My day in Unadilla began approximately seven hours before the horse auction was slated to begin. As our small group pulled into the parking lot of the D.R. Chambers auction house, there were already horse trailers in the parking lot. Equipped with two-horse trailers (room for six horses total) myself and four others (I won’t refer to exact names in order to protect the rescues interest at the auction) backed into our spots in the dusty, rock covered parking lot.
As we opened our doors and stepped onto the uneven ground, a grey truck with a picture of a horse on the driver’s side door and an electric blue trailer hitched to its’ back pulled into the spot directly next to ours. The movement of a horse could be heard from the back of the dilapidated-looking trailer. A little man wearing a cowboy hat, a snug fitting Coca Cola shirt and jeans jumped out from the driver’s side door of the truck and came around to the back of his trailer as the others and myself waited to ask about the horse that was locked away inside the tiny blue trailer.
Waiting inside was a 22 year-old gelding with smooth brown hair and a slight cut over the bridge of his nose. As we sat listening to the story about why that horse was placed in auction, my mind began to drift away as I wondered whether or not you can believe any of the stories that anybody at these auctions say. If he was such a wonderful horse, why would you be selling him at an auction that could possibly lead to your horse ending up in a Canadian slaughter-house. When asked why, he was selling his horse, there was no answer, as if he just did not hear the question directed at him, or maybe it was that he did not want to hear it. Stories at these auctions, as it turns out, were as flimsy and fake as the people telling them were.
At around 1130 a.m., we made our way into the auction stable area where the horses are left to wait, some waiting for rescue, others waiting for death, the line between blurry and indecipherable. With six and a half hours until auction, there were already about 10-15 horses tied with bailing twine to a wooden beam. In the dark aisle, the aisle in which the majority will go to slaughter, there were horses of all different shapes, sizes and colors. The only way of really referencing them, however was through the green circular tags placed on their rears with numbers on them. These horses were nothing more than numbers. They were no longer somebody’s pet, a little girls dream present or even animals. Just number 1548, a white pregnant mare. She was living, breathing, but at the same time she was now just a number; numbers don’t breathe and they don’t come alive. Names are too personal. Names belong to things that have futures. Numbers are assigned to products, to anything that needs to be impersonal, to anything that won’t be around long enough to need a name anymore.
In a small stall further inside the confines of the auction stable I found where the minis were kept. As I approached I could tell that something was wrong. Upon further inspection I found that this mini had gotten its’ leg tangled in the bailing string that also kept it tied to a wooden beam. I watched as this horse helplessly struggled to remove its’ foot from the twine that it had wrapped around its’ leg. The horse began to jump and smash into the side of the wooden stall as it struggled with no avail to free itself from the bailing twine. I pulled out my keys and began to cut off the bailing twine while I began to also wish that I had brought some sort of knife so that I could have helped cut the horse free quicker. While I struggled with cutting the twine, I heard voices approaching and had to stop. I started to walk away as two chubby men approached where I had been moments before. They watched as the horse jumped, continuing to try to free its’ foot. One of the men was amused by the horses struggle and said, “We got a jumper here boy.” Where I found horror, another found humor, and just like that, the two men walked off without even thinking of helping the tangled mini. Apparently they had clear consciences and untroubled minds.
As the sun began to rise, so did the number of horses being brought into the stables. It was one trailer after another. A continuous stream of unwanted, or unneeded horses. Horses that were used and then tossed away like cigarette butts. As I watched the trailers come in, I felt myself beginning to go numb. There seemed to be no end to the flow of them. But the auction house employees handled it with perfect precision. They worked like clockwork, and trailer after trailer was emptied with little or no difficulty at all. It was not their first rodeo. By 430, the total number of horses (not including minis and mules) was at 70.
At around 430, the Amish began to arrive, which was a contradiction in itself. The Amish showed up in trucks, something that I had previously believed was not something they were supposed to use. The Amish brought horses that were virtually beaten into the ground. Horses used to do work until they physically could not do anymore work, at which point these horses would just be discarded at the auction. Horses who made life possible for the Amish were sold to slaughter without any type of pity, as if years of hard work was still not enough for these horses to deserve reprieve.
In the parking lot there was pandemonium. Men and women sat atop horses as they rode walked, trotted and cantered through a parking lot full of rocks. This act in itself could be devastating for some of the horses due in part to the fact that if the rocks bruised their hoofs and they became lame, buyers could interpret this as being a bigger problem than it was, resulting in some perfectly healthy horses being sold to slaughter because of nothing more than being a little sore.
As 6 approached, the stable was nearly at full capacity. You could feel the energy. It was a dark energy, the kind of feeling that made the hair on the back of your neck rise. It was a feeling of anxiety, nervousness and maybe even emptiness. With only room for six, I felt myself realizing that not every horse in this stable would be finding a happy ending. I looked around realizing for maybe the first time that day that there were going to be a lot of horses there that would never again be put out to pasture. Many horses would not feel the softness of green grass beneath their hooves ever again. When 6 rolled around, it would be the beginning of the end for many, but at the same time, some of these horses would also find new beginnings. For every life taken, there would also be the chance that a new lease on life would also be given.
There would only be six horses that would be coming home with us, and with nearly 100 horses there,
this seemed too small, but we also were not alone. Others were there who were not kill buyers. Not everyone who shows up at auctions are people looking to sell for slaughter.
It was in this moment that I began to realize the enormity of what we were doing. We were going to be a part of change. There was no way that we could save them all, but we would be able to save a few, and sometimes that was all there was too it. You save what you can, you act as the change that you hope others will be someday too. Change, I realized, was the sum of all the intricately small actions directed at a larger goal, and that day, our change was going to be six horses; six lives.