by Susan Wagner, President & Founder of Equine Advocates.
The Grande Dame of Equine Advocates has Passed.
Friday, February 13, 2015 will be remembered both as a very sad day but also as a day of reflection as we bid farewell to Ladybelle who died just 39 days before her 34th birthday. We had been planning a Big Barn Birthday Bash for her at the sanctuary on March 24th, the day she was born in 1981.
Although Ladybelle’s situation and the fact that she needed to be rescued is sadly not uncommon for many equines, her life and story have been an inspiration to all of us who have had the privilege of knowing and caring for her. In the spring of 1999, I received a frantic call from a woman in Enon Valley, PA which is not far from the Ohio border. She was horribly upset that a special horse slaughter auction was about to take place in her town for the first time. She had been calling every organization she could think of, but no one responded…But then somehow she found Equine Advocates. She explained the circumstances, but we had only been in existence a little over three years and we did not have a lot of resources. However, with the help of a foundation and two dedicated friends, I was able to raise some money. I went there and purchased 14 of the 21 horses who went up for auction that day, bidding only on the ones the killer buyers wanted. One of them was an eighteen year-old Standardbred mare, named “Ladybelle.” I found out that she had raced under the name of “Sterling K,” but her treatment after her racing career was over was anything but sterling. Like so many Standardbreds who could no longer race, she had been sold to an Amish farmer as a Buggy Horse, and then when she could not work any more, was about to enter the slaughter pipeline.
That was a very difficult time for us because we did not establish our horse sanctuary in Chatham, NY until 2004…so I kept Ladybelle in several foster homes which is where she stayed until we moved our first group of twenty horses here on June 1, 2004. Ladybelle was a class act. Despite all that she had been through before we got her, she was just so kind and sweet, as though nothing that happened before mattered. She just always seemed to know that we were there to make sure that she was safe, loved and received the care that she deserved. Ladybelle had lots of friends and fans who adored her, especially her two sponsors. Our dedicated staff who cared for her every day just loved her. She was one of the few horses here with whom we could teach new volunteers about how to groom and handle a horse since she was so friendly and patient. She seemed to love her role as the head of the Main Barn and being in the company of her best friend, Ally, a Thoroughbred Mare who just turned 29.
Over the past few years, Ladybelle began to experience trouble with her back end and especially her rear right leg. She actually had problems with it from the day I got her. She literally had been run into the ground and received what I can say absolutely was substandard care, given the poor condition she was in when I rescued her nearly sixteen years ago.
Ladybelle thrived in retirement and seemed to love her life as we managed her physical issues over the years. However, over time, her condition grew worse and she was having a harder and harder time getting up. This had nothing to do with the winter, as she really loved eating hay in the snow surrounded by her pasture buddies. On Friday, we knew it was “time” and I called the vet. We all held her as we said our very tearful goodbyes. She went peacefully and very fast.
It is difficult to go into the barn without seeing our Ladybelle. She just was always there. More importantly, she is the reason we do the work that we do. It is the whole issue of horses going from “one job to another,” only to be discarded when they are older and/or outlive their usefulness. I love old horses and if there is anything we can teach people, it is that you don’t get rid of an equine just because that animal cannot perform any more. Every animal deserves a safe and kind existence in life and a peaceful dignified end. Ladybelle’s existence was useful and meaningful, until the day she died, in ways that some people will never understand.
On second thought, I think we will have that birthday party for her on March 24th, after all. What a perfect time to commemorate her life and what she meant to all of us!