Horse saved by racing exec thrives in show ring

Gator and Madisyn bonded during their first ride, and have enjoyed a wide array of disciplines.

Gator and Madisyn bonded during their first ride, and have enjoyed a wide array of disciplines.

A racemare saved from the slaughter pipeline by a former Suffolk Downs official, who later found sanctuary and then a new owner through efforts of the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation, is today a young girl’s pampered show pony.

Arrested Gatorgirl, now a charming show horse with a penchant for bearing her teeth in the dressage ring and for her enthusiasm for polocrosse (lacrosse on horseback) was once about as far as a horse could get from the world she knows today.

Failed multiple times in the low-claimers at Suffolk Downs, the lovely bay mare was said to be headed for certain death by way of Pennsylvania’s New Holland Auction, a place frequented by horsemeat buyers, when she was saved by Suffolk’s then-vice president of racing, Sam Elliott.

Acting on a tip that several Suffolk Downs horses had turned up at New Holland in October 2008, Elliott and others quickly enforced the East Boston track’s zero-tolerance policy on slaughter, buying the imperiled horses, including Gatorgirl, and punishing the horses’ connections.

Arrested Gatorgirl
Barn name: Gator or Gigi
Sire: Arrested
Dam: U F Mugatika, by Mugatea
Foal date: Jan. 24, 2003
Elliott recalls, “We got the word about Arrested Gatorgirl shortly after Suffolk enacted its no-slaughter policy. There was a story going around that Gatorgirl and the others were going to a kid’s camp when they were discovered at New Holland. I remember that the horses left the backside on a Sunday and turned up at New Holland on a Tuesday.”

In short order, a story that could have ended so badly turned around.

Gatorgirl was shipped with the others to the TRF’s Montpelier, Va. facility, where she was cared for and trained over the course of four years. And in 2012, the mare who showed her dislike of racing several times on the track—she once refused to leave the starting gait when it clanged open— pulled out all the stops for young Virginia equestrian Madisyn DeCant.

Arrested Gatorgirl was saved from the slaughter pipeline in 2008 by racing executive Sam Elliott. Pictured with owner/rider Madisyn DeCant.

Arrested Gatorgirl was saved from the slaughter pipeline in 2008 by racing executive Sam Elliott. Pictured with owner/rider Madisyn DeCant.

Madisyn’s mother Sharon DeCant remembers the first meeting so clearly. After trying two other horses, the young girl climbed aboard Gatorgirl and almost immediately, her face lit up, DeCant says. “I remember that my husband (David) was not thrilled about the idea of getting a Thoroughbred,” she says. “But it was clear to us both after she rode her that the two just hit it off. I could see it in her face. They rode so well together, and we got her that day. It didn’t take long for my husband to change his tune about Thoroughbreds.”

The mare’s manners were impeccable, her work ethic strong. She was sound as a bell and was game to try everything from beginner/novice Eventing to dressage and even polocrosse.

The pair has shown, ribboned and won, competing in rated and unrated shows in Virginia and North Carolina. And now they are working at improving their performance in the dressage ring, where Gator has the habit of bearing her teeth. “I’ve got one funny picture of the two of them, and it looks like the judge made a joke and Madisyn and Gator are both laughing” DeCant says.

Watching her daughter and the mare work so well together, DeCant still can’t forget a time that wasn’t so pleasant for the horse. Though safe from the slaughter pipeline now, DeCant always remembers the photos she saw of Gator, with a USDA sticker stuck to her coat.

Arrested Gatorgirl and her Madisyn DeCant share a laugh in the dressage ring. Photo by Sharon DeCant

Arrested Gatorgirl and her Madisyn DeCant share a laugh in the dressage ring. Photo by Sharon DeCant

“I think about it all the time, where she came from. It was such an alarming image. And I know Madisyn thinks about it too. That’s her baby now,” she says, noting that they’ll never forget the sad circumstances of the mare’s early life.

Elliott, who left Suffolk Downs to take a vice presidency at Parx Racing, continues to leverage his position to advance the issue of horse welfare. Citing the strong efforts made by Parx Racing’s in-house Thoroughbred advocacy group Turning For Home, and the quick work by the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation to assist, Elliott notes that horses like Gatorgirl continue to underscore the importance of supporting Thoroughbreds and charities who help them.

“Gatorgirl was saved as the result of one of our early enforcement efforts” of the Suffolk Downs no-slaughter policy, he says. “She got very lucky. Prior to that policy, she probably would have wound up dead. Instead, she’s a good show horse, and she has someone who loves and takes care of her.”

17 responses to “Horse saved by racing exec thrives in show ring”

  1. missdeena

    Congratulations, Madisyn and Gator! I am so happy for you both. Good luck in all that you do. That is so great to hear there are two more OTTB’s out there in your same group! I had my lovely OTTB mare for 30 years…she was so special…

    Another incredibly happy ending story, Susan, thank you!

