Unadilla: When the auction ends

Slaughter Isle After Auction

Slaughter Isle After Auction

For me, this will undoubtably be my most difficult post to write. It is a post that will mark an irrevocable finality for myself in every way to my day at Unadilla. This post is my last memory from Unadilla on that fateful Friday, and final impressions, as I am certainly finding out, are what truly stick with you. At Unadilla, the end of the night is unbelievably moving because it tugs most on your heart. When the auction closes for the evening, you know that lines have been drawn and the unpredictability that fate often is has already drawn its’ unrelenting line in the sand; a line that separates the living from the soon-to-be dead.

But sometimes this line can be scuffed. At times it is possible to reach across this line and grab a life that was nearly assigned to an early death. And this too is an aspect of fate, I guess. The fate that brings so many horses to Canada also has an undeniable capacity for bringing some home, too. Fate is devastatingly brutal, but also understanding.

When the auction ended, myself and the other members (again, names will not be offered in order to respect the rescues interest) of the rescue that I was with made our way to the ring where moments before horses were facing their final judgements. At the time, I believe we had pulled four horses, or maybe it was five. Regardless, we still had it within our power to pull one or two more horses from Unadilla. As many spectators piled out of the auction room to make their way to the office to settle their payments, our small group approached, who I came to understand, was the most known kill buyer at this auction (I will not mention a name).

While waiting to speak with him, I realized something about this man. He was helplessly average. He wore a wrinkled button down shirt, lazy fitting blue jeans and a Dallas Cowboys hat. He was not thin, but he was also not over weight; just average. This being said, it seemed as if he was regarded as a celebrity by the staff and locals in Unadilla. People approached him with “hellos” and “how are yous?” as they stuck out their hands offering him a handshake. It was a status that you could tell he was used to. He was not cocky sounding, but he was aware of the power he had, and it was a power that I do not think any man deserves to possess; the power over another living being.

Horse Destined for Slaughter

Horse Destined for Slaughter

As people began to finish their conversations, I realized that it was now our turn to speak to him. It was going to be a barter for life. We began enquiring about a younger horse, I recall, and maybe one more, but it appears that my memory is unclear about this (I know for certain that we at least talked about one, and left the auction with six that night). After we made our enquiry about this horse (or horses) the kill buyer wanted to see which horse we were talking about so that he could offer us a price.

And this is when I became overwhelmed with emotion.

We stepped out of the auction room and into the stable. It felt as if we were crossing what the Greeks referred to as the River Styx. In the lower part of the stable stood the nearly 30 horses that this one kill buyer had pulled from the auction that night. And all at once, I felt my eyes becoming moist. As I stepped into the actual stable area, I felt alone, tired and numb in my face. I no longer heard the conversation between the kill buyer and my friends from the rescue. Everything was being drowned out as my eyes fought to take in everything that was laid out in front of me in the dim lighting of the stable.

One horse caught my eye. It is a horse that I will never forget despite the fact that I would never have the chance to get to know it. The horse was a chestnut mare with a thin white stripe down her nose. She was thin, but not emaciated. As I walked past, I made eye contact momentarily, and felt the need to offer a light pat on her side, as if this condolence could somehow ease the pain from the fate that she was now destined to endure. As I patted her side, she looked at me in a way that made me believe that she knew what was awaiting her on the other side of the Canadian border. It was an inquisitive look as if she were asking, “Why not me? Why can’t you save me?” It was a question I do not think I could rightfully answer.

As I walked away from this horse, it seemed as if something snapped within her. Maybe it was because there was no more hay for her, or maybe it was the water she did not have that made her lose it, but for some reason, she began to start kicking a horse directly behind her. The horse she was kicking, due to how it was tied to the wooden beam, was unable to move away from the constant blows, and stood there helplessly. I think at this point we were all helpless.

After we managed to make a deal that would save another horse, the kill buyer who had just done us a “favor” asked if we could do one for him. He took us to the furthest corner of the stable area where IMG_1584his horses were and brought us to a black horse that seemed to be in immense pain. This was a horse that we could tell was exposed to difficult and relentless working conditions. Its’ back legs were barely capable of holding up the weight of its’ own body. This horse, in the kill buyers opinion, would not be able to make the trip to Canada. He asked if we would take it so that it could just be euthanized humanely rather than suffering in a trailer to Canada. With two full trailers, however, there was nothing that could be done. This horse would have to try to endure a painful ride, and if it survived, the only thing that would be waiting for it would be slaughter.

Walking around the stables after an auction is haunting. It is quiet, but it is also immensely noisy. The sound of horses moving and nickering.It was the sound of desperation. The sound of hunger, of thirst and yearning to just go home. You could hear horses pulling on their bailing twine, struggling to free themselves as if they knew what their destiny was. Maybe they were freeing themselves in hopes that if they were able to free themselves from the bailing twine, they could free themselves from their fate too. If only this was true – it wasn’t. There are some places that I have found you are allowed to hold onto hope, a horse auction is not one of those places.

