I got the text message Monday afternoon. I had known about the neglect case for quite some time, and my good friend Carrie Gilbert had been in the thick of it for months. A horse named Silver Cliff that she had rehomed for a friend was located at the farm, and was in bad shape. For months Carrie had been speaking with anyone she could to secure this horse and make sure he was safe. She had gone about is as professionally, ethically, and determined as possible. But with no real success.
So when she text messaged me asking what I was doing later that evening, and if my truck and trailer would be available, I quickly said yes. Of course. I could be there in a matter of minutes. She said that Silver Cliff would hopefully be getting released in the next 24 hours, and my heart began to pound.
And then I began investigating. Reading up on the articles written about the situation, and the horses that were on the farm. Facebook posts by Fox Hill Farm and Maggi Moss, and news articles by USRacing and the Paulick Report.
All of them mentioned this horse, Z Camelot. He and the horse Carrie was after, Silver Cliff, had become the so-called mascots of this movement, and had struck the most interest. I knew why Silver Cliff had garnered so much interest – he was gray, he was identified, and he was by the beloved Silver Charm. But I didn't understand the big deal about Z Camelot. So I started to dig. And what I uncovered made my stomach turn.
Because I realized that Z Camelot was out of the mare Madame Thor. A Deputy Minister mare that had been in my care during my time at Chesapeake Farm. The mare who had provided me with my favorite foal of the 2008 crop – a stunning dark bay colt by Gone West. Z Camelot was the younger brother of that horse. It had just become personal.
And I called Carrie and begged her to give me the information I needed to get him in addition to Silver Cliff. If I was already driving my rig to the farm for her, why couldn't we take both? I then called Drew Nardiello, the owner of Chesapeake Farm and told him of the situation, and his response was – as it always is – an immediate “Go get him.”
But then I found out that we weren't the only ones who wanted to ensure the safety of this horse. He had been bought as a yearling for $550,000 by Zayat Stables, of the famed American Pharoah, and they were also desperate for his release. So, as any normal 30 year old graduate student does, I dug up Ahmed Zayat's personal cell phone number and sent him a text.
I explained who I was, and told him that I understood that he didn't know me from Adam, but I swore I was sane. And I asked him, if I was able to get Z Camelot to be released, was it OK for me to do so? And just like Drew – he responded with an adamant YES. And then the ball seriously began to roll, and the next 24 hours became a blur.
Z Camelot and Silver Cliff, as well as 4 other horses, were released Tuesday into the care of a local equine rescue in Lexington, Ky., where they can receive around-the-clock care. They loaded up into my tiny two horse bumper pull trailer, hauled the hour away as we followed Carrie's truck, and unloaded into a different world. For now, they are safe. The road ahead of them is long, but the road blocks are fewer.
And I don't want to go into the state of the farm, or the horses that were in it. I don't want to mention her name any more than it ever needs to be mentioned again. I don't want to become one of the many that she threatens to sue. The level of neglect has already been documented by authorities, and I am late to the game to even weigh in on what it was like then, or how much it has improved/decreased since.
But what I can say is that I cried a lot today. And it wasn't just because of the horses that I saw, it was because of the heart of the humans who cared about them.
Tears welled into my eyes when I walked into Horse Cents in Versailles, Ky., Tuesday morning and the woman behind the desk asked if my name was Carleigh, and I responded yes. She told me that my mother had called and donated $100 for me to buy whatever I thought most needed. Tears began to stream down my face as I heard that same woman answer phone call after phone call, as more donations and funds poured in. From adoption agencies, bloodstock agents, governing bodies, to the small breeder in Alabama – the support was endless. It made me so proud to be a part of this Thoroughbred breeding and racing industry. To know that each of these people calling were in this business for the right reason – for the love of the horse.
My eyes welled up as I watched the volunteers say good bye to Silver Cliff and Z Camelot. As they embraced their faces and necks, and whispered sweet nothings to them, I couldn't help but feel myself begin to sob, acknowledging how much these ladies and men have done. They have offered their time, their money, and their skills well before it was ever cool or hip to do so. They didn't help because of a shout out on social media or a blurb in a blog, they did it because they loved the horses.
And a sob stuck in my throat when we unloaded these first two horses into their temporary home with the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation, a charity that willingly stepped up to the plate to be the safe haven for these animals as they live in limbo between owners. A facility that exists solely for the cause of rehabilitation: for both humans and horses, as they heal each other. Because there is nothing more rehabilitating than the love of a horse.
And I finally broke down as I left TRF and watched the two horses grazing in my rear view mirror. In a green field surrounded by pristine four-plank fence, acknowledging how much time, energy, resources, good will, strength, luck, and yes, tears, went into securing their future.
Those are the real heroes of this story. The volunteers who were there day in and day out. The industry that stepped up when push came to shove. People like Carrie Gilbert who forged the way through the red tape. TRF who offered these horses a safe haven. And the horses who are the string that ties them all together.
I don't know what will happen to these horses, especially Z Camelot and Silver Cliff, but I do know that they at least have a chance now. I told someone earlier today that I can't predict the future – but if I were a betting woman, I would bet on both of them powering through these next few months. For they might be thin, and weak, and confused, but both of them had a glimmer in their eye as they headed towards the trailer. Both of them held their head high as we lowered the ramp. And both of them looked proud as they grazed in their new home.
And that right there, is truly all that matters. Heart. The will to live. And the glimpse of a little sparkle in an eye.
Pennsylvania native Carleigh Fedorka is a Ph.D. student at the University of Kentucky's Gluck Equine Research Center who has worked in all aspects of the Thoroughbred industry. The article originally appeared on her blog, A Yankee in Paris.
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