After reading for years about the joys and rewards of rescuing kill-pen Thoroughbreds, Jennifer Ferrell jumped in with both feet this past January and landed deep in a mystery.
It began with the identity of the horse she rescued.
After spotting a picture of a shell-shocked looking chestnut Thoroughbred, shown in a well-known meat buyer’s Shippensburg, Penn. lot, Ferrell purchased the horse for $675 with the help of volunteer Thoroughbred advocate, Beth Walker.
Walker, a registered nurse and unpaid volunteer for the PA Kill Pen Network, had helped to identify and advertise the horse as 12-year-old mare C.A.T.K. Fly, a racehorse hailing from Washington.
Barn name: Edward
Sire: Thunder Puddles
Dam: Capall Glass, by Ends Well
Foal date: May 5,1997But soon after the underweight animal shipped to a quarantine barn to recuperate from Strangles and regain some lost weight, a horseman attending to the animal broke the news to Ferrell: this was no 12-year-old mare she’d just rescued.
“I’d been texting with Sarah Dean, the person who has the quarantine farm, and then one day I noticed the pronouns changed. She started referring to her as him. So I asked if we were talking about a gelding or a mare, and she said, ‘You have a gelding. I thought you knew.’ ”
Though the North Carolina equestrian didn’t care whether she had a male or female horse, she Dean began a quest to figure out who was the real “project horse” she had purchased.
Figuring a mismatch had occurred with the reading of the Thoroughbreds lip tattoo, which all Thoroughbred racehorses have been branded with, new photographs were taken, and opinions were sought from the most eagle-eyed lip-tattoo readers, she says.
“Someone finally figured out that the first letter in the tattoo was an H and after that we found his number and description matched a 19-year-old gelding named Capwaynesglass,” she says.
Intrigued and curious as to how her new horse had wound up dangerously close to taking a trip to the slaughterhouse, Ferrell started some online sleuthing and uncovered the last known owner, who had the horse 11 years ago.
Knowing it was a long shot, Ferrell contacted Emily Day of Daybreak Stables, which was the last listed owner of record of the horse’s last race at Fair Hill, in May 2005.
“When I called Emily day, we had a wonderful conversation, but she and her husband were very concerned,” she says. “They vaguely remembered the horse, but they were very upset when I told them where he’d wound up because they take their ownership and aftercare very seriously.”
Day was so dismayed by the news that she posted a long note on Daybreak Stable’s Facebook page detailing her concerns, the sleepless night she spent after hearing the news about the gelding she called Cap, and her personal commitment to try even harder to ensure racehorses have a safety net. (Please see her note here.)
“Cap’s route (to the meat buyer’s yard) is surely known by someone out there. But whether it will be known by us, I can’t say,” she states. “I will find out what I can. I will start keeping records on each horse that leaves here for a new life somewhere else. Even though that gives me little influence over what the new owners decide to do, at lease I will know what we did.”
Day’s farm owned Capwaynesglass for a few months after his last race in 2005, and though she reached out to past jockeys, his history, more than a decade later, had been forgotten.
But this next chapter of his life will be well documented, Ferrell says.
She purchased her OTTB for the explicit purpose of creating a chronicle of his journey, from kill pen to whatever their future holds. And she writes of the surprises and challenges in Project 2016, a blog about their journey.
“At the time I decided to rescue him, I thought that there’s so much suffering in the world, and that I have the funds and the time to devote to helping this horse,” she says. “Somebody else might have been really upset by the mix-up in identity, but I knew I was going to keep the horse no matter who he turned out to be.”
And Walker, who helped to identify the chestnut, says she’s just thrilled the horse is in good hands.
The full-time nurse and unpaid volunteer says it was especially busy on the day that photos and descriptions were taken of Ferrell’s OTTB. “We only have a couple minutes with each horse, so we don’t have much time. I’ll be taking notes while someone else is taking pictures” in a last-ditch effort to save the horse from slaughter. Though she was certain she had documented the horse as a gelding, when the tattoo was read later on, it indicated the number of a female horse, she says.
So far, Ferrell says the journey with her new OTTB has provided plenty of material for her new blog. She and the horse’s last owners have become friends, and plan to visit each other. And Edward has emerged, after two bouts of Strangles, to be well worth all the fuss.
“Everything about this horse has been dramatic, from the mistaken gender to getting sick. And then on the truck ride here, the truck broke down,” she says. “But even with all of that, he’s the sweetest horse. I keep telling him he doesn’t have to be so forgiving. He’s been through a lot. But he is truly the sweetest horse.”