And then I heard the sound of a young girl crying. It was not just a gentle tear shed, but a full sob. Tears poured down her face and onto the ground like stars falling from the heavens. She came to the auction in hopes of rescuing a horse. Equipped with $100, she thought that she had a chance. She came up short. I watched her cry while she clung onto the horse that she had hoped to save. Tears that could have been tears of joy were now tainted with sorrow. The kill buyer wanted $200 for this horse from the young girl if she was going to take it home. With a little thought, one of the women in the group gave her the extra $100.

And once again,  the line between life and death was blurred.

As we began to load the six horses onto the trailer, one other woman and myself found ourselves in an encounter with an older man. “You’re tree-huggers,” he claimed as his words slurred and the smell of alcohol hung in the air. This man held onto a can of some sort of cheap beer, Budweiser I believe, and had a large white beard covering the vast majority of the lower part of his face. He wore blue jeans with suspenders, which held his jeans over his large belly. He continued by saying that, “Those horses deserved to be dead.”  We were tree-huggers, and we were somehow morally wrong whilst this guy sat around at a horse auction getting drunk and preaching about how his view points were unquestioningly superior to all others. If caring about living things other than humans equated to being a tree-hugger, then I was going to wear that title with pride. I kept my mouth quiet, although I found it difficult. I found myself thinking that I would much rather be a tree-hugger than a man of considerable age stuck in such ignorant ways. I would rather not be a man who finds his answers in the bottom of a beer can and dismisses all people who do not agree with him. I will keep being a tree-hugger, I thought, and  he could continue being a drunk.

On the drive home, I was hit with a final thought before I drifted away into sleep in the passenger seat of the truck I was in. With six horses in our trailers, we were driving south toward what would be the beginning of something new. There was hope, possibility and the prospect that these horses were headed toward a love that they had never experienced before. The future was wide open.IMG_1585

And then I thought there were also horses headed north toward Canada. Victims of circumstance and casualties of chance. They would not feel the warm hand of love ever again, but would instead have to welcome the cold hand of an unwelcome death. Their future, as it turned out, was a closing door. With each mile driven, the door shut a little more.

It was an irony that I now understand can only be found in Unadilla. Where one door opens, another door closes; where life is given, it is also taken.

Don’t Cry For The Horses”
Brenda Riley-Seymore

Don’t cry for the horses
That life has set free
A million white horses
Forever to be

Don’t cry for the horses
Now in God’s hands
As they dance and they prance
To a heavenly band

They were ours as a gift
But never to keep
As they close their eyes
Forever to sleep

Their spirits unbound
On silver wings they fly
A million white horses
Against the blue sky

Look up into heaven
You’ll see them above
The horses we lost
The horses we loved

Manes and tails flowing
They gallop through time
They were never yours
They were never mine

Don’t cry for the horses
They will be back someday
When our time has come
They will show us the way

On silver wings they will lift us
To the warmth of the sun
When our life is over
And eternity has begun

We will jump the sun
And dance over the moon
A ballet of horses and riders on the winds
Of a heavenly tune

Do you hear that soft nicker
Close to your ear
Don’t cry for the horses
Love the ones that are here

Don’t cry for the horses
Lift up your sad eyes
Can’t you see them
As they fly by

A million white horses
Free from hunger and pain
Their spirits set free
Until we ride again

60 thoughts on “Unadilla: When the auction ends

  1. I’m really, truly glad that you rescued the horses. You are also a great writer. The poem, however, just to be honest, only makes the humans feel better. I’m not sure we deserve to.

  2. This story hit so close to home. I did kill auction/kill pen rescue for almost 10 years and placed the rescues into good homes ( I hope). The last one that I did was Poco Belle Pine. A black AQHA mare with a 6 week old filly at side. I was broke, I was also moving across the country in just 2 weeks and had no room for a mare and foal. But my heart broke watching Belle go to the killers pens and I took the filly. A crazy move I know but what else could I do?
    I did not have my trailer with me so I left the filly at the auction over night in a pen with plenty of food and water, but no mama.
    The next morning bright and early I arrived with the trailer, looked at my baby and sat and cried my heart out over the mare. I called the KB ( yes I had his phone number and knew him. We had worked together several times in the past). I asked to lease the mare. Not possible, she was going to be picked up and sent to Canada as soon as the truck arrived.
    I cried more, and called him back again to ask if I could go get the mare and let baby at least be with her until the truck arrived. OK DI, go get her but make sure she gets on the truck. I spent over an hour in the rain finding her. among about 150 other horses. These horses where in a huge loose horse pen together. Some where pretty wild and ran but others followed me around with their nose in my back begging me not to let them get on that truck. There was nothing I could do but cry even harder and look for Belle.
    After finding her and bringing her to baby I fell even deeper in love with her. I called the KB again..please let me buy her, I really want this mare and I know baby will die on the cross country journey without her. Surprise…DI get that mare out of there and take her home now before the truck gets there. If she is there the driver WILL load her, It turned out she was already bred back. Today Belle, Beauty and CJ are healthy and happy being loved by me and my husband. This was the hardest rescue I ever did so I know how your heart broke. Bless you for doing what you do

