Horses and Hope: From Auction to Adoption
By Teresa Genaro
Horse lovers and auction owners make strange bedfellows.
Oh, not those high-end, Keeneland/Fasig-Tipton/Lexington/Saratoga auctions, where well-bred babies are sold for hundreds of thousands, sometimes millions, of dollars, before their careers even begin, before anyone knows whether they can run.
Horse lovers, even the poor ones, flock to those auctions: we stand at the bar, we watch the yearlings, we mark up the sales book, highlighting the progeny of our favorite racehorses. A few times a year, we indulge in the fantasy and the pageantry.
And while all that’s going on, every Wednesday, photographer Sarah K. Andrew goes to another kind of auction, this one in New Jersey, this one full of horses that their owners know can’t run any more, horses that nobody wants. There’s no convivial bar scene; there are no blue-bloods.
The ironically named Camelot auction takes place every Wednesday in Cranbury, New Jersey, when a variety of breeds of horses are put up for sale, among them Thoroughbreds. In 2010, Andrew joined a group of volunteers committed to making sure that no horse would be sold to “kill buyers” who would then re-sell the horses for slaughter.
Andrew began riding horses when she was a little girl; her interest in racing began, she said, “a little later.”
The equestrian is also an artist, beginning with painting and drawing, moving on to photography. The first place the two interests intersected was when Andrew worked for Equiphoto, taking pictures at Monmouth, the Meadowlands, and Philadelphia Park (now Parx). In 2007, she began working on the advertising and distribution staff at Thoroughbred Daily News, in addition to taking photos for the publication.
In 2008, the horse that Sarah had had for 20 years, Alibar, died; his death spurred her interest in Thoroughbred welfare.
“He was once-in-a-lifetime, and there was something about losing him that made me want to do something for other horses,” she said.
That “something” became going to Camelot.
In the past, the horses that didn’t sell at the Wednesday night auction were sold to a feed lot, where they were, according to Andrew, fattened up and shipped to slaughter. Since January of 2010, Andrew has shown up on Thursdays to take their pictures, with the full permission and cooperation of Camelot’s owners, to try to find them homes before they can get shipped to a horrible death.
“Instead of harping on the bad, we focus on the good and try to make a positive change.”
“Horses and Hope 2012” is that positive change, the tangible evidence of Andrew and her colleagues being the change they want to see in the world.
Andrew’s photos of the leftover, castoff horses at Camelot would be posted on various websites, by Andrew and by the other people who work on their behalf of the Camelot horses, for potential adopters to scrutinize.
“At the end of each day of shooting,” she said, “I would always get one shot, not a straight conformation photo, but one that was more artistic. I started posting them and people suggested that I do something with them.”
That’s where Gina Keesling comes in.
Andrew had been worked with Keesling on some Christmas cards when they began discussing producing the calendar. Keesling owns and runs Hoofprints, a small printing company that specializes in equine-themed products. Her husband is a farrier. She and Andrew initially hooked up through Facebook.
“A couple of years ago,” Keesling explained, “I decided to have a presence for my business on Facebook. I use a lot of photography for our Christmas card art, and many of the photographers had Facebook pages.
“As I would go through their photos and images, I kept seeing Sarah’s name. We became Facebook friends, and that led me to the Camelot page, and I got sucked in there from there.”
Keesling’s background in design was invaluable in producing the calendar, which Andrew initially envisioned as rather simple: 12 months, 12 photos, 12 horses.
Keesling had other ideas.
“She kept asking for more pictures,” said Andrew, “and she suggested that the calendar inform people about the rescues that take in the horses.”
“We didn’t have a clue what it was going to be,” said Keesling. “We’re a small company, so we do all the typesetting and layout for our products and for our calendar. I wanted the calendar to run in our catalogue, so I laid out the cover and one month; the catalogue went to print and we had no plan for the rest of it, and three weeks to get finished.”
Keesling went through thousands of Andrew’s photographs, eventually selecting about 100 to go in the calendar.
“It was daunting to wade through all the pictures,” she admitted. “They’re all so good and it was tough to choose. Eventually, though, each page evolved as a theme, and the specific images just came.”
Though both Keesling and Andrew are of the potentially depressing nature of the project, which focuses on an element of the horse industry that many people would prefer not to think about, they were determined to keep the tone of the calendar positive.
“We wanted it to be inspirational,” said Andrew. “It’s not just about this auction. We want to inspire people to do something in their communities, to show people that there are horses out there everywhere that need help.
