In 2006 the Virginia-bred mare, Striding Victory, wore the roses in the winner’s circle at Charles Town. Last month, the 14-year-old thoroughbred was literally on her last legs, trotting across the concrete pavement outside the New Holland auction in Lancaster, destined for the slaughterhouse.
Days later she was “bailed out” for $778. But her fate is still uncertain.
Striding Victory was one of some 30 horses - Appaloosas, paints, Morgans, Tennessee Walking Horses, Arabians – diverted from the slaughter truck that week by the most unlikely of rescuers – a kill buyer himself.
Brian Moore, of Jonestown, PA, a fixture at the New Holland auction for decades, regularly buys horses from New Holland to ship to a slaughter house in Canada. Now Moore is shipping some of his horses closer to home in nearby Lebanon County and, through a family friend, making them available for rescue - but with a date stamp attached.
The clock ticking on a Facebook page warns that without purchase “they will be shipped” to slaughter in a week.
Jen Hamilton, a friend of Moore, began a rehoming effort in late July to place horses each week through Facebook.
Since then 120 horses advertised on Moore’s Equines for Rescue Facebook page have found homes, said Hamilton. A smaller number of unlucky horses, including some off track thoroughbreds with their lip tattoos obscured, have gone to slaughter.
Hamilton posts pictures and video of the horses after the Monday auction and sets a “bail price” while alerting potential buyers the horses are owned by a kill buyer and shipped to auction weekly on a “strict deadline.”
The bleakness of the images of horses crowded in a pen in a darkened auction shed stripped across Moore’s rescue page, stands in stark contrast to another Facebook page, Moore’s Equines Life After Rescue, showing happy horses grazing and nuzzling children.
Hamilton does not hide what Moore does for a living. In fact the Facebook page identifies him as a kill buyer and makes it clear that the horses are moving through on a strict schedule.
“THIS PAGE IS MEANT TO FIND HOMES FOR HORSES THAT ARE AT THEIR LAST STOP BEFORE SHIPPING.”
“We’re trying to be as transparent as possible,” said Hamilton, adding she is not paid for her work. “I network to find them homes.”
The kill buyer-rescue concept does not sit well with horse rescue groups and animal welfare advocates.
“It’s so disgusting, it turns my stomach,” says Christine Hajek, founder of Gentle Giants Draft Horse Rescue in Mt. Airy MD, who regularly purchases draft horses discarded at New Holland by the Amish and others.
Advocates say such operations are deceptive and hurt the horses and legitimate rescues.
It creates a second market for kill buyers who outbid rescue groups or individual buyers and then flip the horses to adopters who see a picture and a deadline and break out their credit cards, said Hajek.
She and others say kill buyers like Moore will still meet the demand of theslaughter market.
“If the slaughter house orders a truck of horses he will send a truck of horses,” Hajek said. ”He’ll just send a different 30 horses.”
Hamilton said she doesn’t see it that way. “I’m not helping the kill buyer. If I don’t do something they all die.”
She said the rescue reduces the numbers of horses Moore is shipping to Canada. “It’s two truckloads, not three, that week,” said Hamilton. “There is always going to be another horse taking its place. I’d rather see him paid for rehoming a horse.”
Sonja Meadows, founder of Animals’ Angels, an animal welfare group that conducts equine slaughter investigations throughout North America – including one involving Moore’s auction in Lebanon, Pennsylvania--said kill buyers across the U.S., doing exactly what Moore does, cash in on the animal-loving public which envisions happy endings for all horses.
“It is nothing but an additional way to make money for them and the threat that shipment to slaughter is imminent is a very effective tool to make this money fast,” she said.
Meadows urges anyone thinking about rescuing a horse from slaughter to go to an auction and bid against the kill buyers or donate to a reputable, non-profit rescue dedicated to caring for abused and neglected horses.
Legitimate rescues like Gentle Giants invest in the horses they adopt out, screen potential adopters and monitor the horses’ whereabouts after the adoption contract is signed, Hajek says.
Whereas Moore sells horses “as is,” with no guarantees, her group buys horses for $500 but then invests another $1,000 in vet care and three months of boarding and training. “I’m losing $1,000 and I have a hard time adopting out horses.”
Hajek also takes back horses that don’t work out.
“There are no guarantees on his horses and they are not vetted,” said Hajek. “It’s a rush for people. They get caught up in it and fear the loss.”
Moore’s page makes no promises about the condition or temperament of any of the horses it is offering for sale and warns prospective buyers the horses have not been examined by a veterinarian and could have long term health issues.
Hamilton said Moore is trying to offer horses an alternative to slaughter and that he shouldn’t be blamed for America’s unwanted horse crisis.
“Slaughter didn’t begin with kill buyers,” she said. “It began with people dumping horses. If they had stepped up there’d be no need for kill buyers.
But Hajek counters that Moore is making more money by flipping the horses at auction.
“It’s not stopping horses from going to slaughter,” she said. “You might be rescuing one but you are perpetuating the entire business.”
As for Striding Victory, she was placed in 30-day quarantine at a stable in central Pennsylvania. Hamilton said the hope is she will be purchased by the individual who owned her sire.