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Kona's Story

by Paula Drake

In June 2005, I fell in love with a thoroughbred mare that had been sold to a horse slaughter dealer in Washington State. Her photo was posted on the Chronicle of the Horse bulletin board (COTH) along with three other mares that had come from the same thoroughbred breeding farm. A group of us pooled our money together and rescued these four mares and some others over a several month period.

The youngest of the four mares was adopted immediately by a young woman in Colorado. The other three from this group went into foster, including the one newly named Kona. I had an immediate connection with Kona and dreamed from afar that she were mine.

These three mares were former broodmares, all aged, all sold to the slaughter dealer because they were no longer producing. No one could read their faded tattoos to determine exactly how old they were or who they were, but we did know who their former owner was.

Photo taken at slaughter lot.

The other two were adopted, but Kona remained in foster...waiting for her forever home. Well guess what my friends; she was waiting for me. Fate jumped in and the next thing I knew Kona was on her way across country to me. She arrived in September.

She was oh so skinny when she arrived. She had not fared well at the lot or in foster. Despite her deplorable physical condition, she was bright, sweet, gentle and SOUND. For those of you who know me through dogs, you know how particular I am about temperament and soundness. Well here I am adopting an aged horse I had never even met, touched or watch move, and I am hauling her across country so I can spend money boarding her at a boarding barn. Ah age does some wonderful things to you is all I can say!

And you see, there was this connection between Kona and me and this connection was not to be denied.

A thoroughbred email buddy encouraged me to try to decipher the old faded tattoo. For those of you who are not yet thoroughbred educated, any thoroughbred that has been on the track has a tattoo on the upper lip. You flip the lip to read it. It is a series of numbers headed by a letter. The letter signifies the year of birth. The early effort in Washington to read Kona's tattoo said the tattoo started with O which meant she was born in 1985. But, after many a night flipping her lip, looking at it from all angles, with and without flashlights, blacklights and through digital photographs, it became pretty obvious her tattoo began with an R making her an '88 mare and the O was in fact a zero and the first of her numbers. One by one the numbers became clearer, and I was ready to go to Jockey Club for a tattoo match. For a fee, you can give the registry a number and they send you the match. It took a couple tries, but with the help of a very sympathetic employee at Jockey Club, we got a match.

About that same time, I wrote to Kona's former owner, telling him how fortunate I felt to have found Kona and asking him if he would give me her papers and tell me about her. He commented, "I had no idea anyone would want an old broodmare." This confirms once again the horse slaughter issue continues to be an issue of ignorance. Ah, but I digress...

He went on to tell me Kona was a stakes winning mare, including winning one of the more prestigious races on the west coast. She had produced six foals, including one which had won almost $400,000 before retiring. Her last foal was several years ago, and despite efforts to get more foals from her, she had come up barren each year.

So, after holding on to her for several barren years, he sold her to a livestock dealer who sells to slaughter.

Kona and I enjoyed a brilliant fall. Even though she had not been ridden since her racing days some 15 years ago, she was eager, willing and thrilling to ride! She is a huge mare, and for the first time in my adult life I was riding a horse who fit my long legs. We had the best of times through Christmas and I had begun to make plans to show her in 2006.

She was getting fit, muscling up, but still looking lean, despite a full plate of goodies three times a day. In January, I noticed she was starting to fill out on the bottom. I thought, "oh good, finally some changes!"

Well, it wasn't long before I was asking the barn owner who is a horse breeder if she thought Kona could be pregnant. No, she did not think so. It was just the way she was putting weight on and it would shift in time. BUT, then that belly started going sideways, and the girth was sliding forward to her elbows, and my once agile mare was galumping around the arena like a walrus.

It became obvious that which should not have happened, had indeed happened.

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