“We want to get people to think about what they can do at a local level,” she continued. “Look around, see if you can help out. Call your local track to see if they need pictures of horses that need homes. Donate feed to a local rescue. It doesn’t require a lot of effort to use the skills that you have to try and help.”
“One goal of the project,” concurred Keesling, “is to empower other efforts, to encourage other people to take on their own projects. We’d love to serve as a model for other initiatives.”
To encourage other organizations to take on similar projects, Keesling talked to the printer that she uses for Hoofprints, who authorized her to pass on a quote to others who might be interested in producing a calendar.
“If other groups could do what Camelot does,” she said, “there wouldn’t be many horses left to kill. It’s marketing & educating, matching up horses and owners.”
The calendar sells for $14.95 with all proceeds beyond the printing costs going to the Kentucky-based One Horse At A Time, an organization that, according to its mission statement, “provides resources to those who rescue horses and to educate the public about responsible equine ownership.” Rescues and other organizations can apply for grants to help fund their efforts.
According to Keesling, thousands of calendars have been sold. Last week, Andrew drove to Kentucky to present Penny Austin of One Horse At A Time with a check for nearly $25,000.
Through Andrew and Keesling’s efforts, more than money is being raised. So is consciousness, about ways to help, and so is awareness of what the Camelot volunteers have accomplished.
According to Andrew, since the Camelot volunteers have begun posting photos of horses that need homes, not a single horse has shipped to slaughter from Camelot. Over 2,800 horses have been sold privately through the group’s efforts.
Many of those horses appear in the calendar, along with quotations that honor the spirit of the horse and the efforts of the volunteers. The calendar’s words and images are deeply spiritual, a result, perhaps, of what Keesling identified as a divine spirit infusing the project.
While drawing on such inspiration, the calendar also stay firmly rooted in the practical.
“This isn’t about pulling horses out of auctions,” said Andrew. “It’s about the horse community grouping together and using our resources.”
The second printing of the calendar is going fast, but calendars are still available through Hoofprints.
Wrong. There are blue-bloods at Camelot. If only Ferdinand and Excellor had been so lucky to end up there, they may not have tragically and horrifically gone to slaughter. Thoroughbreds, (like Quarter Horses) are overpopulated. There is a glut of them due to greedy breeders and irresponsible owners. 16% of the 100,000+ horses that go to slaughter every year are thoroughbreds (that statistic from the USDA). That’s 16,000+ thoroughbreds. The QHs that go to slaughter – 70% of that 100,000+ yearly. For shame. The thoroughbred racing industry just does not want to talk about all the thoroughbreds that get unceremoniously dumped – because they don’t want their dirty little secret of discarding them – to be known. Deputy Broad – may not be blue-blood – but he ran his best and was sent right from the track to slaughter this past summer. Look him up. The horse rescue network helps endangered horses to be rescued and helps the rescued (whenever possible) to recover their names and their history via their tattoos. They become “someone” again. My blue-blood horse is proof of this: a sound 5 year old OTTB bay mare who is a descendant of Buckpasser, War Admiral, Man o’ War and Hyperion. Our smart, pretty and sweet girl is learning to be a jumper. But, best of all, she is safe, loved and alive. Who cares about her pedigree. She is an example of everything that is wrong with the racing industry, and an ambassador for what is right about responsible and compassionate horse ownership.
Our horse, like so many others, was saved, due to the photography of horse angels like Sarah K. Andrew. I hope that calendar sells out multiple times. Thanks, Sarah!
The blue-bloods I was referring to are humans, not horses.
It’s interesting that someone with the same last name as you recently noted that 10,000 Thoroughbreds every year are sent to slaughter — you quote 16,000, which would mean that more than half the number of Thoroughbreds born every year are sent to slaughter.
As I noted in a recent article at Forbes, the Thoroughbred industry has taken a number of steps in the last five years to help provide aftercare for Thoroughbreds when their racing careers are over. Is the problem solved? No. But progress is being made, and I’m not sure what is accomplished by finger-pointing and hostile reactions to an article that highlights the good that people do.
Many thanks to Teresa for bringing the great work of Sarah, Gina and the Camelot volunteers to a wider audience.
I recently purchased a horse from Camelot and I knew he had to be a TB. I checked him today and he does have a lip Tatoo, which means he was a TB racehorse. I hope to be able to read the #s accurately and know who he was. I know who he is now and his name is Noble. He was known at Camelot as hip #428 of the Nov. 16,2011 sale. he has a kind soul.
You guys do great work! Regardless of %’s or breed that’s an awful lot of horses that have homes because of your efforts. I hope people appreciate the work that goes into this ongoing project. THANK YOU!
