After a brush with slaughter, a journey home

Journey waits outside the Jones Livestock Sale in Oklahoma before she wound up with a meat buyer.

Journey waits outside the Jones Livestock Sale in Oklahoma before she wound up with a meat buyer.

Night was closing in as the terrified filly ducked and darted away from strangers in the muddy paddock outside the Jones Livestock Sale in Oklahoma; she waited for her turn.

Later in the evening of Oct. 23, after the farm equipment and tack had been bid on, the animals auction began. The goats, the cows and other livestock were sold first, and last came the horses.

It was nearly 10 p.m. by the time the un-tattooed Thoroughbred filly scampered through the indoor corral, nervously passing 100 onlookers, including meat buyers.

Nobody noticed her.

“The auctioneer had little to say about her, and even the meat buyers didn’t seem interested,” says Moriah Owens of Helping Hands Equine Assistance. “After she went through, she eventually wound up with a meat buyer, and I thought this was a horse who’d been given a raw deal.”

Journey, as she is now named, arrives at Rockin' G Equine Rescue after she was saved from slaughter.

Journey, as she is now named, arrives at Rockin’ G Equine Rescue after she was saved from slaughter.

Unable to get the filly’s frightened look out of her head, Owens tracked down the dealer who planned to ship her to slaughter to strike a deal to purchase the horse. He told her he needed $500 to release her, and Owens began racing the clock to raise the funds and find a home for a horse with no name and bad luck.

“Sometimes you just listen to your heart, and I don’t know whether it was her eye contact, or her mannerisms, but this filly was scared,” she says. “She’d been done wrong by a human.”

And Owens set out to right that wrong.

Enlisting the aid of several Thoroughbred advocates working behind the scenes, she obtained a donation from John Murrell, a Texas oilman and philanthropic horseman who readily agreed to pay the filly’s “bail” and free her from the trip to the slaughterhouse.

“When I called John Murrell, he said to me, ‘Get her the hell out of there!’ and we made plans for him to transfer the funds to the Exceller Fund in Oklahoma, which facilitated the purchase,” she explains.

Feeling safer now, Journey gives a kiss.

Feeling safer now, Journey gives a kiss to Deborah Gay of Rockin’ G, who made room for her at the sanctuary.

After that a stall was secured for her at the Rockin’ G Equine Sanctuary in El Reno, Okla.

By the time the scraped up filly, estimated to be about 3 years old, was put on a trailer and shipped to her new home, many advocates and horsemen had pitched in to help the unknown gray. The Exceller Fund and Jennifer Schroeder of Helping Hands helped facilitate the effort, which took a forgotten nobody and gave her a new beginning and a proper name: Journey

And last weekend, the animal who was so frightened of people that it took 90 minutes to put a halter on her head, started to understand that she is now safe.

“When she was at the auction she was so scared she lashed out with her front foot and got the vet in the leg,” Owens says. “Then, last weekend, I went to visit her at Rockin’ G and she was giving kisses to Deborah Gay. Her journey in life was so close to coming to an end, and now it’s just beginning.” ♥

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Unconventional & hot, a t’bred steals the show

Mel Tilkicioglu rides off-track Thoroughbred He's A Crafty Cat (Show name: Top Cat) while her Warmblood heals from surgery. Her Warmblood better look out!

Mel Tilkicioglu rides off-track Thoroughbred He’s A Crafty Cat (Show name: Top Cat) while her Warmblood heals from surgery. Her Warmblood better look out!

Mel Tilkicioglu was well on her way to happily-ever-after with her beautiful young Warmblood when a pair of surgeries and an unconventional gray Thoroughbred made her rethink her best laid plans.

Temporarily horseless this past spring after her 6-year-old Warmblood went first for a planned surgery, and later for an unplanned one, Mel’s riding coach Linda Worley approached her with a suggestion and a word of caution about a flea-bitten gray named He’s a Crafty Cat.

“She told me she knew of a horse, but he was a long shot,” Mel says. “She told me he was a little unconventional, that some people found him hard to ride, but that if I tried him and liked him, he would be available to me as a lease.”

He’s A Crafty Cat
Show name: Top Cat
Sire: ZZ Cat
Dam: Crafty Pass, by Pass the Tab
Foal date: March 13, 1998
She tried him the very next day.

Looking a bit worn around the edges, and nothing like her well-muscled dream horse, Mel shrugged, hopped on and took a ride that no, was not magic, but yet was good. Quite good.

“I’ve never been afraid of a hot horse, so I wasn’t afraid of him, and when we started to ride I immediately had this sense that we could make it work,” she says. “And even though he’d never met me before, he took me over the jumps with no problem.”

