THE SHORT VERSION
Cassidy April is a 9 year old, Norwegian Fjordhorse. She was adopted by myself (Kathleen) and my husband (Scottie) in February 2008 to save her from being sent to auction in Canada. The PMU ranch where she had been living, could no longer afford to feed all their horses since losing their contract to make the controversial drug. Cassidy spent 5 days with 20 other mares and foals in a semi-truck, traveling 3,000 miles to get to her new home in Florida. She is due to have a baby in April or May.
THE LONG VERSION
It had to be this horse.
I’ve always been a horse lover. When I was a little girl I read books about horses, drew pictures of horses and wrote stories about horses. At our house, the Kentucky Derby was a holiday. I went to the racetrack with my dad and would park myself at the paddock and just watch the jockeys and horses. I never took lessons or was ever on a horse more than a couple times for trail rides while on vacation. But I’ve always had a vision in my mind of living in my dream home, sitting at a computer typing, my hair up in a ponytail and looking out the window to see my horses in a beautiful pasture. I didn’t know that my dream was about to come true.
In December of last year I cut out a picture of a horse I’d noticed on the Internet. I put her on the fridge so I could look at her. This picture was of BM April who was up for adoption from a PMU ranch in Canada.
I’d gotten an email from one of my many animal related groups and they had a link for PMU adoptions. (PMU stands for Pregnant Mares Urine, which is how the controversial drug, Premarin, is made). I look at horse sites all the time and always feel bad so many are in need but none ever hit me quite like April. I’d never seen a horse that looked like her before, yet she seemed familiar. I began investigating her breed, Norwegian Fjordhorse. Then it came to me, she was the horse I used to draw as a little girl! My necks were always huge and out of proportion, just like Fjordhorses. The more I read about the breed, the more intrigued I was. They seemed like the perfect horse; kind, gentle, craves human attention, smart, willing, small, easy-keepers, and on and on.
I began keeping up with April on the site. I showed her to Scottie and he basically told me not to get any crazy ideas. I promised I wouldn’t. The beginning of January ‘08 I emailed The Animali Farm to ask some questions as to the threat of April actually being sent off to auction if she wasn’t adopted. I couldn’t understand why the ranchers were continuing to breed the mares when they could no longer afford to feed them with the decline of the industry. The answer back from the rescue group was it came down to money and if the mare had a foal they were able to sell then that paid for the mare to eat through the winter. She needed to pay her own way. The situation with April was a little different than the other PMU mares needing homes. She was on a PMU ranch that also bred Fjordhorses and Quarterhorses. Most PMU ranches use draft type breeds; more urine output and easier temperaments. This ranch had 200 mares 3 years ago in 2004 when they lost their contract. At the point when I spotted April, they were down to 20 Fjords and 10 Quarterhorses. The Fjords had never been available before, as the rancher considered them “pets”. So, the rescue assured me April should be safe from auction.
In the meantime, I tried to forget about BM April. I began going to a barn with my friend, Therese, and taking riding lessons again. I tried bonding with a sweet, old, Quarterhorse named Roper. I tried convincing myself I didn’t know enough about horses to actually be the caretaker for one, much less two. Everyone I spoke to said it would be crazy to adopt a horse without knowing anything about her. I started to think it would be a lot smarter to buy a “good” Fjordhorse from a responsible breeder. There is only one in the entire state of Florida. Things were going along fine for a while. I hadn’t even peeked at the site to see if April had been adopted or not.
Then, the rug got pulled out from under me. Therese was told she needed to move her horse to another barn. That meant I could no longer go to the barn. I came home that day and went on the Animali site to check on April. There was a banner up under her photo that stated “will go to auction 2/27/08 if not adopted by 2/26/08”. All the Fjords were now slated to go to auction if not adopted. Scottie came home and saw the look on my face and knew something was terribly wrong. I had already invested my heart into this horse, as silly as that seems, and now she was in real danger. Neither one of us had any idea what I was about to pull off.
