I received a text message a few months ago. It was my boyfriend asking me what I knew about a local off track thoroughbred sales barn, and if they had any credibility. I told him that I had heard of people donating horses to them, and had read of unhappy buyers on sites like OTTB Connect. I knew that their reputation wasn’t great, and asked why he was inquiring.
He told me that he had been approached by a friend as a plea for help. She was trying to get the two horses that she had donated to this program back, as she had become desperate to receive updates and notifications of their well being. Danielle was one of the “good guys”. She bred a few, sold a few, and raced the rest herself. And when these horses told her that they were done with the track life, she returned them to her personal farm and let them down.
The majority of her horses were kept for life. But with her fields filling up, and these mares being both sound and not of broodmare quality, she knew a different course needed to be found. So after a year of let down, when Valencienne and MyHeart’sreserved told Danielle that they were ready for a new job, she began hunting.
She was recommended a local facility called Thoroughbred Sport Horses (TBSH) by a fellow horsewoman. Being told that the woman was a well-respected horsewoman, who had retrained and sold hundreds of ex-racehorses, she jumped at the chance of placing her horses with them. And on March 15th, 2016 Danielle’s two fillies were delivered to TBSH with the promise of a good start, a great home, and a future as sport horses.
Their pictures were immediately placed on the website the following day, with tropical backgrounds of rain forests and beaches, their bodies photoshopped and superimposed. Danielle had thought nothing of the strange advertising, but waited impatiently for the continued updates and potential sale. She was excited to follow their careers, and looked forward to the photos and videos to come.
But all she received were crickets.
For months she waited patiently, assuming that the horses were just not ready for advertisement. But then she became concerned. She messaged the owner of the operation numerous times, first asking for information, and then demanding.
And then she got desperate. Which is where Luke got involved.
Danielle was so concerned over her horses well being that she reached out to the owner and offered to bring them home. She knew that time was money, and the longer that the horses resided in their facility without even a video being uploaded of their ridability, that they were losing money. But her offer was ignored, and her pleas denied. And that’s when the story took a turn.
They asked Luke if maybe he or I would reach out, hopeful that they would be more accepting to an offer from someone unconnected to the owner, and yet even he was turned down.
A broodmare manager of a commercial thoroughbred and polo breeding farm, a lifelong horseman, and the owner of 2 retired racehorses – and yet his offer was ignored.
Which is where things got interesting, and the story began to unfold.
Danielle decided to pursue one last approach and asked a friend of hers from Pennsylvania to buy Valencienne in June. The facility refused to show the horse in person, and pre-purchase examinations could only be performed by their own personal veterinarian. But after asking only two questions – (1) “Have you ever ridden a horse” and (2) “Have you ever owned a horse,” the horse was sold.
Under the facade of the horse being sent out of state, we offered to go pick up the horse in order to deliver it and were denied. They claimed that only commercial shippers like Brook Ledge or Sallee were allowed on the property – and the horse was sent to a mutual friends farm.
What were once tiny red flags had quickly become an electronic billboard. This was not normal; this was not OK.
Valencienne arrived at Danielle’s farm on June 30th, 2016 in dire shape. She had dropped over a hundred pounds in only three months, and her feet were severely neglected, long, and chipped. Her mane was untouched, and her coat was dull. It was glaringly obvious that Danielle’s concern had been justified. What had started as a simple wish to provide a safe and fun future career for her horse had turned into a personal hell.
And it was obvious, MyHeart’sreserved would need to be bought as well. And thankfully, she was.
On August 11th, 2016, MyHeart’sreserved was bought by another friend – this time from Iowa, but was instead shipped to the Sallee holding facility, and eventually to Danielle’s farm. Her ribs jutted out from under a layer of skin, her feet were long and chipped, and her mane matted with burrs. But, at the end, she was home.
Danielle contacted me soon after this to vent her frustrations. Throughout her ordeal with them, she had been contacted by numerous other people to alert her to previous situations with this same organization. She heard horror stories. She was informed of deceit and inappropriate behavior.
And she was appalled that this organization got away with this behavior. She was hurt that she had fallen for their lies. But mostly, she was devastated that her horses had to suffer for even a single day due to her decision.
Hers is a unique story because no aspect of it can be questioned as a rarity or slander. She had owned both horses before donation–one since birth, one since she had claimed her. She had let them down off of the track herself, and knew their soundness and disposition.
There is no falsity in this claim or exaggeration – just a breeder and owner who wanted to do right by her horse – tried – and failed.
And she decided that she wanted her story to be heard. She wanted people to learn from her own personal heartbreak and decisions, even if it meant a cease and desist or a lawsuit. And she asked me to help her; to be the voice.
So please, listen. Be a critical judge of character and a constant skeptic. Not all rehoming organizations are created equal, and not all rescues are in it for the horse. And heed the red flag’s – or the glaring billboards. Go with your gut. Your instincts can protect and preserve the lives of that animals that you love. Learn from Valencienne and MyHeart’sreserveds, and let their story affect your actions. Do it for the horses – for no one else will.
****EDIT: The daughter of the owner of this facility currently resides in California, and has no affiliation with the operation.