Editor’s note: This story first appeared in OfTrackThoroughbreds in October 2010.
What saved the delicate mare from the slaughterhouse 13 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 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.
Race name: Confetti Crossing
New name: Grace
Foal date: March 27, 1995“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 horse shows; 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 has completed 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.”
9 responses to “Once destined for slaughter, Grace flourishes”
Two years ago, at the New Holland Labor Day auction, horse an extremely thin, chestnut quarter horse ran through the ring with several other horses. The very thin quarter7horse had such a pretty face. Being frightened, the little horse kept running up to the people along the rail, looking for help. The people along the rail nonchalantly swatted this very frightened horse, as though they were swatting a fly. After being sold for $ 65.00 to a kill buyer, I felt that I needed to save this poor horse. I walked back to an area where several unfortunate souls were being held in a corralled area. These horses were destined for the slaughter pipeline. There stood the sweet faced, thin quarter horse. He was so desperate for water, he kept trying to drink from a waterer that contained very little water. Watching this horse, I saw him then cautiously attempting to eat one single piece of hay which was beneath a stud’s back hoof. Suddenly the kill buyer who had purchased these horses, showed up. After bargaining with him, I paid the $150.00 which the kill buyer had wanted. My sweet, little quarter horse is now named Toby. Two years latter, Toby is one of the most beautiful horses I have ever seen, and my Toby turned out to be a wonderful trail horse. Since I thought that Toby might be happier with a friend, and purchased, a big, black percheron mare, named Deli. Toby and his friend, Deli, now live the life that every horse should live. Looking back, I sometimes chuckle, to myself, thinking that my little quarter horse sure knew how to work a crowd that day he was run into the ring, at the auction. I often become sad when I think how many Tobys have gone through the auction ring, and weren’t as lucky as my Toby.
Marie, what a moving story about Toby, your Quarter Horse. Your description of how she ran up to people in the crowd seeking help, and was swatted away, put me there.
What a lovely story. And a poignant reminder that so many of the horses that go to slaughter are not unwanted or without potential; they are simply unlucky. In the wrong place at the wrong time. Thank you Kim for giving this mare a chance, and being willing to put in the time for her to realize her potential.
Thanks everyone!! I adore my beautiful girl. 🙂
It is a sad fact that so many of these beautiful creatures are sold by the pound after a brief try on the tracks either ending up irepairably injured or did not want to race did not measure up. Some even after a mediocre winning ability stand lost and unaware of their fate because they could not earn their keep anymore! As much as I love to see them race I am getting soured by knowing what lies ahead for probably 70-80% of them sad ..It is just like the dog races where do they go to finish their lives Do they need to cost more to be able to compete what is the answer to this Brutally gelded or neutered to protect next of kin or relatives still in the mill. God if we do this to animals who give their love and spirits to us are so brutally demonished!
Another heartwarming story proving what wonderful horses OTTB’s are. So glad another was saved.
Lisa, Cherrie and Cynthia, thank you for reading and commenting. This particular story gave me chills back when I wrote it. Kim and I have since become friends, and knowing her as I do, I can imagine it took a lot for her to bid against the kill buyer. It would have been tense, for lack of a better word.
I agree, it is such a beautiful story. The before and after photos are amazing. So inspiring. Blessings to you and Grace! <3
What a beautiful story, as always. I love starting my day with such a great story. Kim Gatto and all others make me proud to have adopted an OTTB.