I started scrambling to try to get her out of harms way. Going to auction meant a real threat that she and the others would get bought by meat buyers. Oftentimes they outbid the pet people that may be looking for a deal or to rescue a horse. I put feelers out to the horse people I knew to see if they would take her if I paid the adoption fees. I contacted rescue groups in our area. No one had room for a pregnant PMU mare. I offered to pay her fee if the rancher would keep her or if Animali would keep her at their farm. They couldn’t do it. There were adopted mares scheduled to come to Florida. I asked if one of the other adopters would be willing to take her if I paid the fees. No, no, and no were the answers that kept coming back. We were getting down to the wire, as it was now 2/8/08 with just a couple weeks until her time was up. I made the mistake of watching some videos from horse slaughter houses. I read what they do to the pregnant mares and the live foals when slaughtering. I started making calls to boarding facilities and I’m sure I sounded like a crazy person. I had no idea of the temperament of this horse or any training she had or her health, for that matter. Most PMU mares come with major issues after years of neglect. I didn’t know if they would let her go somewhere to be boarded or if an adopter had to have their own place. I was basically in a tizzy and about to get myself in way over my head. If this horse was going to be saved it was going to be up to me.
I called a barn I drive by everyday, just 2 miles from our house. Trish, the barn owner, was surprisingly not opposed to the idea of a rescue horse coming to her facility. She may have thought so to herself, but she didn’t tell me I was crazy for wanting to do what I was trying to do. I got all the particulars from her and then I filled out the adoption application for Animali. I will admit, I embellished my horse experience a little. I have learned all my animal knowledge from doing and figured I’d do the same thing with this horse. I’m sure my husband thought they wouldn’t approve me. I didn’t think they’d approve me, either, but I had to give it a shot. I sent the email off.
The very next morning an email was waiting from the rescue group saying my application was wonderful and requested I call the office that afternoon! I was gonna have to put up or shut up. I was about to be entrenched in transporting a very pregnant horse 3,000 miles from Canada to Florida. I spoke with Jennifer at Animali for at least an hour that day. She asked point blank if I wanted April and I told her yes. I was scared but knew something was telling me this was what I was supposed to do. Now I had to convince my husband. We spend a lot of time talking on our phones while out driving to and from client homes. We were debating it and I can clearly remember which curve in the road I was driving when I told him if I was going to do this, he had to be involved, too. When I asked if he wanted to adopt this horse, he actually said yes! I was shocked but I know I had a huge smile on my face and tears welled up in my eyes.
I had about a week until April was scheduled to get on the truck and leave Canada. This week kept me in a whirlwind. I went to the barn and met Trish and some other boarders. I admitted to my friend, Therese, I was going through with the adoption. She thought she had talked me out of it. In truth, she was simply afraid I was going to get myself killed. I began to doubt myself. I had to find a way to transport April 2 hours from Ocala to Longwood. This would prove to be the most difficult part of the whole journey. I was so engrossed in everything I was forgetting to eat, I dropped about 10 pounds from the stress. I quickly found out there are two distinct horse worlds, the Dressage people and the Pleasure people. Talking to the Dressage people made me doubt myself even more. I was having a hard time working out the logistics and Scottie wouldn’t help. This was all my doing.
The Saturday before she was getting on the truck Tuesday I had a mental breakdown to challenge Brittney Spears! I had been on the phone most of the morning trying to find some kind soul to help me get this horse the last 2 hours home. I was not having good luck. People were questioning me as to why I was even doing this. The trailer requirements and rules of transport the rescue put forth made the other horse people not want to deal with me or this horse. The doubts started coming back even stronger. I felt overwhelmed, exhausted and defeated. I climbed into bed with Scottie and began crying like a baby. I told him I just couldn’t do it. I was going to have to tell Animali I couldn’t adopt April. I was speaking incoherently and he was half asleep. As is his usual style, he didn’t coddle me, he kicked me in the butt and told me I’d better figure it out. He knew I could do it.
I spent the afternoon talking to the other side of horses, pleasure people. Another boarder at the barn offered up a trailer to use. Other friends helped me write out a pros and cons list. There were 10 cons and only 2 pros. My sweet husband went to a horse pasture to take in the smells and sights of horses to be sure he was really ok with doing this. The owner of this particular herd stopped by to feed while he was there. She and he spoke for a long time and she was giving us kudos for wanting to get her. She assured him it was all going to be fine, especially with her being a Fjordhorse. He called to tell me this and I started to feel a bit better. When we both got home that day I showed him the list of pros and cons. He shut down every single con. He’s the best.
So, on February 19th, BM April boarded a tractor trailer with about 20 other horses. I mapped out her route and it was daunting.
