On cold nights, former race trainer and Vietnam veteran Herbie Harris slept in his car.
And when the nights in Franklin County, Ohio were a little warmer, he bedded down in a small feed room in the barn where he kept 11 ex-racehorse Thoroughbreds, which he could neither afford, no turn away.
While Harris subsisted on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and handouts from friends, the 65-year-old ex-race-trainer from Charles Town and Beulah parks, struggled to stretch his meager Social Security check to buy enough feed for those he had taken in.
“I am an animal lover and all of these horses (were) my heart—everything,” Harris says in a telephone interview with OffTrackThoroughbreds.com.
But in the end, Harris couldn’t feed them enough.
They started dropping weight, and last month, all but two horses were taken in by horse-welfare organizations, including New Vocations Racehorse Adoption.
The Marysville, Ohio chapter of the adoption center joined the Capital Area Humane Society in an effort to re-home nine horses, three of whom came to New Race name: Red At Nite
Sire: Island Storm
Dam: Our Side Out, by Topsider
Foal date: April 1, 2004
Earnings: $82,575Vocations on Jan. 10. The rest were dispersed at other horse-welfare facilities.
When Harris’ horse, Red At Nite arrived at New Vocations, horse trainer Amy Allison immediately understood why the veteran was so devoted.
The 16-hand flashy chestnut, unmarked but for a small white star and stripe on his face, has the spunk and determination to make some lucky owner a wonderful pleasure horse, she says.
Nervous at first, unsure what to do in his flat class, Red quickly showed willingness to do whatever was asked of him.
“He is growing more confident everyday,” Allison says, noting that though he has some osselets, he has flexion in his fetlocks and is a terrific candidate for a pleasure horse. She added that they have not yet tried jumping him.
She credits Harris for the obvious care he gave them.
“He did a really good job,” Allison says. “I met him, and he’s such a kind man. He really cared about his horses.”
Although Red and two others, Leenascowboydallas and Dancing Bull, needed to gain weight, their condition was really “pretty decent,” she adds.
And their personalities were good too. They all enjoyed being petted and handled by people, Allison says.
When she first met Harris, she expected to find a much different sort, Allison admits. She has met all kinds working in the horse world, but Harris was a surprise to her.
He was living in difficult circumstances and she had only come to donate hay, but as she clasped his hand and looked into his face, she saw a “good hearted” man who was trying in vain to help at-risk horses.
“He already had two of his own, but then he started taking horses that were abandoned or in need, and tried to give them a home,” she says. “When I saw the horses, they were in much better condition than I expected.”
Although Harris says all his horses were his favorites, he always had a soft spot for Red, a hard-knocking veteran of the racetrack. The eight-year-old gelding earned $82,000 in 47 starts on the track before Harris took him in.
“He was a horse like me, he was a fighter,” Harris says. “He was very determined. I adore horses like that.”
Now, as New Vocations continues to re-train Red and his two compatriots, and Harris shares a rental with roommates, as he lays his head down on his pillow each night, he feels good knowing his horses are all safe. “Thank God they’re not going to the killers,” he says.
21 responses to “A respite comes for hard-luck trainer and OTTBs”
Finances will always dictate what we can or cannot do. That is just facts. I am not ashamed to say I am at my limit with 9 horses. But picking something just because it won the genetic lottery, based on color, breeding ect is a very prejudicial way to think…this way of thinking seems to spill over into children’s orphanages ….nothing is 100% & you can never know how things will eventually turn out…..life at best is a crap shoot. The stone that the builder refuses can become a cornerstone somewhere else. At the end of the day there are many ways to get a job done….I am thankful that so many organizations are getting the job of saving as many horses as they can…..whenever they can. Love your articles Susan….always gets me to thinking….
The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few or the one.
It is sad to say this. I looked at a mare that is a daughter of the mare that I own today. She is beautiful like her mother, has great conformation and has a sweet personality. It appears that she may have a chronic back issue leftover from the track. Chiropratic treatments have helped, but there still may be issues. I cannot afford weekly treatments for long periods of time. at $150 per visit it adds up quickly. I may have to decline taking because of this problem. Like many of us, my pockets are only so deep. Right now I am paying $9 per bale of hay due to the drought. The needs of my 4 horses outweigh her needs. The TPR is working on helping the owner find a forever home for her. If I had more money and if she did not work out as a riding horse, I would keep her and use her as a companion horse. This is the battle that we all fight with ourselves.
the facts are that we have an abundance of unwanted horses for various reasons. we have to accept our limitations and do the best we can . we cannot save them all. my only wish is that no horse ever succumbs to slaughter. they deserve better. i am not against euthanasia. i am only against torture.
