An 18-year-old Thoroughbred stallion recovered from a small auction house in Texas over the weekend was discovered to have originated from Texas A&M University – Commerce (TAMUC). Tricky Prospect got lucky; Kimberly Underwood saw his Texas Thoroughbred Association papers posted on the Red River Horse Sale's Facebook page.
Underwood shared Tricky's photos with CANTER Texas, where he drew the attention of Remember Me Rescue, a 501 (c)(3) non-profit and Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance certified program. With Underwood's help, the rescue stepped in to provide a place for Tricky Prospect to go, purchasing him for $385 on the auction floor and shipping him to its quarantine facility. Tricky will be gelded and a suitable home will be found for him.
“(Red River) is like your bump-in-the-road, low-end, blink-and-you'll-miss-it type of auction,” said Remember Me Rescue Vice President Vicki Morgan. “Where is an 18-year-old Thoroughbred stallion in the middle of Texas cutting horse country gonna go except to kill?”
According to a TAMUC spokesman (note: TAMUC is one of 11 universities grouped under the Texas A&M University system; it is not the same as the main Texas A&M University at College Station), TAMUC's policy is to send horses to auction that are “no longer a part of the academic agenda.”
“It's the policy of many school agricultural departments to auction off the animals,” said Noah Nelson, vice president of media relations. “Tricky was 17 or 18 years old, and he had not sired any foals in that time (he was with the university), even though given an opportunity to. Now, one of the things that you have to understand is that we, ourselves, are not set up to be a rescue organization. Therefore, Tricky was not here simply to be maintained by us.
“We felt confident that Tricky was going some place that was not going to abuse him,” Nelson continued. “We wouldn't have sold him to a kill buyer.”
TAMUC sent as many as 15 other horses to the auction last Saturday, mostly Quarter Horse types, said Underwood, noting that the auctioneer would announce the horses' origins as they entered the sales ring. However, Red River management was not allowed to utilize the TAMUC name when advertising the horses on social media.
The auction does not directly support kill buyers, according to a statement from the company on Tuesday; however, those in charge did acknowledge that it is not uncommon for kill buyers to use a number of different agents to disguise their bids, or find other means of skirting the rules.
Asked if TAMUC knew that kill buyers were not uncommon at Red River, Nelson responded: “We were not aware of that, and there's really no way to ever know that.”
“The man who bid against me had bid on 10 of the 20 horses that had gone before Tricky,” said Underwood. “I had been watching the auction from the beginning so I could know if it was a private family-type bidding on him, or someone else.”
“Everybody around here knows who the kill buyers are,” echoed Morgan. “The people who have to deal with them all the time recognize them by sight; we recognize them by the rigs they drive. They were there.”
Had Remember Me Rescue not stepped in on Tricky's behalf, he may have ended up in the well-known Kaufman Kill Pen, famous for its Facebook page which offers horse lovers and rescues the chance to “bail” horses away from slaughter. The largest slaughter dealer in Texas, the Kaufman Kill Pen is located less than 90 minutes from the Red River Horse Sale.
It's not entirely clear who operates the social media page, but the Kaufman Kill Pen itself is operated by Mike McBarron. McBarron and his agents purchase horses from across the country and transport them back to his holding facility in Forney, Texas. In 2015, McBarron first began posting pictures of some of the horses on social media, and the response has been overwhelming. Still, those that are not rescued are shipped to Mexico for slaughter.
In a 2015 interview with 501 (c) organization Care for the Horses, McBarron wasn't shy about his line of work, insisting that while sending horses to slaughter may be unpalatable, there are few alternatives.
“I know there's a lot of people out there that don't agree with what I do,” McBarron said. “You show me one person, or one entity, that can handle as many horses as I buy every week, and I'll gladly sell them to them. I don't have a problem; take probably less than I could get in Mexico for them, just to keep from doing it.”
While horse slaughter facilities in the United States are currently out of business because funding for USDA inspections has been blocked by Congress, it is not illegal to ship horses to Mexico or Canada in order to be slaughtered. The U.S. Department of Agriculture does implement certain protocols for the horses being sent, including that each must be tagged and microchipped.
“There's a difference between being legal and being moral,” said Morgan. “I understand that these are (TAMUC) horses and they can do with them what they want, but I also think they have a moral obligation, since they have one of the best equestrian programs in the country, to stand up for their animals.”
Like many equestrian programs, both breeding and riding, many of the school's horses are donations. Tricky Prospect, for example, was donated to TAMUC by Mary Bonham in 2010. At 88 years old and having gotten out of the horse business, Bonham is simply not in a position to take Tricky back.
“I'm sorry that the horse ended up there,” said Bonham. “They've made many changes over there (at TAMUC) in the last year. I'm not surprised now what A&M will do, at anything.”
This is not the first time that TAMUC has been under fire in recent months.
In September, the USDA released a report alleging that TAMUC had three violations of the Animal Welfare Act on its property, according to the Associated Press. All three involved horses.
On the heels of the USDA report, the university's interim president, Ray Keck, announced a “zero-tolerance” policy toward neglect or mistreatment of animals.
Following the discovery of its horses at auction, TAMUC's Nelson had this to say: “It's really kind of difficult in the industry of auctioning all kinds of animals, it's difficult to know what their fates will be. It's difficult to know that. An organization can say one thing and do something else.”
“It's such a tough, delicate situation because there's just no answer for how many horses have been overbred every year,” said Donna Keen, founder of Remember Me Rescue. “I'm totally against horse slaughter, but I don't know what the right answer is.”
In this case, the ending is a happy one: Tricky Prospect will have a chance to live out the rest of his days in a loving home. Had it not been for the involvement of a select group of volunteers, the story could have had a much different outcome.
“I'm not trying to bash Texas A&M, I'm just trying to insist that they do something different,” Keen continued. “We want to reach out to Texas A&M, and other schools, and boy scout ranches, people like that, and let them know that if they'll just call us, we'll be more than happy to help them market these horses, share them on our pages. Somebody would have helped.”
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