My friends at Pure Thoughts Horse Rescue in Loxahatchee, FL have done it again: saved the lives of an incredible number of serviceable horses that would otherwise have had to endure a torturous journey across U.S. borders to slaughterhouses in Canada and Mexico. These are not just words on a page. Really. If not for the work of Pure Thoughts, their supporters and, in this case, their angelic sponsor and fellow horse lover, Victoria McCullough, by now, these 163 perfectly good horses would have suffered painful cuts and broken bones on the deadly trailer ride which would have delivered them to a horrific death.
Instead, over Memorial Day weekend, Pure Thoughts co-founder Jennifer Swanson and Victoria outbid surly kill buyers for hours on Friday night at a horse auction in Sugar Creek, OH. They bought every horse there (click here to read the press release).
Victoria, an amateur jumper rider who has a farm in Wellington and owns the midatlantic-based company Chesapeake Petroleum, not only spent $70,000 over the weekend to rescue all 163 horses, but she has rallied members of the elite Wellington horse crowd to support efforts of Pure Thoughts – by donating money and stalls, and offers to host adoption events and adopt horses. With phone calls to all of her friends and her friends’ friends in the 561 area code, and up and down the east coast, Victoria has turned the subject of horse rescue into Wellington’s most fashionable cause.
“It was an amazing contrast for me, but one that has changed my life,” said Victoria about her connection with Pure Thoughts. “One minute I was horse shopping in Germany, and a week later I’m at a kill auction saving horses’ lives. When I found out about Pure Thoughts and visited unannounced, then researched the whole situation with horse slaughter, I was appalled. I previously thought only old and infirmed horses went to slaughter. At this point, I’ve learned a whole new way of thinking of what my money can do.”
“I have bought wonderful things for myself during my life,” continued McCullough, “but providing funds for the rescue of these horses is truly the best purchase I’ve ever made. If every one of us can open a stall door to a horse in need, there wouldn't be horses at auction facing a painful death. No horse should have an end like that.”
I found out about all this about 24 hours after it happened. In my backyard in Washington, DC, I was tending to a birthday party with 24 kids in a moon bounce. At one point I snuck inside for a moment of peace and was delighted to see a call coming in from Brad Gaver, the other co-founder of Pure Thoughts. I love kids, but a call from Brad meant horse talk. I was all ears.
Brad was calling on his way to Ohio to help Jennifer, Victoria and their crew of supporters and friends tend to the large group of gorgeous paints, thoroughbreds, quarter horses, ponies and draft horses (oh, and there is a family of blonde donkeys including a newborn foal who, had she not been bought that night, would have been born in a cramped, awful trailer on her way to slaughter).
It was so great to hear good news about their tireless and selfless rescue efforts. I was struck by the excitement in Brad’s voice. The last time I saw him, in March, he seemed down. I wondered if the hardships of horse rescue had become overwhelming. The $75 for a 12-ounce jar of prescription ointment for a dying horse. Never enough money. Four horses on site with serious medical needs, tended to around the clock by Jennifer and Brad. Foals that needed costly milk replacer every two hours around the clock. Daily chores for 40 horses on their ranch accomplished with some dedicated volunteers but no funds for hired hands. Watching expensive hay blowing “like dollar bills in the wind,” he remarked, weary. Staying up until midnight waiting for horses to arrive, knowing there weren’t enough stalls. No time for dinner, too rushed for breakfast. Things are tough for those in the business of horse rescue.
But on this day, Brad sounded elated. We agreed to talk again after he arrived in Ohio. At 11:30 p.m. the moon bounce had been deflated. My lasts guests departed. I knew Brad, Jennifer and Victoria would be heading to their hotel in Ohio. I put my wilted five-year old birthday boy to bed and picked up the phone and listened to the amazing story.
“We just held up our signs the entire night,” said Jennifer, “and bought every horse that came through. It got very tense and the meat buyers were getting very angry. With the price of gas, to take home an empty trailer is bad news for them. The auctioneer figured out what we were doing and he was a real gentleman. He said he admired us and got the kill buyers to shut up.”
Victoria explained how as the night wore on, the situation became more and more aggravated but she and Jennifer maintained their composure and calmly, politely outbid the meat buyers. Afterwards, grateful horses were moved in three shipments to a nearby farm where they could relax in pastures fully of shady trees and delicious spring grass.
“It’s an amazing experience to stand in the quiet of these horses and listen to them breathe, and know they are so thankful to be alive,” said Jennifer.
“It’s an incredible group of totally serviceable horses. We’ve had them checked out by an amazing vet from Ohio State, Dr. John Bryk of Mapleton Vet Clinic and the great news is that not one of them has to be put down,” said Jennifer.
As of Tuesday evening, half of the rescued horses were already on their way down to Florida. Some were already there. All of the horses will go through a process of being evaluated, rehabilitated, loved and paired with adoptive homes. And supporters of the group have rallied horse people all over the east coast for support and even more urgently – for stalls. While Brad and Jennifer remained in Ohio through Wednesday the 4th overseeing the loading of the horses, Victoria had returned to Wellington to ready all of the stalls and barns where the horses will be stabled.
“People are calling everyday to help and I am overwhelmed by the generosity,” said McCullough. “My friend Isaac Arrguetty has graciously given us use of his Mida Farm for about 40 of the incoming horses. Because of his kindness, these horses will have a wonderful reversal of fortune.”
Wednesday morning I talked to Victoria and she was thrilled to report that Joe Norrick, a California horse person who has facilities in Wellington, had donated the use of two back-to-back barns with more than 40 stalls. She also mentioned that and Dr. Rob Boswell from Palm Beach Equine and his wife Lisa have been terrific in spreading the word around the horse community.
Victoria is also championing a program to facilitate adoptions from Pure Thoughts to intercollegiate college riding programs. She is also spearheading a plan to create a unified global collaboration to help stop the slaughter of horses with help from the International League for the Protection of Horses.
“It is time for the voice of the people to be heard and put an end to horse slaughter,” said Swanson. “For years others have tried to suppress anti-horse slaughter legislation HR 503 and S311, incorrectly believing horse slaughter is over is a myth. Horses are now being transported INHUMANELY to Mexico and Canada, where the cruelty is beyond comprehension. We have laws in our country regarding humane treatment of animals. Why are we not adhering to them for the horses?"
For a long time, Wellington resident Richard Schechter, CEO of The Bainbridge Companies, LLC and owner of Bainbridge Farms has been a primary sponsor of Pure Thoughts’ work. “I’m extremely focused on doing anything I can to eliminate the slaughter of horses,” Richard told me over the phone on Tuesday afternoon. “I’m trying to work on it on a national level and doing whatever I can to help pass legislation that would prevent the export of horses for slaughter. Until we’ve accomplished that, anything that we can do to rescue these horses so they don’t end up going to slaughter is critically important.”
“The nice thing about Pure Thoughts and what they’re doing is that you can see the results,” he continued. “They work very hard. It’s a huge effort. Their dedication and the results they have achieved speak for themselves. We’ve rescued hundreds and hundreds of horses.”
“This world is far from perfect,” said McCullough, “but we can all make a difference. This experience has taught me to appreciate my own horses and how lucky they are. I had no idea who unbelievably cruel the other side is,” said McCullough.
Pure Thoughts needs your help on this community horse rescue! You can help! Pure Thoughts is looking for supporters to:
Donate temporary use of stalls or pasture
Visit www.PTHR.org for more information about how to help or send donations to Pure Thoughts Inc. 19181 Capet Creek Ct., Loxahatchee, FL 33470. You may also contact Jennifer at 561-254-0415 or Victoria at 561-371-2203.