mares who stood guard over her, but the alpha mares were pretty relentless with the attacks,” recalls Mary Lei, founder of local rescue Rescuing Equines in Need (REIN), who watched in horror as the silent animal seemed to accept her sad fate.
She’d been dumped in the Oregon kill pen and left to cower, and to eventually stumble and fall as some onlookers laughed.
It hadn’t always been this way for the once-beautiful chestnut filly, Selleria.
A granddaughter of Storm Cat, she was born in Kentucky in May 2009. She grew to be glossy coated and full of promise, and she sold a year later at the fabled Keeneland Sale for $24,000.
Barn name: Ria
Sire: Van Nistelrooy (Storm Cat)
Dam: She’s Mahogany
Foal date: May 12, 2009She began racing in 2012 at Santa Anita and a year later in September, after a 3rd place finish at Golden Gate, she fell off the radar and reportedly passed through several hands. Five months later she landed in the auction lot to face attack, ridicule, and certain death.
“When she was run through the ring … she was trying to hurry and she fell. People were actually giggling and pointing and laughing at her,” Lei says. “Though we’d intended to euthanize her there at the auction, I thought this was a pretty cool horse who deserved to be put down in a better environment than that.”
So Lei and her team bought padding for their horse trailer, and the young mare, despite her obvious pain, hobbled onboard.
It was, for Lei, one of the most emotional encounters she’s had at an auction. “Ria was gross, covered with ticks and lice and rain rot, and standing in eight inches of mud,” she says. “I said to her, ‘you’re pathetic,’ and hugged her neck, and she dropped her head over my shoulder to pull me closer. And for the first time since I’ve been doing rescue, I started bawling.”
In the months that followed, Ria surprised one and all with her bravery and determination to live. In spite of her pain, she approached each day with a bright eye, her ears forward, Lei says. “I’m so impressed with this horse, and that she never gave up when a lesser horse would have,” she says. “Even covered in all that mud, that horse still believed she was some level of royalty.”
And possibly even a star.
Ria, her hoof ailments healed with careful care by farrier April Wolf of The Savvy Hoof, has been entered to compete in the Retired Racehorse Project’s Thoroughbred Showcase later this year in her birthplace of Kentucky.
Under the gentle training of Oregon horseman Stacey Riggs, Ria has been started on a path to learn dressage, freestyle trail riding, and other disciplines. “She’s a super sweet and very kind horse, and my goal is to work on a connection with her, and building back her strength at a rate she can handle,” Riggs says. “Ria beat the odds and recovered and the next step of her life has begun.”