Nation’s horse lovers raced to the rescue (US)

Neglected animals found at N.Y. farm

Cross-posted from the Lexington Herald-Leader at Kentucky.com
By JOE DRAPE | New York Times News Service | Story URL

One horse is being retrained to become a hunter-jumper in Virginia.

A half-dozen or so of his former neighbors rollick in the pasture and munch carrots in Pennsylvania.

Seven more are being nursed backed to health by inmates at a New York prison.

Michael Blowen, founder and president of Old Friends at Dream Chase Farm, fed carrots to Escapedfromnewyork on Monday at the equine retirement home in Georgetown. Image by NYT Staff Photographer, David Perry.
Michael Blowen, founder and president of Old Friends at Dream Chase Farm, fed carrots to Escapedfromnewyork on Monday at the equine retirement home in Georgetown. Image by NYT Staff Photographer, David Perry.

Then there is Escapedfromnewyork, who is convalescing among champions and legends at a retirement home in the plush bluegrass in Kentucky.

They all were among the 177 horses found malnourished and neglected in April at the upstate New York farm of prominent Thoroughbred breeder and owner Ernie Paragallo. Over the past six months, the Humane Society/Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in New York’s Greene and Columbia counties, with the help of rescue groups and horse lovers from across the nation, has found homes for 96 of those horses.

The agency has spent $82,000 treating, feeding and finding homes for the horses. Six horses were too sick to recover and were euthanized. The animals’ plight has touched hearts and united a disparate group of horse lovers who have mobilized largely through the Internet to give the horses a second chance.

Paragallo has been indicted on 35 counts of animal cruelty by a Greene County grand jury and could face up to two years in prison and $35,000 in fines if found guilty.

He has denied that he starved and neglected his horses and is free on $5,000 bail. He is scheduled to appear in court this week, but no trial date has been set.

“There has been an awful lot of hard work and imagination put in by strangers to save these horses’ lives,” said Ron Perez, the president of the Humane Society/SPCA in Greene and Columbia counties.

The last of the adopted horses — a colt and two filly yearlings — left Friday from Paragallo’s Center Brook Farm in Climax, N.Y., for North Carolina. It is the first step on a path that embodies the creative thinking that has become the hallmark of horse-rescue outfits. The horses’ new owners, Angelika Hala and Sean Kerr, are sending them to Paula Turner, who broke the 1977 Triple Crown champion Seattle Slew and is considered something of a horse whisperer for her patience in developing them mentally as well as physically.

“We’d like to see if they can make it to the racetrack,” said Hala, who met Kerr, her fiancé, at Claremont Riding Academy, a fixture of Manhattan’s West Side for more than 100 years.

The couple have never owned racehorses; they rescued two mares that they have begun to breed. In fact, they had no intention of adopting three racehorses. They did, however, have a similar reaction to that of most adoptive owners: They were horrified at how badly the animals had been neglected.

“We came to horses late in life and are just nuts about them,” said Hala, who lives in New York City and is a photo editor for a German magazine. “When we saw the colt and the two fillies with their ribs sticking out, there was no way we could pick one over another. We just had to take all three of them.”

Hala and Kerr also saw an opportunity to educate the public and perhaps help reform racing. They formed the 5R racehorse trust, a non-profit partnership whose mission is to “rescue, rehabilitate, race, retrain and retire” horses.

If the horses are deemed fit for the racetrack, the partnership will choose a trainer who does not have any violations for medications and agrees to race them drug-free.

“If the horses are not fit for the racetrack, we’ll retrain them for dressage or find them a home as a back-yard racehorse,” said Kerr, a banker based in Manhattan. “The point is to take care of these horses and let people experience the joy they give.”

Almost everyone smiles when telling stories of the 96 adopted horses. Christy Sheidy, the co-founder of Another Chance 4 Horses, which spread the word about the neglect at Center Brook Farm, told how Jennifer blossomed from a sickly mare into a vivacious one.

Jennifer grew so robust that Sheidy suspected she was pregnant.

“She has gotten so round we just had her palpated, and she is open,” Sheidy said. “No baby.”

In April, Escapedfromnewyork looked like a yearling when he arrived at Old Friends at Dream Chase Farm, the retirement center in Georgetown, Ky. He was 5 years old.

He took up residence alongside thoroughbred icons Sunshine Forever and Ogygian — and more than 50 other horses worth tens of millions of dollars on the racetrack. Among them was Escapedfromnewyork’s grandfather Fortunate Prospect.

Yet Snake — the horse is nicknamed after the protagonist in the movie Escape From New York — has quickly become one of the star attractions for the thousands of horse lovers who go to the farm.

“Snake has grown about 10 inches and gained about 200 pounds,” said Michael Blowen, the farm’s president and founder. “The tragedy is that I think with his build and intelligence, he would have made a very nice racehorse.”

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