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The forgotten Prince: How one racehorse escaped the slaughterhouse

By Todd C. Frankel
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH 12/26/2006

An old racehorse stood in the back. His hide was the color of fudge-brownie batter. His nose was dotted with a white star of hair. He looked thin, his ribs showing like rolls in a bunched-up carpet.

But he was eye-catching still, a gentleman horse with a regal air. And he was tall, even for a thoroughbred. He loomed over the other horses in the trailer. At this moment, though, he was no different from them an animal valued only for his meat. Maybe 50 cents a pound at the DeKalb, Ill., processing facility.

The only clue to this horse's past was a tattoo under his lip a past, illuminated through records and interviews, that tracks from breeders in Kentucky to a reclusive millionaire owner to horse traders in Colorado and Oklahoma, including a period where he largely disappeared. This old racehorse's story is the typical one, experienced by tens of thousands of unheralded thoroughbreds. It is the story at the heart of the national debate over slaughtering horses.

Except this one has a twist.

This old racehorse was finally going to find luck on his side. In the early morning dark, the kill truck rolled over.

Walking out alive

The rig slid on its side into the grassy median at mile marker 232. The animals were trapped. Rescue workers stood by helplessly waiting for a special tool to cut into the metal roof.

The only sound: hooves banging against the metal walls. No whining. No snorting. Just the eerie dance of feet.

An hour passed. Then, prying open the roof like a sardine can, the rescue workers moved with care. Inside the trailer were compartments. Horses were piled on top of horses. Blood was everywhere. Some horses walked out. But as the rescuers worked toward the back of the trailer, the horses were tangled in a mess of heads and legs. They had to be pulled out with straps attached to a tow-truck winch.

The dead were laid on the highway shoulder and covered in red or blue tarps, until the tarps ran out.

"It was the worst thing I've ever seen," said veterinarian Amy Adams.

Seven hours after the crash, with the autumn sun rising in the sky, rescuers reached the last compartment. There were four horses inside. A white-and-brown painthorse lay dead. Another horse, a sorrel, had its back leg opened to the bone and had to be put down. A white horse walked out alive. So did the old racehorse.

In the end, just 25 of the 42 animals survived.

A horse named Stan

Amanda Hirshberg first noticed the racehorse at a small arena where the horses were evaluated later that day. Growing up in St. Louis, she learned to love thoroughbreds by riding them tall, leggy animals bred for speed and energy. Now she is around horses constantly as ranch manager for the Humane Society of Missouri's Longmeadow Rescue Ranch near Union.

As Hirshberg worked on another horse that day, the racehorse crumpled to the ground, on his side, head down.

"He looked like he was going to die," Adams, the veterinarian, said.

Hirshberg reached him first. "Calm down," she recalled whispering to him as she petted him. "Calm down."

He responded to her touch, his muscles appearing to relax just a bit. He was covered in small cuts. He had a puncture wound by his tail. Adams stuck a catheter into the horse's neck, pumping him full of fluids and drugs. He groaned and shortly climbed back to his feet.

He spent the next two weeks recuperating at a clinic in Wildwood. It was there that veterinarian Anne Taylor named him Stan. It was a sturdy-sounding name. Sometimes Stan would break into a trot, bouncing like he was being ponied up to the starting gate. He had a lip tattoo, too, a sure sign of a racehorse. Taylor said she would look at Stan and say to herself, I wonder what you used to do?

Cracking Stan's code

By late October, Stan was living at Longmeadow Ranch. In a few days, the Humane Society would gain ownership of all 25 slaughterhouse animals from the trucker's insurance company.

Almost nothing was known about how they got here. The only documentation was a receipt noting that on Sept. 26, the day before the accident, the 41 horses and one mule had sold for $14,997 from one horse trader to another. From there the trail ran cold.

At the same time, the kill truck accident had found life in the political arena. Animal welfare groups used the wreck to push for a federal bill to shut down the three U.S. horse slaughtering plants, which ship horsemeat overseas for human consumption. The House passed the legislation, but it stalled in the Senate.

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