They had to go through some terrible weather. I began emailing with the other adopters who had horses on this load. I was the only one with such limited experience. Those 5 days of her journey were horribly long. I kept trying to mentally speak with her and tell her it was all going to be ok very soon. She had to be terrified. We cleared our pet sitting schedule for Sunday so we could go to Ocala when she arrived. There was some debate as to if the horses could be picked up on Sunday or not but we told them it was the only time we could get her, so that’s what we were doing. Shaila, the other boarder, was our savior. She not only got us a livestock trailer to use but she was willing to drive it.
She wasn’t afraid. I sure was. We headed off in a convoy of two vehicles, so we could keep an eye on the trailer from behind on the way back. Scottie had the video camera and still camera going the entire two hour drive. He documents everything. It’s annoying at the time, but I’m so thankful he does.
I was worried she was going to be huge. I kept praying the entire drive that the rancher had overestimated her size. I was worried she was going to be wild and crazy. I was worried she would break out of the fence at the barn. I don’t think I’ve ever been so scared or nervous than that day. We got to the Ocala Livestock Market a bit early, so we finished prepping the trailer.
Not long after, the truck arrived. I vividly remember watching it drive past us, seeing the horses eyes through the slats and feeling relief and remorse all at the same time. The image of that truck was horrible.
By this time a few other adopters had showed up. The truck driver was told he only had a short amount of time to let the horses off but then he had to get moving out. They had a cattle sale the next day.
I was right up against one of the wooden walls as he started herding the girls off. My neck was hurting looking up at these huge horses. I was terrified. Then, about 4 horses back from the front, all we could see were little ears bobbing by.
It was April and she was tiny!!!!!! I’ve never felt relief like that before. She looked like a baby next to those other mares. One of the other adopters was there to pick up the Fjord cross colt and she was all excited thinking my April was her horse. I stopped that thinking right away. My protectiveness came right to the forefront. Nope, that one right there, the little one with all the mane, she’s mine! Number 32 is right there on her butt.
April was the first one to be loaded onto a trailer. She did not want to get onto another truck. She did not want to leave the other horses. We noticed she was the only horse not wearing a halter. Hmmm. The men got her up and into the trailer and she immediately started rocking and rolling and kicking and screaming. It was horrible. Scottie, Shaila and I all looked at each other as if saying, “what in the world have we done?” She was not a happy girl. Shaila suggested I get up on the side of her trailer and try to talk to her. The horse didn’t care. She was upset. We were driving our car behind the trailer and I just knew she was going to come flying out the back, right over our car and never be seen again. Scottie made me drive so he could video. I was holding the steering wheel so tight I was cutting off feeling to my hands. I had a look of horror on my face. I’ve never been so scared. Shaila called the barn owner and told her we were all in for a lot of trouble because this horse was crazy. The drive from Ocala to Longwood was about 2 hours but it felt like 12. We stopped midway at a McDonald’s and I begged Scottie to take over driving. I stood on the trailer with April while they went in for food. I started talking to her and she seemed to be listening. She was still upset but gave me a few inquiring looks. I sort of touched her butt. I kept praying for strength and guidance.
We weren’t sure how we were going to get this horse off the trailer once we got to the barn. When we pulled up Trish (barn owner) and Gayle (horse rescuer) were waiting for us. We decided to position cars with their lights on to face the parking lot and pasture. It was impossible to back the trailer right up to the gate so we were going to have to somehow herd this angry horse, in the dark, across a small, unfenced area. Trish and Gayle got a rope tied to the gate and strung it in front of a few cars to try to block her getting out. Scottie was in position to fling open the trailer door. Brave Shaila was set to unhook the half door in the trailer to get her out. I was next to the trailer to help herd her. We all braced ourselves, expecting the worst. We heard hoof stomps and some snorts and out she came. She stepped off as gentle as you please, walked a few steps and started eating grass! We couldn’t believe it. We eased her over to the pasture and she walked right in. Relief has never been felt so great as when we closed that gate.
This mare had just spent 5 days and nights traveling 3,000 miles. She was separated from the other horses and was alone in a strange pasture. She immediately found the water trough and took a huge drink. She laid down and rolled back and forth several times and then stayed quiet for a few minutes. Someone threw her some hay and she got up and promptly started eating.
We all hugged, laughed and cried. April was home. It was all going to be alright.