Alaqua Animal Refuge rescues former race horse from kill lot, seeks to spread awareness
FREEPORT — It isn’t just about one horse.
For Laurie Hood, founder and president of Alaqua Animal Refuge in Freeport, it’s about all of them. Refuge officials recently were asked by a resource in Louisiana if they could rescue Cool Deal, a thoroughbred and former race horse that ended up at a kill lot.
“When we decided to take Cool Deal, it was not only for the reason to save her life, which she desperately needed, but it was to bring awareness to the big picture and to what we’re working on, on a national level,” Hood said.
A veterinarian determined Cool Deal has a compression fracture of her L2 and L3 vertebrae, which is commonly seen when a horse has been flipped over, Hood said. For Cool Deal, it was caused by either wearing a flipping halter (a device meant to keep horses from flipping over) in the starting gates or possibly happened in the breeding shed, she said. It also coincides with an old scar on her head that would indicate an injury from flipping over.
Her teeth need to be floated, or filed down; she needs a de-wormer to rid her of intestinal parasites; and her feet are in desperate need of trimming, Hood said.
“She can live a healthy life, but she never can be tied,” Hood said. “You can’t have that around her head. That creates a little challenge here. We’ll have to figure out a different way to move her from place to place. And she can certainly no longer be ridden. But we were told she is a very sweet horse and we’re just happy to give her the opportunity to have another chance at life.”
Alaqua Animal Refuge will rescue Cool Deal and start her journey to recovery by the end of the week.
What happened to Cool Deal is not uncommon.
It often stems from livestock auctions, which are held in every state, Hood said.
“Even Walton County and the Okaloosa sheriff, if they seize animals, they have to put them up publicly for auction,” Hood said. “The sad part about it is that most of the animals that end up at these auctions go for a very low price. You can get a very cheap horse any day at any of these auctions.”
And after the auction, some of them end up at kill pens.
“There were actually slaughter plants, just like there are for cattle, for horses,” Hood said. “Americans do not eat horse meat, so the horse meat — after slaughter — was being shipped to China and Belgium, some of these countries that actually have horse meat as a delicacy.”
Many years ago, animal welfare organizations worked tirelessly to stop the slaughter of horses in America. And they did.
“But unfortunately, when it passed, it did not make it illegal to transport horses over the border for slaughter,” Hood said.
In the Southern states, horses are sold cheap at livestock auctions and shipped across the border to Mexico for slaughter. In 2019 through Dec. 28, 53,947 horses were shipped from the United States to Mexico for slaughter, according to the USDA Market News Livestock Export Summary.
“A lot of times, at the auctions there are kill pen buyers that come in and buy a horse for $50, or whatever it might be, and turn around and flip it to the kill pen, who offers them a higher price,” Hood said. “It’s a nasty business. And unfortunately so many horses end up that way. And a lot of them are pets. A lot of them are families who just thought they were bringing their horse to an auction to find it a better home.”
The thoroughbred industry is notorious for having former race horses that are no longer earning money for the owners or trainers at these auctions, Hood said.
The industry sends an estimated 10,000 horses to slaughter annually, meaning that half of the 20,000 new foals born each year eventually will be killed for their flesh, according to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
A few weeks ago, Alaqua assisted Okaloosa County and the Panhandle Animal Welfare Society to take in 77 animals from a cruelty case. Some of them were horses that still had the kill pen number sticker on their bodies when they were rescued.
Horses are skittish animals, Hood said. It plays a factor when an animal goes to slaughter, because workers first hit them in the head with a stun gun to numb them, she said.
“Unfortunately, horses move around a lot and are skittish,” Hood said. “The ones we took a couple of weeks ago, they were almost feral. Thinking about putting those horses through a chute to get slaughtered is just horrific. Sometimes they miss and it takes multiple times. It’s just a horrific, horrific process. These horses deserve better. That’s why we’re working so hard to get the laws changed to make it illegal.”
Some people have asked Hood why Alaqua is rescuing a horse from Louisiana instead of locally.
“We try to always rescue locally first, but when there’s a situation like Cool Deal, where it can bring national attention to the bigger picture of what happens to these animals and hopefully create some awareness and have people who want to step up and help these horses and change their fate and change the laws to make it illegal to be able to send horses to slaughter,” Hood said.
Hood also is the state director for Animal Wellness Action (AWA). AWA successfully passed the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act on Dec. 27, 2020.
“The act hopes to standardize medication and safety rules in horse racing nationwide,” Hood said. “It bans the use of drugs on horses on race days and creates a national standard for drug-testing and enforcement and will be overseen by the United States Anti-Doping Agency and must go into effect by July 1, 2022, at the latest.”
Next on AWA’s agenda is to press the horse racing industry to eliminate the use of the whip and new anti-slaughter policies, Hood said.
Marty Irby, executive director at Animal Wellness Action, was recently honored by Queen Elizabeth II for his work to protect horses, Hood said.
“We will continue to press the horse racing industry to make change for the betterment of the horses on a global scale, and expect to end the use of the whip and permanently end horse slaughter on U.S. soil by the end of 2025,” Irby said in an email. “Our iconic equines, whose backs our civilization was built upon, deserve better treatment than they’ve seen, and their welfare must be placed at the center of the enterprise.”
Hood has a passion for making a difference in horses’ fates. They are amazing, she said.
“They’re gentle and they’re kind,” Hood said. “We utilize them, for example, in our equine assisted therapy program. We bring in handicapped and autistic and PTSD patients and even sexually abused children, and these horses work with them and help them deal with some of the things they are trying to face.”
They say horses are a mirror of your soul, she added.
“Someone like me or someone that works with us at the refuge, when we calmly approach these horses that have been through so much, oftentimes it takes them a couple minutes to appreciate that you’re not going to hurt them,” Hood said. “They’ve been key to American tradition forever, from the West to military battles. They’ve been such an important species. I think every little girl in the world has always wanted a pony or a horse. To know that some of their beloved pets end up this way is just unacceptable.”