What saved the delicate mare from the slaughterhouse 11 years ago was a combination of little things, really.
First there was Kim Gatto’s ability to see past the Thoroughbred’s nicked, dull coat to envision her at her best; she saw a beauty beneath the shabby exterior of a horse who stood quietly with 30 others at the Pennsylvania auction house. “I could see that she was really pretty underneath,” Gatto recalls. “She was really petite and delicate.”
And the next small thing— the money that would determine who purchased the horse—came down to the price of an inexpensive lunch.
Ten dollars more was what Gatto bid when the mare was led into the auction ring.
“I bid against the meat buyer. He went to $450 and I bid $460,” she says. “I couldn’t believe it. I had tears in my eyes when it was over.”
She had gone to the auction on her riding coach Hilary Cohen’s advice to look for a younger horse for showing, one who would give her childhood mare Chutney some time off.
When she caught sight of Grace tethered with 30 other horses, she was a far cry from the beauty she would become. “I had never seen horses in such bad shape,” Gatto says. “Grace was Race name: Confetti Crossing
New name: Grace
Foal date: March 27, 1995tied in a row of horses and she had no expression; she was thin, and there were cuts all over her.”
And yet, the fine bones of good conformation were evident.
“The horse seller noticed I was looking at her, and got on and trotted her around. She was a really nice mover.”
When Gatto brought her home, the four-year-old was skittish, didn’t trust people, and had never eaten a carrot. Inside of a year, she was winning most of her classes in hunter/ jumper horse shows, eliciting praise from the most discriminating Warmblood owners.
Thinking back, she still can’t believe the slim margins at play on April 20, 1999, the day she went to the New Holland Auction and left with Grace, the Thoroughbred she now calls her “second horse of a lifetime.”
Her first was a Thoroughbred named Chutney. But when the mare died just shy of age 32, Gatto understood that the horse named after Grace Kelly was waiting in the wings.
“Grace was never really affectionate. She was more aloof. But when Chutney died, she suddenly became so affectionate,” Gatto says.
Having just returned from a business trip, she saw Grace in a backfield grazing with the herd. And she called to her. “She looked up and came galloping towards me. She stopped a few feet away and I went up and she let me hug her without moving away.”
That demonstration of affection is one of the most rewarding moments in a story that began the day the Massachusetts equine author decided to take a chance on the ex-racehorse, and has continued to reward her since.
“When we started out, the biggest thing was trying to get her to trust. The first time the farrier came she trembled and reared; we had to get the vet to tranquilize her to do her shoes.”
Gradually, that all changed. By the next year she was winning local dressage shows, including the Charles River Dressage Show.
And Gatto does more than spread the word at local horseshows; she has authored several books and equine magazine articles about Thoroughbreds, and Grace’s story has been featured in horse publications as well.
Her books include Beyond the Rainbow Bridge, which deals with horse loss and other forms of separation, and she contributed a chapter to Chicken Soup for the Horse Lover’s Soul on her first Thoroughbred, Chutney.
She has also written Churchill Downs: America’s Most Historic Racetrack, and is completing another volume on Saratoga.
The Franklin, Mass. editor and writer has always been enamored with Thoroughbreds. Each horse has a story and she counts herself fortunate to have known two great characters: Chutney and Grace.
“Chutney has been gone for nearly two years, and I still think of her every day. But my thoughts are no longer on what has been; instead, I look forward to spending each day with Grace.”
11 responses to “Once destined for slaughter, Grace flourishes”
I love stories like this. I too have 3 ex-racehorses that I’m retraining to be sold to a perfect home. I trained racehorses at various different racetracks across america for 20 years and have recently decided to concentrate my training on ex-racehorses that need a new job. These horses love to work, they need to have something to do and they need someone to love them. We are thinking of starting an auction in the Lexington, Kentucky area geared towards finding homes for the unwanted thoroughbred. They would have to have had some kind of training as a sport or pleasure horse other than racing so we need people who will spend some time and money on retraining these horses for this sale that would become an annual event. Any input or advise for this venture would be much appreciated. In Lexington alone there are hundreds of horses that would be available for this type of sale and if we get enough support and interest we would expand the sale to other parts of the country. Any help would be much appreciated
Congratulations to you for taking three ex-racehorses and for developing even bigger plans for a Kentucky based training center. I wanted to respond to you now, just to say I think it’s a great idea. There really should be a directory of all the nonprofits working on behalf of OTTBs, and maybe there is. But since I don’t know of any, I’ll try to find someone to connect you to and get back in a couple of days.
Good luck with what you’re attempting. It sounds fabulous! Sue
What a terrific story! I try to help several rescues and often get discouraged because the problem is so very big. I can only imagine the horrors of the things they have seen. One rescue, in particular, goes to New Holland every Monday. I know I couldn’t handle seeing all those poor horses. People can be so unbelievably cruel. Kim – thank YOU for not giving up on Grace. She is very luck to have found you as well!
[…] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Alex Brown, Julie Weathers, Julie Weathers, Miss Cathy, Miss Cathy and others. Miss Cathy said: RT @AlexBrownRacing: cool story re a TB bought @ NH 4 another chance: http://offtrackthoroughbreds.com/2010/10/12/once-destined-for-slau … […]
Thanks again to Sue for writing such a lovely story about us, and for sharing so many wonderful articles about TBs. I consider myself fortunate to have Grace in my life. 🙂
It was such a pleasure Kim. Grace is so lucky you happened by that day, and that you took another look. I’m also so glad you connected with me, and I’m already looking forward to future talks.
I agree with Laurie and Amanda! Excellent stories, always with a happy ending (and pictures of very happy horse(s) and owner.
Keep the great stories coming, Susan, I love reading them!
Thank you Amanda and Kay! I can’t tell you how much it means to hear your positive feedback. It keeps me going!
Thank you for that wonderful story. Made my day!
Laurie, thank you for reading and commenting. It’s so poignant to think how the price of an inexpensive lunch was enough to save this horse from slaughter. I realize the cost of keeping a horse is great, but still.