The full story of how it came to pass that Smoken Legacy was found tied to a wall at New Holland Livestock Auction last week with a body condition score of 1, a nasty case of rain rot, and an infected sheath is a tale that we will not tell here. We know some of the facts only because he, like all of the 350 horses entered in the Thoroughbred Makeover, had a strong network of people looking out for him.
The short version is that social media went wild the moment his photograph and identity were posted on Facebook. That was a double-edged sword. The person who dropped him off at New Holland came right back and took him straight to the kill buyer him upon hearing of the publicity. When volunteers from the organization that had rehomed him after racing showed up to retrieve him he was gone.
What transpired over the next 36 hours is a story of victims, liars, heroes, and hard working people caught up in a system that most of the horse industry tries to ignore. The good people who finally tracked the horse down and paid what some would call ransom to get him off a truck bound for Mexico want this story told. They want it told so that horse owners will avoid the mistakes that were made here and so that the horse industry will better understand the mess we have created by refusing to confront the problem of unwanted horses in our country.
RRP and the primary players in the Smoken Legacy saga recognize that the telling of this story must be done carefully. Reporters are eager to tell it, and their publications are eager to run it. We have contacted a highly respected writer who has covered this topic responsibly in the past and is capable of gathering the facts and presenting them accurately. Until that happens, we wanted to share what we believe to be some lessons learned.
- Put training agreements between owners and trainers in writing, even if no fees are involved. Handling these relationships as business transactions does not prevent conflict but it helps to resolve it.
- Educating horse owners must remain a priority. Feeding grain is not enough. Horses need good forage. Rain rot does not go away from a couple of baths. It takes antibiotics, especially when the horse is in poor condition.
- Don’t pull the shoes off a horse with bad feet and expect him to stay sound in training.
- Research the reputation of the nice person who tells you that he or she will find your horse a good home, and even if it is a giveaway write a contract and make them sign.
- If you enter the Makeover tell us immediately when there is a change in the status of your entry, and know that once you have entered there is a huge community of people happy to help you. We have a survey out to contestants right now collecting status updates.
Pointing fingers and assigning blame is our first instinct in cases like these. Threats will be made, lawsuits may or may not be filed, and human beings will seek revenge, profit, and recognition. But there is a good side to this story. The personal and financial sacrifice that a handful of people made on behalf of this horse is inspiring. Horses really do bring out the best in us.
Will Smoken Legacy be at the Thoroughbred Makeover at Kentucky Horse Park October 23-25? Nobody knows and nobody cares right now. He is living in the moment, as horses do and people should, munching hay in a clean stall surrounded by people who will protect him.
A fund has been set up to reimburse those who paid to get Smoken Legacy back and have covered his vet bills. It is being managed by KNT Sport Horses, the farm that took him in at the end of his racing career. To contribute go to this link. Or contact KNT Sport Horses through their Facebook page.