Thank you so much for your coverage of this amazing volunteer effort! I wish you could have seen Penny’s face when she received the check- she nearly had a litter of kittens.
Sarah, thanks for sharing the story and I’m looking forward to telling the rest of it here soon.
Here, here, Amy. I’m in awe of them.
Karen, thanks for sharing your story here. Good luck with Noble!
Thank-You Sarah, Gina, And Everyone Involved In “The Camelot Efforts”!!! You All Do Such Great, Commendable Work, Saving These Beautiful, Worthy Horses, And Giving Them “A Second Chance”!!! I Follow Camelot Every Week, Since March, 2010, And Love “This Group”, And All It Has “Noblely Accomplished”!!!! I Also, Just Recieved “My Calendars”, That I Recently Ordered, And Am So Happy, And Impressed By The Whole Project, And Can’t Thank-You All Enough!!!!:) Thank-You So Much For All That You Do To Help These Beautiful Horses!!!:)
Thank you for all your work and getting your stories and efforts out to the public. We have to change what had been happening to these horses. I think you all are awesome. Keep up the great work. Your efforts need to be heard by alot more people. Best of luck to you.
I’m 63 yrs. young & have owned horses most of my life. The last I knew A Quarter Horse & a Thoroughbred were 2 distinct breeds. What makes them pure in their own breed would be that they are, each, PUREBREDS. ie. Purebred Quarterhorse &/or Purebred Thoroughbred. Then, you could go on & on with PUREBRED Appaloosas; PUREBRED Arabians; PUREBRED Shetland pony………………well, you get the idea.
Get your facts straight. Thanks!
Thanks for reading and for commenting, Dusty– but I’m not sure to what you’re responding? If I’ve gotten something wrong here, I’d certainly like to correct it.
Maybe I read something wrong. If so, I’m sorry. It’s just that, from my own personal experience, alot of folks tend to refer to a horse that’s of pure blood to be a Thoroughbred. Of course a Thoroughbred is a specific breed of horse….pure or otherwise. There are many horse breeds out there that are pure-breds. (Not to be mistaken for the Thoroughbred.) I’ve forgotten exactly how many ancestors of the breed there has to be in its particular ancestory for it to be a true PUREbred. …….I’ve owned lots of good horses. Some were grade. That’s a horse that has a mixture of breeds in its ancestory. And I’ve owned PUREbreds of one kind or other. Quarter Horses; Appys; even a P.O.A. (Pony of the Americas)…..which are,basically,a small version of a blanket or Leopard Appy. ……………….I’m gonna quit while I’m behind. Any “hoss folk” out there reading this will understand what I’m trying to convey. The rest just doesn’t matter. Good luck in your endeavors.
HAPPY TRAILS!!! Dusty W. :)
What a beautiful calender; what a tribute “to horses nobody wants.” I just adopted an ex-race horse from California. He is 5, beautiful, and was 4 days from Auction. I sent the money to the woman who finds homes for these beautiful creatures and she said ” I know you need two weeks, but the owner isn’t willing to feed him.”! He WILL be boarded and FED and I sent addl money as he was already looking thin and he had not raced since July/11. I will be so relieved when I get him here in Colorado to his forever home. The pain of how disposable TB’s are….. The saying that helped me with my pain the most was ” maybe we can only save one horse in the world at a time, but to that one horse it will mean his/her whole world.” Thanks, and God Bless the Horses and Everyone who so loves them and gives of themselves to do what we can to help and save them.
This is a great article for awareness. So inspiring, touching and very informative. Lucky are those Thoroughbreds who found a good owners that take good care of them and never do harm unto them. Animals like Horses can feel pain too and be hurt just like us. So let us take good care of them.
I hope there is a 2013 edition in the works! I am lucky enough to work with and around the colt (now gelded) on the November page, and “all horses sold” icon. We call him Halo, and he is a beautiful, athletic, leggy guy with the potential mentally and physically to go English or Western when eventually broke to ride. What a waste of potential, life, and joy he would have been to be sold and turned into an ‘horse dourve’ somewhere foreign. Halo and his mother “Angel” were the first pulls of a flegling rescue. He is surrounded by other horses primarily from Camelot, donkey, minis and mares, all of which were spotted on the weekly networking website. Without Sarahs photos we would have an empty barn and emptier lives. And they might not have any. On their behalf and ours, a heartfelt thank you for the photography effort, weekly and calendar. It works.
You have excellent timing, Carolyn! Just minutes before you posted this, Sarah posted on Facebook that you can reserve your 2013 calendar.
Thanks so much for sharing your story…how wonderful for both of you that Halo landed with you.