  2. Lorey Gillam

    I live hearing about the tracks that actually try and enforce the anti slaughter policy. Along with the punishments given by the track I wish there was a list of trainers and owners who allow this to happen.

  3. Carolyn McDonald

    And what punishments did those horses’ connections receive?

    1. lexi63

      a slap on the wrist

      1. Carolyn McDonald

        Agreed, lexi63, and this slap on the wrist obviously endorses the continuation of this cruel abhorrent practice. A “No Slaughter” policy on any racetrack means absolutely nothing because it is impossible to monitor and police and the racing industry is fully aware of this fact. So to be seen to be doing the right thing, every now and then they expose a trainer for sending horse/s to slaughter, give him a slap on the wrist, trainer continues to remain on the track training and racing horses and horses continue to be sent off to slaughter when no longer useful for racing.

        1. lexi63

          you used the right word for the racing industry, that i know all to well about , abhorrent – they drug them to train them,, they drug them a LOT MORE to race them , no matter how many drug positives a trainer has they get a slap , NOTHIING MORE -EVER- possibly a small fiine , same thing when they are caught selling to kill buyers , they are thrown away like yesterdays’ garbage once the horse no longer makes them $$$$$ . it is an EVIL industry and a lot of the people ( owners & trainers ) who set them selves out front as horse “savers” are the same ones throwing out their ‘garbage ‘ out the other end of the barn & culling( killing) babies back on the farm – THIS is an accurate documentary of the racing industry ( these are some of the top people in the business on this film ( ) . so yes , these horses who are so grand in everything they do for US , need our help more desperately then ever before , more & more horses are slipping across the borders then ever before , it is epedemic at this point,, every sanctuary, shelter,& race horse saviour is full & cant take any more horses , any one of them will tell you the throwing away of not only thoroughbreds but quarter horses, arabians ( horses bred for sport purposes & even back yard bred horses by the ignorant ( the breeders ), they leave others to clean up the mess they have made – it is ALWAYS THE BREEDERS & always WILL BE THE BREEDERS , they breed for 1 reason PROFIT – just like small animal breeders profit & ego & we will never be able to stop them, so it is articles like this & blogs like this that are saving the few that get out alive after serving so many . please keep hitting the sahre buttons, twitter face book blog this article everywhere you can , the horses / animal NEED US DESPERATELY

    2. Emma

      “Pompell and Michelson have been banned from the property, effective immediately, as were the three other trainers, even though they may have believed the horses were going to be used for legitimate purposes.”

      Suffolk ejected several of the owners/trainers involved in this debacle PERMANENTLY. Suffolk Downs took its anti-slaughter policy seriously. It’s a difficult policy to enforce, but it’s hardly a “slap on the wrist” for the people who were caught.

      1. Carolyn McDonald

        In my view, it was a slap on the wrist when the trainers/owners involved just moved to another racetrack and carried on business as usual. The officials at Suffolk Downs would’ve known that this would likely happen, so there was no punishment, as alleged.

      2. Carolyn McDonald

        And ALL the other racehorses that finished their careers at Suffolk Downs racetrack since October 2008, not one of them ended up in the slaughterhouse? They were all saved by a “No Slaughter” policy?

        “No Slaughter” policy on any racetrack has dismally failed the horses because it’s impossible to monitor and police. Any trainer and/or owner can declare officially that a horse has gone to a dressage rider, a good home, etc. when in fact it has been arranged for the horse to go to a kill pen.

        It is misleading and deceitful for any racetrack to declare that it has a “No slaughter” policy, when such policy is ineffective. And if it wasn’t such a seriously inhumane issue, it would be laughable. Slaughter is the answer for the racing industry’s discarded horses.

  4. Devin

    Thank you Sam Elliott, & you as well, Madysen! These horses give us the world, & deserve the world back in turn. I absolutely love my two OTTBs, & I’d take them over a WB any day of the week!!!

  5. MsMoose

    This is only one of many horses Sam Elliott has run interference for, and enabled them to have happy endings. If he were a racehorse, with his heart, he’d be a champion!

  6. lexi63


  7. Madisyn DeCant

    Gator is 15.3 we are currently working on advancing from Novice eventing. We still have work to do on dressage but we are both getting better everyday. My sister also got a 6 year-old thoroughbred in April two years ago, we later found out that they are related along with another ex-race horse in our Pony Club.

    1. Lorey Gillam

      Great job with her. You’re both so lucky!! I was in pony club a gazillion yrs ago, which one are you in?

  8. Dory Munder

    The pic of Madisyn and Gator laughing together is PRICELESS!

  9. Marlaine Meeker

    What a little treasure. How tall is she and what are they up to now? I would love a TB this size.

  10. Ginger carpenter

    Love these stories regarding our national treasures,” the throughbred race horse .”

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