MADISON HEIGHTS — Al is a 17-year-old chestnut-colored thoroughbred gelding with eight years of racing to his name — a considerable feat, given that most horses are done after a year or two on the track.
Rachel Webster of Madison Heights adopted him after he retired, wanting to give him a good home. She keeps him in a boarding facility in Oxford. But with her personal training business taking off, she isn’t able to give him the time and attention he deserves. For some time now, she’s been looking for someone who will take care of Al and treat him as a friend.
Unfortunately, most of the people who express interest in Al do so for the wrong reasons, the first red flag being when they ask how much he weighs. A pound of horse meat fetches a pretty penny in Canada and Mexico, where many horses are exported for slaughter since slaughterhouses in the U.S. aren’t approved to handle horses. And some people go to great lengths to make that money.
“Last year, I had someone call saying they were looking for a horse for their daughter, and they gave me this entire sob story about how she didn’t even speak until she got a horse,” Webster said. “They had this whole heart-wrenching story, and I was ready to get in a trailer and take Al to these people. But then I did my research and it turned out to be an elaborate ploy, telling me everything I wanted to hear when really, they wanted to take the horse over the border (for slaughter).”
Webster also doesn’t want to see Al racing again.
“I want him to go to a home that isn’t all about what Al is going to do for them,” Webster said. “He’s 17 — his heyday was when he raced for eight years, so if you want to do something really competitive with him, he’s just not the horse for that. He’s a good friend; he’s a good trail horse. But I don’t want to see him back on a competitive schedule — it just wouldn’t be fair to him. I’m looking for someone who wants to take an animal that ran its heart out, and give him a happy life.”
Al was born in Canada and had great success racing in Ohio before he was adopted by Webster in the fall of 2006. She describes him as spirited and a bit mischievous.
“He’ll test you,” Webster said. “People need to meet him to really understand.”
She added that because he was raised on a track, he’s good with blacksmiths and veterinarians — so good, in fact, that Webster can put his foot in a bucket of water and let it soak, and come back 20 minutes later and he’ll still be there, perfectly patient.
Prior to Webster, Al had a bit of a rough life. A previous owner left Al in a field with another horse, and he didn’t know how to socialize; the other horse intimidated Al and caused Al to hurt himself on tractor equipment left out in the field. Then the owner decided Al needed some exercise, so he tied him to a golf cart for a run, which was not only hard on Al but resulted in the golf cart getting destroyed. This caused the man to fear Al and barely feed him, leaving him severely emaciated by the time he was rescued.
Now Al is well again, needing only a family that can spend lots of time with him. He hasn’t been ridden in more than a year.
Michael Blowen, president and founder of Old Friends, a horse sanctuary in Georgetown, Ky., said there are many horses in need of a place to retire, and it’s difficult because horses aren’t cheap to keep.
“You feel terrible because a lot of people who want to do right by these horses are put in these economic situations where the economy goes down and how are they going to spend their money?” Blowen said. “It’s not so hard to find a home for a dog, but when you have a 1,200-pound thoroughbred, you need space for him to run around in, and you want to give him a situation where you don’t just warehouse him — you want him to have fun and enjoy life.”
Then there’s the problem of unscrupulous people tricking others into selling their horses and then exporting them for slaughter. Blowen said that Canada recently stopped accepting horses from the U.S., which he says is a step in the right direction, but unfortunately horses can still be sent to Mexico, which would be worse due to poor regulations and the exhaustive process of going there.
“None of these horses should go to slaughter under any circumstances,” Blowen said. “If a horse is too ill, there should be a euthanasia program. It’s a terrible situation; we just need to stop the exportation of horses, period.”
Blowen feels one of the larger problems Webster’s situation reveals is how the racing industry handles horses in general. He feels they should be treated like the superstars they really are, and be provided for after they’ve done their time on the track.
“Without these horses, you just have short people running around in a circle, and nobody is going to pay to watch that,” Blowen said. “The horses are the athletes. When I go out in my yard in the morning (at Old Friends), it’s like having Larry Bird and Michael Jordan and Dennis Rodman running around in my yard.”
Webster agrees and is determined to make sure Al gets a well-deserved retirement.
“I’m committed to Al for the rest of his life,” Webster said. “I don’t care if he’s 30 and people can’t feed him anymore — I’ll take him back.”
For more information, call Rachel Webster at (248) 340-3348 or email her at email@example.com.