She agreed to lease him, and under her care, he fattened up, built muscle, and took her training and showing all summer.

The unconventional, free-lease Thoroughbred is taking Mel Tilkicioglu on a great ride.

The unconventional, free-lease Thoroughbred is taking Mel Tilkicioglu on a great ride.

Though her trainer sometimes can’t bear to watch how quickly they take the jumps—she occasionally covers her eyes rather than watch them— the pair looked pretty good to the judges who watched every move at the NW Spectacular Show last summer. They won the championship after competing against professionals on much younger mounts, and against juniors on proven jumpers!

“This guy still has so much to give that we swept many shows and he’s a fan favorite,” Mel says. “He’s launched me back into showing; we just clicked right away. I understand him and he understands me.”

As her 17.2 hand Warmblood heals from two surgeries, one to repair a tear in a hock, and another to repair a fetlock injury, Mel also feels torn.

“Since taking him, it made me rethink what I’m doing,” she says. “I got the Warmblood with the idea that he’d be my life horse. And I love my Warmblood. But I just clicked with this unconventional Thoroughbred who is at the opposite end of the spectrum. I’m in a barn that oozes big, fancy Warmbloods, but I just love this Thoroughbred.”

Though her budget does not allow her to keep two horses, Mel says she has already agreed to keep up the lease on the unconventional T-bred for another season while she has her Warmblood being schooled, possibly for sale. ♥

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She gave up jock’s life, and took t’bred with her

Anna K. Roberts gave up her jockey life to pursue a nursing career, and she took a racehorse with her into a new life. Photo by Lynn Towery Roberts

Anna K. Roberts gave up her jockey life to pursue a nursing career, and she took a racehorse with her into a new life. Photos by Lynn Towery Roberts

Anna K. Roberts coolly surveyed the good-looking colt as she readied to mount up for a race at Ellis Park.

It was a hot day in Henderson, Ky., and Benziger, a bay brown Thoroughbred, was the 9-5 favorite back in August 2011. But to the young jockey, who was fresh from the North American Racing Academy, the aloof animal didn’t strike her one way or the other; they were there to do a job, and that was pretty much it.

“I liked him well enough in the post parade, but he was just a horse I was riding in a race,” she recalls. “He was very well behaved and really comfortable to ride.”

Race name: Benziger
Barn name: Benny
Sire: Malibu Moon
Dam: Stephie Brown Eyes
Foal date: May 5, 2007
With what amounts to a mental shrug of her shoulders, they made their way to the starting gate, and moments later, rocketed toward the finish line. And as Roberts felt the colt give a mighty effort that would turn out to be his last on any racetrack, her opinion of him began to soften, to change.

It would turn out that Benziger couldn’t breathe very well due to a mild problem that appeared aggravated by racing. Though he wasn’t a “roarer” like some horses, nor did he stop dead on the racetrack like other horses with similar difficulties, he toughed it out, dug deep and ran like hell.

“A lot of horses would have stopped suddenly, but he ran as hard and fast as he could,” she recalls. “We ended up 4th that day” and Benziger rose up several notches in the young jockey’s estimation.

Anna and Benny didn't fall in love immediately. But once the pair worked together, they grew accustomed to each other.

Anna and Benny didn’t fall in love immediately. But once the pair worked together, they grew accustomed to each other.

Though she did not fall immediately in love with the handsome animal—he was fairly aloof himself— the two started to spend quality time together at his trainer’s farm where he was learning to become a racetrack pony. That’s where one thing just led to another.

“I got bored one day and I wondered if Benny could jump,” she says. “So I set up a two-by-four by the fence, and somehow lunged him over it. And he jumped it decently!”

Intrigued, the young rider started spending more time with him, and suddenly, Mr. Aloof turned into a big puppy dog. “When I went to the paddock, I just called his name and he came running over,” she says. “I learned he had a lot of personality and could be pretty spunky, and the biggest thing was that he just wanted to please.”

She adds, “He wants to do whatever you want him to do. If you wanted him to jump a car, he would try to jump a car for you.”

Since that first leap over a makeshift jump, the pair has trained consistently in Eventing. Benny’s trainer Ronny Werner could see how well suited the pair was for each other, and gave the animal to Roberts.

And now, every day is better than the last as the two shoot for the stars in a sport that seems made for them.
“When we walk out to do cross country, he swells up with excitement” because he is so pleased to be there, she says.

And Roberts is so jazzed by her horse and the sport, that she is actively pursuing a new career in nursing that will afford her the time and funds to pursue something she loves even more: Eventing her off-track Thoroughbred! —This article was originally published on Sept. 24, 2013. ♥

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