By Kathy M. Sabin
In the summer of 2002 I received an e-mail from a friend, asking anyone who could, ……. to help. I read the message and decided to look into things a little further. I got in touch with Sinikka Crosland, from Canada, who was the listed contact person.
She told me that a group of PMU foals were being rescued, then transported from Manitoba, Canada, to an area near New York City for adoption, and in this process they were looking for assistance and support along the way. Although I hadn’t known the details before, I found out more than I could have imagined.
These foals were produced when their mothers’ urine was collected for a drug called Premarin, the most prescribed drug used for women going through menopause. The pregnant mares are kept in a stall, too small to lay down to get quality sleep, for six months during their pregnancies, with very limited exercise. The resulting foals are the unwanted byproduct of this process. Since our family is a responsible breeder of quality Andalusian horses, and each foal that enters the world here is a little piece of gold and a true gift from God, this story horrified me. During this process, 35,000 foals are slaughtered every year. The foals are abruptly separated from their mothers at an early age, which of course is extremely frightening to them. Many become severely depressed, and of course the majority of them are put to death prematurely, before their young lives have had a chance to really start.
As a family we decided to open up our farm so that the 15 foals that were being transported could have an overnight resting place. We have a good-sized indoor arena that we thought would be perfect for them.
Before this group arrived, we didn’t know what to expect. Would these young babies be halter broke? Would they have been handled previously? Would these foals be friendly? We had no idea . We just knew we were going to do what we could to help.
I was in communication with the rescue group as they headed our way and found out the foals had not been handled much at all. They had been basically stripped from their mothers and taken to auction where their outcome, in most cases, would be dismal. This group of foals had been saved. They would arrive, most likely, very confused and unsure of their future. At this point the only comfort they had was each other. We decided to make a safe channeled area into the indoor arena from where the trailer would be, with tall, safe fence panels.
When the rescue troop arrived, they were appreciative of our generosity, although in our minds we didn’t feel we had done much. Frank Weller, the organizer, along with Terri, Lori and Regina were all truly wonderful people. We helped to get all the foals off of the huge horse trailer and then just watched them for a long time. They varied in color from black to palomino, and some were pinto colored. Most of the time they huddled together, initially looking for reassurance. We did all that we could to make them comfortable during their overnight stay. When the traveling ‘human’ group decided to turn in after their long trip, it was well after midnight and everyone was beyond exhausted, our family turned to checking the foals and making sure they had a plentiful supply of fresh water and hay. It was amazing to look at these young horses realizing everything they had gone through. Some of them would lay down putting their heads across the body of another, falling into a deep sleep. The foals that weren’t almost right on top of another, would still be found very close to the rest of the group, grabbing at their presence for comfort.
The next morning, my son Chad (14) was up extra early to check on the foals. Although he wanted to stay home from school in the worst way to help, he had a football game that day and school policy stated that starting players in high school had to be in school the day of the game. Since Chad was the Quarterback, he didn’t have too much of a choice, although he did spend as much time with the foals as he could. My daughter Cortney (11) on the other hand, was given an excuse from school to stay home and help with the rescue process. It was a day and a half she’ll never forget. She helped where she was needed and even videotaped freely what she was seeing. The foals looked more rested this next day, and you could see some personality being expressed in some which was really a welcome sight. A camera crew from Channel 2 news came to our farm to capture part of the journey that these weanling foals were taking. It was surprising but some of the foals seemed to accept this group, maybe knowing that they weren’t a threat and only trying to help.
One foal in particular was really different from the rest. This little filly was more relaxed with all that was going on that morning, and seemed to work to comfort the others. When the vet came to check each one, which was a task in itself, she was the one to stand right by the vet and comfort the ones who were nervous. She walked right up to people and really enjoyed the attention she got. Everyone kidded that she was almost like a grandmother horse in a young foal’s body. She had a lot of fun with the TV news crew too and was really interested in the equipment they were using. She was always right in the middle of everything, like an actress in the spotlight acknowledging her already proven fame. This particular foal was being adopted by Frank, the coordinator. He asked Cortney to help name this foal for him, and after a lot of thought, she said her name should be ‘Molly’. So Molly it was.
All of us spent a lot of time with the foals, sometimes just talking near them to get them used to our voices, and sometimes working on getting them to trust a bit more. It was so rewarding to see them slowly start to accept us. When we put more hay out later in the morning, some of them even ate cautiously from our hands, which was a big accomplishment. Although some were becoming somewhat more relaxed, others were still frightened, not knowing what to expect from such a big life change.
As it neared the time for the foals to leave and continue on their long journey, both Cortney and I became aware of how being a part of all of this had affected us. I think we had initially expected to feel good about helping without being so drawn to them. That didn’t happen. We both felt that the time we had spent with them wasn’t enough, and we knew we were going to miss them. It is a feeling very hard to explain. Did we feel this way because of what they had gone through, or because we knew that this was only a small group out of the masses that would never make it this far? I’m not sure, but the feelings were strong.
As everyone worked to quietly load the youngsters, someone realized that Molly was missing.
