I think we all run into moments that serve as a starting point for the rest of our lives; moments from which a map can be laid out and the path that your life was meant to journey down begins. It is a moment that lights a fire beneath us. It is a passion to ignite change or maybe even a desire to change the course of fate for someone or something other than yourself. This is the moment that changes your perspective and makes you see the world in a new context. For each person, this moment is varying. For some, it could be nothing more than a thought that they find ideologically appealing; a thought found on the outer edges of their minds. For others it may be an idea or inspiration that comes to them in a dream as if some divinity had placed it there to perplex and inspire them.
I’d like to think that my moment came to me on August 30th, 2013 at 6pm in Unadilla, New York.
The auction began with an elderly man speaking to a crowd of what I would estimate as being 100 people. In a tired but sturdy voice, the man spoke proudly about the auctions 76th year of business. As he spoke, people in the auction house were listless. Talking, the sound of feet sliding across wood and the faint sound of horses impatiently waiting on the other side of a weathered wooden door drowned out the sound of a not-loud-enough microphone. And then seemingly all at once, although it seemed to me that this moment will play out forever, the call for the auction to begin came and that wooden door opened.
I was sitting in the middle of the bleachers in the front row. Directly in front of me was a large white fence, which was where the horses were either ridden or lead around while people bid on them. The fenced in are was about 30 feet in length and maybe 10 – 15 feet in width, but this is just a rough estimate. To the left of where I was sitting sat a few of, who I had gotten word, were kill buyers. They sat in desks in the front row, although others decided to stand inside the ring.
The first horse to come out was a chestnut gelding. A teenage girl sat on his back, giving the audience proof that the horse was ridable. She circled the horse from one side of the fence to the other, back in forth while the bidding process was carried out. And then the verdict came; sold – privately.
This horse would see another green pasture. This horse would feel the unmistakable weight of another human on their back. For this lucky gelding, his future was no longer in question. His day at Unadilla would just be the final day of his old life and the first day of his new beginning, the starting point for what could be a bright future. Another wooden door on the opposite side of the fenced area was opened, and as the horse exited, he was marked with an orange marker. As the gelding left I thought to myself that not every story has to have a tragic ending.
Early on in the auction, things were going well. It seemed like every sale was private, but like all things that go well, things had to take a turn for the worse. And they did. Dark isle bidding was beginning.
The first horse shown from this isle was sold for slaughter. In one swift moment, I felt as if I was kicked in the stomach. It was not so much a physical pain, as it was a numbness that I felt. It was a feeling inside me that I could only equate to helplessness. A verdict had been delivered and there was very little if anything that I could do to change what had transpired. I was just a leaf stuck in the breeze, I had no control over what would happen to that horse. I think it was just the knowledge of not knowing that hurt most. Knowing that I would not know what would lie ahead for this unlucky horse who was nothing more than a casualty of circumstance. There would be no way to know what its’ trip to Canada would be like. Would this horse be comfortable? Would this horse’s final thoughts be beautiful, or will its’ final thoughts be one of terror, fear and one filled with the knowledge of what lies just moments away.
I thought about the concept of literally auctioning away a life. The idea that somehow one life had a higher price tag than another. This flawed thinking that, well since I will pay more for your life, you get to live, but since I do not want to pay that much for your life, you will die. I felt like people in the auction house were playing god. Some horses would be granted life while others were granted death. Salvation in a battle against destruction; good versus bad. An auction religious in scope, but human in nature. Each decision made had long term and short term consequences, and every decision made affected the course of many lives both directly and indirectly.
During the middle of the auction, a woman, who I had met earlier in the day, stepped into the ring as a horse was brought out to be auctioned. It turns out, she said, that she had given a horse to a man the evening before to train and take care of. When she arrived at the auction the following day, that same horse was already at the auction ready to be sold. With picture evidence as the only proof, she had no claim with the police, and pleaded for the people attending the auction to let her buy her horse back for a dollar. Her horse sold for around 350. Private. Safe, but no longer hers.
Toward the end of the auction, with a feeling of emptiness already welling up inside me, I watched as the white, supposedly non-pregnant, mare stepped into the auction room; there was no way that she was not pregnant. In an earlier examination of the mare, one of the the people who I attended the auction with noticed that the mare was, in fact, lactating. It was a finding that I did confront the owner about, and in a not-so-surprising turn of events, he denied that she was pregnant. “She’s not,” he said. “Don’t you think I would know my own horse.” Obviously he knew his horse so well that he was going to sell it. I can understand and excuse ignorance sometimes, but when ignorance is exposed and confronted, the party informed should accept their wrong and work to fix it. I quickly learned that this wrong would not be made right, and that some people would rather believe their own lie to make a few bucks than do what’s ethically and morally correct.
She was sold to slaughter.
And just as quickly as the auction had started, it had ended. We had pulled five horses at this point and were preparing to barter for one more. Overall, around 30-40 horses were sold to slaughter, while around the same number were also sold privately. I was left thoughtless, but the worst was still to come; it normally takes time for shock to sink in. As I left the auction room and walked toward the stable, I was walking toward what would be the most upsetting part of the day. Before while walking around the stable I felt that at least there was hope, but now as I walked into that stable I could feel a thickness in the air. I knew I would see horses alive, but no longer living, breathing, but soon to be breathless. Horses that were once friends, loved ones and companions that would, in due time, be nothing.
More to come.