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.

— This story was originally published in August 2014.

21 responses to “Liberated from illegal butcher, a horse inspires”

  1. tamara beinlich

    I saw Secretariat run live once as a kid. Horse racing should go. Any “sport” that uses animals is not a sport. I been telling the Olympics it’s time to get rid of any sports with horses but it falls on deaf ears.
    Thank you for saving this beautiful horse.

  2. Marge

    Thank you for being the voice (and rescue) for those who cannot speak for themselves. .

  3. Christa

    Richard/ARM does the work others turn their back on or walk away from. He is someone we should support.
    It is very easy to go to and enter the horses’s name and determine who the breeder, owner and trainer are in addition to the auction history.
    Not all breeders are like Denzel (previous article) in not only caring about horses they breed but being willing to take them back and give them a home…all one has to do is listen to a TB radio program and hear a frequent guest comment how offensive it was to have someone call him and inform him a horse he bred was running in a next to nothing claiming race in AZ (next stop Mexico) and didn’t he want to do something about the horse. What do you suppose that breeder’s response was?

  4. Marilyn Lee-Hannah

    This is a great one of your stories, Susan. While I got chills reading it, exposure of these horrors is the only weapon we have to fight them.

    Thank you. Another Everglades miracle horse to share his story with our Prodigioso.

  5. Louise Martin

    May God bless you for what you do Mr.Couto …. My prayers go out to you and your incredible horse!! All I can say is thank you from the bottom of my heart!!

  6. Mary McLeod

    Dear Mr. Couto,

    May God bless you and hold you in the palm of His hand for your many rescues and kindnesses. Three whinnies and high hooves for the rescue of Freedom’s Flight. May he have many years with you, for he paid a high price for his rescue. How can our species do such cruel work?!?! No wonder I love animals more than most humans.

    Thank you, and take care,

  7. Karen L. McSparren

    Oh my ..oh my..oh my…we are so blessed to have you ..what you did for this horse and I suspect for numerous other horses is that you walked the said you would help said you would avenge him and you most certainly did..if this beautiful horse, Freedoms Flight, this majestic gift from God could give you a medal for saving his life..I’m sure it would be a medal with the highest honors awarded.. Bless you…

  8. SusanA

    Susan, I read on Twitter today that “60 Minutes” program has agreed to do a segment on Horse Slaughter….they want people to write them an email of any stories, situations, etc. and send to them with “Horse Slaughter” in the subject line. Is there anyway someone could contact Mr. Couto and see if he would relate his story to them. This would be great exposure.

  9. Tanya Sullivan

    ARM is an amazing group. Thank you for everything you do. Wish we had orgs like this in Oklahoma. Unfortunately even the local government here hates horses. We need tougher laws and harsher punishments nationwide

  10. Lucy

    Who bred, trained, and/or owned this horse and allowed this to happen to him. Where are the authorities at the track–especially the veterinarians who know darn well the condition of each and every horse on the track while racing and when the track closes. We need to hold these beneficiaries accountable for the outcome of these horses.

    When will it stop? What has to be done?

    Every year there are seminars to encourage people to get into the racing business. Not much is presented about the long-term commitment to the horses, including saving money for their retirement days. In my opinion, those people who throw away their horses and expect other kind and compassionate people, who never earned a dime from the racing, to take care of them are accepting Welfare. Probably the very people who frown on the welfare system for people.

    I am sick and tired of reading these horrific stories!!!!

  11. Zig Pope

    The TB industry should be ashamed these stories exist. This is going on every day in FL, to TBs handed over from trainers, or owners. Every day, rescues with no money are saving TB lives at auctions and kill buyers, begging for help that mostly does not come.

    Some thing has got change. And the who haws who are making the most money off of their lives need to step up to the plate.

  12. Michelle Y.

    Thank you Mr. Couto for the difficult work you do for the horses and other animals. You are an angel walking among us. Countless horses owe their lives to you. Freedom’s Flight is gorgeous!!

  13. Jay Romig

    great job buddy,I take care of 3 everyday, they are greatfull and know you are their lifeline

  14. Bev Dee

    Richard Coduto is an inspiration and ARM is going places that most people could not/would not go. Thank you for taking on some of the toughest opponents.

  15. Rebecca Hill

    April 8, 2015 ~
    Dear Mr. Couto, Thank you so much for caring enough to save “Freedom’s Flight” life and all the other horses that you have saved in your career as an Investigator & Volunteer with the Florida, (Dade County ?) SPCA. Many people turn their eyes and don’t let it get to their heart; I just wish more peoples thoughts & actions would be to help in some way.. volunteer at the rescue farms, SPCA or by making craft items, or giving some type of monetary or/other donation. I respect what you do and honor what you did especially for “Freedom’s Flight”! God Bless you and so hoping you & him and the rest of your family of peoples & animals are well at this time.
    Most sincerely,
    Rebecca Hill

  16. Teresa Melnick

    I hope that Mr. Cuoto sees this story and knows how many people applaud his dedication to stopping this sick abuse of animals. He is truly an angel. Is there a way to support his efforts?

  17. Anne

    This is an incredible story. We need more people like Mr. Couto in this world of animal abuse and the “said” need for these horse slaughter facilities. To rescue these poor souls takes money which makes it even more difficult. I have called breeders, farms, tracks, etc. when I see horses running that are known to have issues or as in one case, a 9 year old mare still racing on just about a weekly basis, as of late. Guess the racing age cut off at Tampa is 10. Poor mare. She has good bloodlines but… guess not enough for the owner to put a stop on her career. Not that I am in favor of breeding every mare out there. That is part of the problem
    of over breeding that has happened. Give these horses to facilities that use horses for therapy. Try something positive for once.

  18. Lori Ann Koestler

    Thank You! Thank You! Thank You!

  19. Deb Wagner

    What a heartwarming story! I cried when I saw the first pic, but when I read the whole article, my tears turned to tears of joy and thankfulness for each and every volunteer that help save the lives of all Gods creatures. Of course, I’m partial to thoroughbreds as I’ve got one myself!!! God bless all that were involved to shut down these illegal slaughterhouses!!

  20. R.A.C.E. Fund, Inc.

    This is an amazing rescue and so happy for Freedom’s Flight that his angel came to the rescue and he is doing well today. Thank you Mr. Couto for all of the work you do on behalf of the horses and all animals.

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