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In Memoriam: Bobby II Freedom

June 25, 1990 – June 14, 2022

Eulogy by Susan Wagner

June 25, 2010 is a date that shall remain in my heart and mind forever. It was the day that Bobby II Freedom came into my life.

It was just after 3:00 pm on that fateful Friday that I received a frantic call from my good friend and colleague Elizabeth Forel, President of the Coalition to Ban Horse-Drawn Carriages. She said that a former New York City carriage horse, with the hoof #2873, was standing in a kill pen at the New Holland Sales Stables in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, one of the biggest and most notorious slaughter auctions in the eastern U.S. The good news was that for a price through a “broker-owned horse program” at the auction, the horse could be saved from slaughter, but time was of the essence as he had to be purchased by 5:00 pm that afternoon. If not, he would be sent to die in a Canadian slaughterhouse.

Working quickly with Forel, who helped to raise the funds along with Friends of Animals to get the bay gelding out of the kill pen, I was able to successfully expedite the process that ensured this horse his freedom. As the policy at the auction was that horses could not be moved off the auction grounds until Monday, June 28th, I had just enough time to find and hire a hauler who would ship him to New York State. I arranged for him to go directly to an equine hospital. I remember how I and my sister Karen, who runs Equine Advocates with me, waited for the horse to arrive at the hospital. Finally, at around 8:00 pm, the trailer pulled in and off walked this beautiful gelding with large expressive eyes who had mud all over his feet that covered the number that had been carved into his front left hoof. However, as soon as we washed his feet, there was the hoof number, which is the way NYC carriage horses are identified and licensed with the NYC Department of Health.

His vet report from that hospital, dated June 29, 2010, revealed he had worms as the result of a fecal examination. In addition, it said, “…He has a right front lameness of unknown etiology grade III/V which means that he is consistently head nodding lame on his right front limb at the trot in a straight line on hard ground…” His teeth were also badly in need of being floated.

I told Karen and Elizabeth that I wanted to name him Bobby II in honor of a carriage horse we had rescued on eastern Long Island years before and who had recently passed. Elizabeth said she wanted to add to his name and eventually came up with Bobby II Freedom. It was very fitting and he lived up to his name.

Bobby arrived at the sanctuary on June 30, 2010. I talked about his rescue in this short video that we shot here on that very day.

A few days later, the New York Times published the first of what were to be countless newspaper and magazine articles, TV reports, and social media posts about Bobby’s miraculous rescue from slaughter. The iconic graphic artist Peter Max was so inspired by Bobby’s rescue story that he immortalized him in several paintings. Almost overnight, Bobby became known as ‘the one who got away’ and despite the insistence by the New York City carriage horse operators and drivers to the contrary, Bobby was proof that NYC carriage horses were, in fact, sold for slaughter when they outlived their usefulness. These people were finally caught in their lies and exposed for covering up what really happens to horses like Bobby when they can no longer perform and generate profits for them. In the NYT article, it was revealed that Bobby’s original name had been Billy and that he was somewhere between 14 and 18 years old. Interestingly, in going through Bobby’s vast file recently, I came upon a document from the Department of Health dated 10/6/09 that has Bobby’s birth year as 1990. I guess they lied about his age, as well. When the two carriage horse operators who used him for “six or seven years” and then scrapped him for slaughter were asked by the reporter as to why, one of them said, “I didn’t want to put it in service anymore. It was old.” This callous individual didn’t even have the decency to refer to Bobby as a living, breathing sentient being, but rather as an “it” – as though he was a thing or some kind of inanimate object unable to feel emotions, happiness, or pain.

From that point on, I decided to designate June 25th, the day he was officially purchased and rescued, as the day we would celebrate Bobby’s Re-Birth-Day, as he began a whole new life free from the drudgery and misery of the urban carriage horse trade and saved from slaughter. Every year on June 25th from 2011 through 2021, we threw a party for Bobby at the sanctuary where he would always hold court and bang on his stall door if he felt he was not being given enough adulation and attention by the guests.

I knew very early on from numerous veterinary examinations that followed that the injuries Bobby sustained while pounding the pavement of NYC streets were degenerative and would only get worse with time. I also knew we would have to manage them because the damage had been done and he could never recover from them – But we could do everything we could to keep him as comfortable as possible, so he could enjoy a good quality of life here at the sanctuary. At Cornell, where he underwent his first MRI, I remember clearly one of the residents saying to me, “This is the worst MRI I have ever seen.” But I have to say that for nearly 12 years, Bobby defied the odds and lived a long life – an even longer one than I had originally thought.

Of all the horses I rescued, starting in 1993 with Gandalf and Rain Man, and then founding Equine Advocates in 1996, each and every one has been important and significant. However, Bobby was very special to me because I spent so much time with him. He loved to go for walks with me around the property. He just was so mighty and gallant in the way he carried himself. He was also feisty, often funny, and very smart. But mostly, he was just so darn cute! He had charisma and a way of endearing himself to everyone who got to know him. He especially relished his time in the pasture enjoying just being a horse with his best friends, including Dallas and Zack.

Bobby made a difference. Because of him, many people all around the country, but especially in New York, got to learn about the sad fate of many urban carriage horses and the awful lives they are forced to lead. His story helped to enlighten and educate the public about what this miserable business does to horses physically and mentally, and why it has no place in today’s modern cities. He showed that urban carriage rides are not part of some benign tradition, but are in fact cruel and inhumane. The scars on his face and on most urban carriage horses are caused by the severe equipment they are forced to wear, which is designed to induce pain in order for the drivers to control them, particularly when they spook or become nervous or frightened in traffic.

Bobby changed my life in more ways than one. He was a great friend who made me want to do something about the urban carriage horse issue. In 2019, Elizabeth Forel and I traveled to Guadalajara on a fact-finding mission to research and investigate the successful transition in that city from horse-drawn carriages to electric “horseless” carriages. We returned from that trip with new enthusiasm and optimism. We formed the Committee for Compassionate & Responsible Tourism and asked filmmaker Sue Spiegel to produce a video narrated by the great Bebe Neuwirth from footage shot in Guadalajara that introduces electric carriages as a viable option to horse-drawn carriages.

That wonderful video can be viewed here.

Karen and I are so very grateful to all the people involved with Bobby’s life over the years who are too numerous to list here. You know who you are. Thank you so much!

I know I will miss Bobby more than I can say. He was just such a big part of my life for so long, and so important to the work that we do here every day, that it just will not be the same around here without him. However, it gives me great satisfaction and comfort to know that Bobby got to live a long and meaningful life with us – And that he passed peacefully and with dignity surrounded by many of the people who loved and cared for him.

He was absolutely the best!