Call me a sap but I have always taken the ones in the most need…..whether it was a horse, cat or dog. The picture of the dying child with the buzzard behind it & left to die says it all for me. The picture went viral (Many awards & much money later) the photographer killed himself for leaving the child behind. I would have picked-up the child & even if it died in my arms she would have died knowing someone cared enough just based on the her NEED at the time. Same goes for me with the animals….Compassion & empathy is not a thought process for me.
I don’t think that makes you a “sap” at all. We are all doing what we can, and have to make decisions accordingly. Anyone who gets into the work of helping … horses, children, etc., is obviously deeply compassionate and empathetic. But there are so many other factors that have to be weighed. I think we all have our place, big or small. It’s marvelous (maybe heroic?) when a person knowingly takes an OTTB who can never be ridden, just to give that horse a home —I think of Caitlin at OTTB Designs. And the work being done throughout the horse industry is to be commended on all levels, in my opinion. I’m well aware of the hardships being faced by some Thoroughbred rescues out west, who’ve seen their good intentions lead to a bad place, and of the hardship that fell on even the TRF. There’s no easy answer. I believe people need to stand back and think for a minute that we are all working for the same thing, for the horses.
How many people realize that the Henneke BCS is being used incorrectly- that the thin horse may NOT be in starvation mode? It was nice to see that someone may well understand that health and a couple ribs showing does not mean abuse– I have a friend who has a wonderful pasture– and when people have ‘thin’ horses, they are brought to her pasture– where they manage to fatten up. We cannot figure out the reason– but I think it is because the pasture is all ‘native’ as it can be, and the horses are ‘fixing’ themselves by grazing what they need… something that cannot be done with baled hay or supplements!!!
There is absolutely nothing wrong with NV “cherry-picking” out the most adoptable horses and turning away the ones that needed the most rehabilitation and were in the worst shape. NV has made it clear from day one, and has made a commitment to adopters, that they ONLY take healthy, sound (or at least semi-sound) horses that can carry on a reasonable riding career. While not all their horses can complete a full hunter course, all of them are sound for some level of riding. Having a farm full of pasture-mates is not going to attract many adopters.
What makes me sad is so many people bash rescues who deny the sickliest or neediest animals and take the “healthy” ones instead… Have we forgotten that they ALL need homes??? In the time it takes to rehabilitate one very sickly or injured homeless horse (who at best will only be a light riding horse or companion animal) organizations that take only “healthy” homeless horses have already moved four out of their facility and are taking on more. Spending all your resources on a far-gone horse only takes away the opportunity to escape slaughter from several horses in much better shape. Yes, its sad, but it’s a fact of life, and in my opinion four saved horses are better than one, regardless of condition.
Mry, Your emotions have gotten the best of you. It is logical for an organization to take the horses that can be rehomed the fastest. The ones that are in better condtion use less resources. It is an efficient use of limited facilities,resources, funds to provide homes to horses in a limited pool of adoptors. It would be a good guess that none of the rescue operations are cash rich at anytime. The fact that people from these operations looked at what they could handle with what was available to them and made descions that may have been unpopular with you is what leaders have to do. Their leadership acted and many horses started down a better road.
God Bless him for his kindness – I hope he gets to visit them & is able to spend some time still with horses
I’d like to say, that I believe New Vocations is doing a fabulous job with their horses. And, although it is doubtlessly gut-wrenching for everyone when a horse has to be “left behind,” it is so commendable that this nonprofit organization can take in, re-train and re-home as many horses as it does.
If a nonprofit is to continue with a successful practice, helping and re-homing horses in such a way that it is supported by the race industry and donors, I suspect these hard decisions have to be made. No one organization or person can save the world, or the very sorry horses that sometimes wind up in dire circumstances. And, while no organization is perfect either, I feel thankful these nonprofits— CANTER, ReRun, Mid Atlantic Horse Rescue, New Vocations, etc. exist at all.
I’m glad this man got the assistance he and his horses needed in the end. I’ve worked in dog rescue for well over a decade and the comments about New Vocations cherry-picking horses could be said of many dog rescues as well. However, there is a reality to rescue that as charitable organizations you survive at the whim of your adopters and your donors. I am President of a beagle rescue and I would love to take in all the old, injured, emaciated, obese, blind, special needs beagles. Unfortunately we have to take in the highly adoptable ones first so we can have the financial resources to take on one of the less-adoptable ones from time to time. We have a pact with our supporters that we will maintain a fiscally responsible organization and you cannot be that if you cannot turn animals around quickly and get them adopted. I’m sure if I won the Powerball I’d have my senior beagle retirement home set up the next day but for now we work with what we can house and afford for as short a period of time as is reasonable so we can say “yes” more often than “no”.
