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.

3rd in Preakness, Icabad takes 1st as eventer

Preakness 3rd place finisher Icabad Crane has entered training with Olympian Phillip Dutton. Photo courtesy Barry Bornstein

Preakness 3rd place finisher Icabad Crane has entered training with Olympian Phillip Dutton. Photo courtesy Barry Bornstein

Icabad Crane, third-place finisher in the 2008 Preakness, continues to travel in world-class sporting company.

The classy gelding belonging to Graham Motion, trainer of 2011 Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom, and his wife Anita, is now training—and winning—under the gentle hands and expert prowess of Olympian Phillip Dutton.

Last month, Dutton and Icabad grabbed first place at the Aiken’s Full Gallop Farm Horse Trials, finishing the Beginner Novice C Division with a score of 32.10.

Though it’s too soon to say if Icabad has the right stuff to be a big horse in the Eventing world, the Motions spoke with tremendous pride of the accomplishments their beloved New York-bred bay gelding has made thus far.

Icabad Crane
Sire: Jump Start
Dam: Arorahy
Foal date: April 9, 2005
Highlights: Multiple Graded Stakes placed, winner; 3rd Preakness —2008
Earnings: $585,980
“He’s been a very quick learner,” Graham Motion says in a telephone interview with Off-TrackThoroughbreds.com. “He stepped off the van and took in his first small horse show in stride.”

Anita Motion, who her husband credits as being the driving force to take on the responsibility for Icabad’s post-racing future, says Icabad had a face she saw everyday, and came to love.

“His was one of those faces we’d see over the door, and we’d see him a lot. We’ve worked with him for six years, and he was just lovely; he’s the one everyone wanted to go and pat,” she says. “We always told Earle Mack’s managers that we’d love to have him when he was done. We didn’t want to lose track of him.”

The couple purchased Icabad from Mack in 2013 for $1, according to published reports, and introduced the classy bay to the world-class rider, and family friend, shortly thereafter.

“Phillip’s an extremely talented horseman,” Graham Motion says. “We’d sent several horses to him already, but they didn’t work out. But this horse has a tremendous disposition and is a barn favorite—he’s the kind of horse (exercise riders) would fight over to ride in the morning.”

On top of which, Icabad also exhibited class and intelligence, adds Anita Motion.

“He is so honest. He tries his hardest and he’s so intelligent that he just has that smart look about him,” she says.

Dutton describes Icabad as a quick learner with a settled brain.

Dutton describes Icabad as a quick learner with a settled brain. Photo courtesy Maggie Kimmitt

Following Icabad’s promising start in Eventing, the couple and the Dutton family will continue to monitor his progress, and reassess in a year’s time. “We always said that with Icabad that we do this for 12 months and then we’d regroup,” Anita Motion says. “If he wasn’t enjoying it, we’d stop.”

Regardless of how Icabad does in his new sport, the Motions will continue to push to create partnerships between race trainers and the Thoroughbred community seeking to help ex-racehorses.

Citing the work of Steuart Pittman, founder of the Retired Racehorse Training Project, Anita Motion says she and her husband plan to add their efforts to the good work already taking place by Pittman and other organizations seeking to re-train Thoroughbreds for new careers.

“We want to find other people that are professionals in dressage, polo, and other sport to promote these horses,” she says.

Graham Motion agrees.

Anita Motion, who, with her husband Graham Motion retired Icabad, says the horse has a great, intelligent look.

Anita Motion, who, with her husband Graham Motion retired Icabad, says the horse has a great, intelligent look. Photo courtesy Barry Bornstein

“There are a lot of people doing a lot of good things for horses, and we want to be part of that movement,” he says.

While not all Thoroughbreds off the track are gifted enough to enter training with dual Olympic gold medalist Dutton, this particular off-track Thoroughbred is “pretty unique,” Dutton says in a telephone interview.

“His disposition is very, very settled and quiet. He’s a forward-thinking horse who doesn’t get too wound up,” Dutton says. “He’s very easy to work with.”

Dutton started training Icabad in December. “He’s been a pretty quick study,” he notes.

With one win under their belts, Dutton plans to enter Icabad in another Beginner Novice Event this summer, before moving him up to Novice, and beyond.

Ashker heads to 4th Rolex with Anthony Patch

Lainey Ashker and her 15-year-old off-track Thoroughbred Anthony Patch head to Rolex for a fourth go. Photo courtesy S L Wolff Photography

Lainey Ashker and her 15-year-old off-track Thoroughbred Anthony Patch head to Rolex for a fourth go. Photo courtesy S L Wolff Photography

Gearing up for her fourth Rolex aboard off-track Thoroughbred Anthony Patch, top eventer Lainey Ashker enters the four-star this month after a championship season that put her among the top point-getters in USEA points.

“Last season was a hug season for us,” says the two-time Silver and Bronze Medalist. “I started out late in the season last season and gave him the spring off. I brought him back slow, and it worked great!”

Anthony Patch, (Jockey Club name: Alex’s Castledream) is her 15-year-old gelding who she says is a “dream to ride.”

“I’ve been very lucky to be blessed with a horse with great movement. Sometimes I do a good job with that, sometimes I don’t.”

Alex’s Castledream
New name: Anthony Patch
Sire: Castle Guard
Dam: Aimee Alexis
Foal date: May 19, 1999
Regardless of how she rides in the upcoming Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event April 24-27, Ashker is confident that Anthony Patch will have her back.

“He knows the buttons to push. He knows all the tricks. A good ride is just a matter of us being in sync, and me being on my game,” she says.

Ashker, who skipped last year’s Rolex after deciding to start Anthony Patch later in the season, last rode him in the 2012 Rolex. Though they had a beautiful round, she wound up coming off at a corner jump, which she misjudged, she says.

“That was such a fluke. I think we both might have misjudged that jump a little,” she says, noting that she has every confidence that Anthony Patch will be very competitive at this year’s event.

She has reason to believe.

Lainey Ashker and Anthony Patch share a moment. Photo courtesy of S L Wolff Photography

Lainey Ashker and Anthony Patch share a moment. Photo courtesy of S L Wolff Photography

The duo successfully completed two Preliminaries last summer and Three Advanced. He won his first outing at the Milbrook Horse Trials and placed second at the Richland Advanced. And he capped off his season by winning the USEA American Eventing Championship in Texas.

Though Ashker also competes on other breeds in other disciplines, she says she is trusts her ride at Rolex to her favorite Thoroughbred.

“I truly feel that for Eventing there is no better breed. Because of their endurance, their speed, and something that can’t be detected in a vet check—their heart,” Ashker says. “They have this ability to try harder, even when there’s nothing left—I love the Thoroughbreds!”