I’m back after a long research trip for The Age of the Horse. Snowed under with notes, but here to tide you over is the magnificent sight of a twelve-horse hitch at the Horse Progress Days gathering in Mount Hope, Ohio. It was like watching a siege engine go by.
A couple of weeks ago a friend emailed about a developing horse welfare situation in the US – one that’s not uncommon these days:
“I am re-posting this for somebody…’FREE horses!!! 52 thoroughbred horses need homes. Will go to Sugarcreek this Sat. for slaughter. Gentleman died and his son wants nothing to do with them. FREE and papered. Friend of the deceased is trying to find homes 1-440-463-4288 Barnesville, OH. Please help — call if you can save one of these amazing animals, or re-post this to get the word out to others.'”
I referred him to equine welfare blogger Fugly Horse of the Day, as I thought she would be the best person to broadcast it and get the horses rehomed. I should have done a little more research. There really were 52 horses, and they really did need to be rehomed, but this all happened in February.
Earlier this week, someone started a thread on Horse and Hound Online about 52 thoroughbreds that needed a home. This time, there was a new phone number attached:
“URGENT – 52 Thoroughbred horses need homes. Will go to slaughter this sat. Gentleman died & his son wants nothing to do with the horses. Most broodmares, broken in & some in foaling/weaning, 2-3 yrs old, most geldings- free- Contact Chett Wallace 0842 748538 . Please re-post -this message has come from a friend of mine in Cheshire – Sue Westwood-Ruttledge”
Nice and emotive, eh? Another HHO poster replied saying it was a scam, and adding a link to a 4th February 2011 piece on the case by Fugly Horse of the Day. There really was a gentleman who died – a vet named Dr Stearns – and there really were 52 thoroughbreds in Ohio who were about to be sold. After that, it all gets a bit woogly. The horses’ alleged plight was publicised on the net first by Lynn Boggs and then by people who hinted strongly that the horses would end up in the food chain if they were rehomed. As FHOTD points out, there were some gaps and inconsistencies in this story – it had happened over an extremely brief timeline, for a start, as Dr Stearns died on the 27th January and yet all the horses were rehomed by the 4th of February. The Horse ran an item on the phenomenon of social networks and horse rescue:
“After Stearns’ son dismantled his father’s breeding and racing farm, he gave Boggs and her boyfriend, Jerry Noss, a week to find homes for the 52 horses. He planned to send any unadopted animals to auction. … Although Boggs avoided mentioning ‘slaughter’ in her original posting, subsequent posts by other concerned parties mentioned this as a possibility, should the horses not find new homes. ‘I didn’t want to say slaughter; I hate that word,’ she said, noting she didn’t believe they would have that end. She thinks the post gained even more momentum when the word ‘slaughter’ entered the description.”
One concerned member of the public talked to staff at Dr Stearns’ old practice, who said that:
“They [the horses] ALL went to other owners/trainers and members of the racing community. These were very well bred, healthy horses. All have good homes. They were never, ever at any risk of slaughter. The son has worked tirelessly with the community to get the horses into safe homes.”
So, as FHOTD put it, who is lying? She asked for commenters to come forward and say if they knew of any of the rehomed horses, and several piped up with the intelligence that Dr Stearns’ thoroughbreds were now installed at good establishments. Lynn Boggs popped up too, and you can follow the fun here if you’re curious and have a big bag of popcorn to hand.
So why, seven months on, did this story get a revival and Dr Stearns die all over again and the 52 thoroughbred pack their hobo bags? The “urgent appeal” has popped up several times in my Twitter feed in the last week. The clue is in the new wording – specifically that new phone number:
That’ll be a phone call at 4p or 5p a minute in the UK. Scamholio. Thanks to HHO commenters for pointing this out.