Extremely well put.
Mary you are right there was definitely more to the story, however, Susan has did a wonderful job spotlighting one of the horses. She did make it clear that there were other horses in need and that other organizations also came together to help out. I’m sure she would love to hear all of those stories as well. As far as New Vocation “cherry picking” the horses that is far from the truth. We took in three horses that all were in need of months of TLC and a good feeding program. One of the horses we took in, Dancing Bull, is 16 years old, has a fused ankle and old bowed tendon, very far from a “cherry pick”. We still have all three as none of them were anywhere near ready for adoption upon arrival. We have along with volunteers invested a lot of time and resources into all three horses. We offered to help solely because there were horses in need and not to receive recognition of any kind. It is very clear from the way our staff answered questions for this article that we were in this to help the horses and not point fingers or blow our own horn. It’s sad that a negative comment can be made off of such a worthy story that has been told in a positive light.
I personally know Herbie Harris and I do believe that he loved his horses. However, it is very expensive to try to care for 11 horses, especially when you are on a fixed income. There were a total of 11 horses and the humane society allowed Herbie to keep two of the horses. New Vocations was approached and was asked to help. Anna Ford did visit the 11 horses at a farm close to Beulah Park that Herbie leased. Ford took the 3 horses that were in the best shape since they were the ones that could be adopted out the quickest. That left 6 that needed a place to go. I personally hauled two of the horses, Black Destiny and Home Dance, to a temporary foster and then both horses went to Chris Bennett. I believe that those two found a home in Kentucky. The horse in the worst shape, Retaliation, also went to a foster close to Columbus. I was asked by the humane officer if I could find Tally, as he was affectionately called, a home. I immediately reached out to Brenda Lewis of ACER and asked her to take Tally into her program. She agreed but told me that he would be on the wait list until a stall opened up. It is important to realize that there is much more to this story than what is written above. One of Herbie’s horses, Take Command, was euthanized within a week or two due to a serious leg injury. There were several of us that were sickened by this news. Also, although New Vocations should be thanked for helping out with this case and taking 3 of the horses into their program, there were other horses that needed a place to go including Tally. Where would Tally go if Brenda Lewis hadn’t agreed to take him? Brenda, too, needs to be thanked. I am thankful that Brenda didn’t “cherry pick” those that were in the best shape.
God bless this man for doing his best–pray that everything goes well for him. As for hay the reason that hay is nso darned high is because the hay growers are selling more overseas in pelleted form which means alot more money for them and that drives up the cost to us. My daughter lives in California and she talked to a hay dealer around Lodi, Ca. and he told her that China and some other countries want the pellets so they are catering to them–which means that we will pay more for hay, even with the weather conditions in the states!
Hats off to Mr. Harris. I commend him for his ethics in doing what was right for the horses, even when circumstances were so tough. I’d like to shake his hand to–a man with good heart. Thanks for sharing the story, Susan.
People are so quick to judge a circumstance like this, and assume if the animal isn’t in perfect condition that the owner must be a horrible evil person who wanted to hurt them or just didn’t care. As a horse person, several times I’ve heard other horse owners in a tight spot asking people in our community for donations of hay, or feed, vet services, etc due to financial problems and it never fails, there are always people who offer nothing except their own two cents by saying “If you can’t afford horses, you should never have gotten them in the first place!” While this is true, horses are also long lived animals that are expensive to care for (even more so now that the economy has plummeted and hay prices have skyrocketed) and sometimes people who had the financial means necessary for the first 5 years they had the horse doesn’t mean they will in the 6th year. Does this make them bad people because they didn’t forsee financial problems years in the future? Rather than point fingers, we should all work together to benefit the welfare of the animal like New Vocations did in this case. Isn’t that what is of the most importance, after all?
Well put Sarah. Sometimes circumstances change for people -and certainly with the cost of hay this year (mine is triple).
Being a little bit skinny is far better than being in a kill-pen….this man’s heart was in the right place. Hope life gets so much better for him….he deserves it!
The people associated with OTTBs are just as special as the horses themselves. Excellent story and best of luck to Mr. Herbie Harris.
An honorable compassionate man that was trying to the right thing under near impossible odds.