After escaping certain death in a Mexican slaughterhouse, a crippled broodmare and her young foal were transported last weekend to a permanent sanctuary home in Massachusetts.
Walking awkwardly on legs misshapen by slab fractures and severe calcification, chestnut Thoroughbred Open Zipper calmly loaded onto a four-stall trailer and traveled with her six-week-old foal Faith to take up residency in Sharon, Mass. with longtime horse advocate and registered nurse Christina Sawelsky.
Sawelsky offered the broodmare and her foal permanent a home after following their harrowing story in social media. Zipper’s ordeal unfolded on Feb. 29 when it came to the attention of horse advocates that the heavily pregnant and crippled mare had been purchased at the New Holland Auction in Pennsylvania, and was destined for slaughter.
Zipper was among a band of pregnant Thoroughbreds who turned up at the auction, touching off a widespread rescue effort led by Gerda’s Animal Aid, Inc. of Vermont. (Please see earlier story here: http://offtrackthoroughbreds.com/2016/03/07/pregnant-horses-rescued-from-meat-buyers/).
While animal welfare advocates worked quickly to raise funds and purchase the pregnant mares, Zipper appeared to have slipped through the cracks, as good as dead, when Vermont rescuer operator Gerda Silver tracked her down.
“I knew there was a crippled, older Thoroughbred, and when I found out she’d slipped through the cracks, I was crushed,” Silver told Off Track Thoroughbreds.com in March. “I didn’t want any of them to be lost, for sure. But to lose one and have her possibly endure that kind of trip to Mexico was just too horrible. I had to find her. Finally, our board member Barbara called and found out that the kill buyer’s son had her. She called and asked him to please bring her back, and he said he would, but he wanted $700 for her because he’d have to drive her two hours to bring her back.
“For him to do this, I got to tell you, I was pretty impressed, and so grateful that I cried.”
As Silver published updates about Zipper, Sawelsky read the news with her heart in her throat. The Massachusetts nurse and horse lover followed Zipper’s rescue. And then prayed for her well being after several veterinarians recommended she be destroyed when it appeared her unusual gait, which compensated for her old injuries, was causing her pain.
When the drama died down, and Zipper proved to be comfortable despite her awkward movements, and then later gave birth to a perfect filly, Sawelsky could stand it no more: She stepped up and offered mare and foal a permanent home.
“Just the fact that she was dumped at auction, heavily in foal, and barely made it out of the slaughter pipeline was amazing to me,” Sawelsky said in an earlier interview. “It was like a movie. I followed the story. I knew all about them through social media. And when I realized they’d be made available for adoption, I knew I had to help.”
After biding her time to allow the filly to grow a little and Zipper to gain weight, Sawelsky got on the road at 4:30 a.m. last Saturday. Accompanied by her equestrian daughter Elisabeth, her sister Lisa and her niece Nicole, the four drove over 5 hours to Goshen, N.Y.
“We met (horse rescuer) Kay O’Hanlon Myruski, and stayed to meet all her adoptable animals. We almost came home with two blind ponies! Then we loaded Zip and Faith and my sister and her daughter, who’d placed pillows in the gooseneck of the trailer so they could ‘camp out’ with the horses and ride home keeping their eyes on them.”
She had been concerned Zipper’s crippled legs might cause her to fall en route. But mare and foal traveled like champs, with a steady breeze blowing across their faces from large, open windows.
Since arriving in Mass., mother and foal have settled into their new home as plans are being made for their future. Sawelsky intends to have a specialist examine Zipper’s legs to see if anything more can be done for her. “The slab fractures are old and have enormous calcifications causing them to be misshapen,” she says. “Poor Zip was just bred and used as a baby maker in her crippled state. I’m surprised she could withstand the breeding process, never mind carrying foal after foal.”
If there’s a way to help her legs, Sawelsky will do it. If not, the mare will live her life as a “pasture ornament.”
“Her condition will be carefully monitored. And whether she has one year or 10 years left, she has paid her dues and will be given the good life she deserves,” she adds. As for Faith, a “stunningly pretty” filly, Sawelsky’s daughter plans to turn her into her own riding horse, one day.
Christina and Elisabeth Sawelsky, who are both registered nurses, will also push forward with plans to create a program for kids and families with disabilities, incorporating humans in a Thoroughbred sanctuary.
“I thank Gerda Silver and Kay O’Hanlon, from the bottom of my heart, for being there to save Zipper from that final ride. And for being willing to take a chance with her,” Sawelsky says. “I’m honored to be chosen as the one to adopt them, and continue their story.”