On the other side of the arena stood Cortney and Molly together, unaware of what was going on outside of their private conversation. We all looked at each other suddenly overwhelmed by the scene that was before us; the young girl who’s heart reached out to this foal and the foal so accepting of that affection. I remember mumbling something about how Molly leaving was going to be hard on Cortney. Then someone said, “Come on Molly! We can’t forget Molly.” Molly and Cortney both turned around and started heading toward the group. About ten strides into their walk toward the channeled area to the trailer, Cortney broke down. Tears came to my eyes as well. I think everyone’s eyes were filled with tears, although I was busy comforting Cortney, and possibly trying to comfort myself as well.
After the foals were loaded, ready to leave, and we were saying goodbyes to these wonderful volunteers that were working to save these young horses, Cortney stepped up onto the wheel well of the trailer peaking in at all of the foals for one last look and her own goodbyes. This would be the last time we would see any of them, or so we thought.
As they drove out of the driveway, both Cortney and I felt emotionally exhausted. Neither of us talked too much, and as we headed inside, decided that what we needed was a nap. Both of us slept for a few hours, and still, after a much needed slumber, felt empty inside in some way and still very tired.
I talked to Frank, as well as some of the others, checking to see how they were doing as they headed to the east coast. I let Cortney know about all the updates and that all of them were doing well.
Not too long after they arrived, some of the foals were being adopted out to quality, loving homes, and of course Cortney always asked about Molly. We were thrilled to hear the news, but in retrospect, this group was only a tiny segment of the foals that were being produced and only a fraction of those being saved.
A few months before Christmas, I got a call from Frank, and after some discussion, the people from that special rescue group decided that the only right home for Molly was going to be with Cortney. I talked to my husband Brian, my parents and other wonderful horsey friends, and everyone agreed: they were meant to be together. Frank decided that he wanted Molly to be given to Cortney for Christmas. We had planned on having Molly stay with some friends, or to have her come a little early and then keep Cortney from the barn for a few days. Frank had other plans.
He decided he wanted Molly to arrive here on Christmas Day. In some ways we thought he was crazy, and in other ways we thought that this man must have an enormous heart to want to deliver such a special gift on such a special day. He left his daughters Cait and Ali, who were very supportive, on Christmas Eve around noon to make the journey from Connecticut to Wisconsin.
On the way, Frank and Molly ran into a horrible snow storm in Ohio which eventually dumped over 15 inches of snow in a short period of time. Brian, who drives a semi truck for one of the largest trucking companies in the United States, was on the phone with Frank as he traveled. He helped with directions as to the best route for Frank to take, and told him where good resting places were. At a certain point Brian felt it was unsafe for them to continue on. He told Frank of the next rest area, so they could pull over until the storm, that was moving steadily to the east, had passed. When he started driving again, the worst was over.
At home, we were telling Cortney all kinds of things for the strange behavior going on Christmas Day. One of us was on the phone every few hours. Sometimes not even an hour would go by before one of us was talking with Frank, giving directions or getting an update. We were working so hard to make it a true surprise, but all of us were on pins and needles. Chad, who knew from the start exactly what was going to be happening, was a great help in covering up for all of our goofy behavior. Brian and I were so anxious.
When Frank arrived, we had him drive right into the arena. He let Molly out right away so she could stretch and loosen up a bit. She ran around, bucked and played, appearing very comfortable after such a long journey. Her face really lit up when she saw our orange tiger-striped cat Lewis, who she had developed a special bond with a few months earlier. Lewis had been hit by a car twice and is mentally slow, but Molly was always careful with him. It really looked as if she remembered our place and she seemed to be excited and happy.
Frank had taken such good care of her on the trip that no one would have known that she had been in transit for over 26 hours. We all stood in the arena for awhile watching this cute 8-month-old filly, who had a winter coat that would rival a bear, and thought about all the joy she would be bringing to a young girl who had fallen so in love with her. This is where we would bring Cortney to surprise her.
It was time.
Gramma Olsen walked Cortney through the barn door and down the hallway and then another short hallway to the arena. Frank was standing with Molly and both of them were wearing big red Christmas bows. From the time Cortney and my mom walked into the barn, Molly stood totally still next to Frank and didn’t make a sound. It took Cortney awhile to get to the right spot as she was being led, especially since she couldn’t see anything through the fabric that was covering her eyes. As they entered the arena, I told my mom to bring her a little more forward, and then I said, “OK.” The blindfold came off.
After the big reunion, Cortney met with a reporter from the local newspaper to share the story about her special Christmas gift and to help spread information about the production of Premarin.
Although Frank was far from home, and had just traveled over 1,100 miles to be a true Santa Claus, we tried really hard to make sure he had the best family Christmas we could give him.
The next day we spent time with Molly outside taking pictures and just hanging out with her. She was so relaxed. Frank, in realizing he would no longer be seeing Molly as often as he had before, was feeling emotional, since he too had connected with this special little filly and developed a special place in his heart for her.
Although this story had a happy ending, we can’t forget about the thousands of foals, just like Molly, that die every year only because they are an unwanted byproduct of the prescribed drug called Premarin. If more and more women would start informing their doctors, who many times have no idea how Premarin is produced, about the horrible way it is made and then ask for an alternative medication, we would all be well on our way to the end of the use of pregnant horses to produce Premarin, and an end to the horrible slaughtering of baby horses who are the innocent victims of the process.