    • That was a beautiful story. Thank you for doing what you did to save those two. I’m sure that they have become beloved members of your family just like my mother’s rescued black mare, Gypsy has become one in my family. You did a great thing in going back to rescue Belle. I would actually be interested in hearing more about that story.

      – Andy

  3. As I type the tears are flowing. Beautifully written and speaks for all of us who are fighting to save these magnificent creatures who enrich our lives every single day. I will be sharing this widely! Blessed Be.

    • Thank you for the kind comments. I’m glad that this story was able to touch you like you said it did. This is a cause that I think we can truly make a large change for the better by just creating awareness – so many people are just completely unaware. Thanks again for the thoughtful comments.

      – Andy

  4. how horrible for the horse that the kill buyer asked you to put down. I didn’t realize that there were absolutely no other options to help this horse. No one is allowed to humanely euthanize a horse at an auction? Couldn’t he be put down there? I am extremely ignorant to the policies of animal auctions. It is very sad that the humans as well as the animals are helpless. And the poor horse that was being kicked by the other. Is no one allowed to move the horse so that they don’t hurt each other? couldn’t someone move them away from each other? It is a very sad reality that many many people don’t realize is happening. I will share your story because you are so right, people need to know that this goes on & the public has to change it.

    • What happened with the one horse kicking the other is a very difficult situation because in order to move the horse, there’s a chance that you can be kicked by the horse, too. Luckily, one of the women I was with was able to eventually move the horse out of harms way, but that was only after this horse was kicked many times. Thank you for reading and sharing this story, I hope that by people reading this, it will open there eyes to something horrid that occurs all too often.

      – Andy

    • Thank you for your kind words. I am hopeful that reform will soon come that will help stop this in the U.S. Until then, I hope that documenting some trips to auction houses will raise awareness. Thanks again for giving this a read.

      – Andy

  5. Sadly, this essay shows the callousness of the kill buyer and auction mentality. As well, the kill buyer could have had the sick horse euthanized there but, no, gotta make a buck. The people who send horses to auction are also facilitating this deviant industry. We gotta keep fighting the fight to shut it down!

    • Thank you for taking the time to comment. I strongly agree that the people who send their horses to be sold at auction are extremely responsible for allowing this practice to continue. It really makes it difficult to imagine that someone can show such little sympathy for an animal that they themselves own.

      – Andy

    • There’s plenty of ways to help. First and foremost, it is just important to raise awareness about the cause. That in itself is extremely important. In addition to this, almost all horse rescues are funded through private donation, so reaching out to a local and reputable horse rescue to donate is a second option. It often does not even have to be a monetary donation to a rescue, donating time to go and help is also welcome in most cases.

      – Andy

  6. I too have lived through the kill buyer horse auction experience, it has forever changed my outlook on many subjects in many ways. God Bless you and your friends for what you do. You and your friends are making a difference one horse at a time. I thank you from the deepest part of my heart.

  7. You never know, I used to attend killer auctions in Texas and the KB’s would try to sell it at a different auction a couple of days later. Maybe she will end up in a broker program.

  8. Thank you very much for writing about your experience at Unadilla! Making life and death decisions are very hard and watching them be made is equally difficult. I love your poem — copyright it and find a musician to write some music for it – it is beautiful!

    Your blog over the last several days has really touched me and further strengthened my resolve to keep trying to make Senators and Congressmen pass the Safeguard American Food Export Act of 2013 (S541 & HR1094) this year. Please click these two links and voice your opinion to your elected officials to support this act.

    I hope you continue to write about horses and maybe write some more poetry.

  9. The poem made me cry like a baby!!! I hand wrote it down making sure your name was put as the author!!! My mom is an artist & I recently put my 20 yr old gelding to sleep due to navicular!!! Very sad because i raised him, 1/2 brother, his dam & grand dam!! The words were so beautiful & close to my heart!!! I appreciate the work you do!! I have no land,resources to do what you angels do!!! May GOD BLESS YOU A THOUSAND TIMES OVER!!! I WANT MY MOM TO PAINT THE WORDS ON A CANVAS TO HANG IN MY HOME!!!

    • Hello, Ann. I’m very happy to hear that this really struck a chord with you. Thank you for the thoughtful and kind words. It really means so much to me to hear that you have taken the time to write down some of what I wrote to hang in your home. I would also like to say that I am terribly sorry about your loss. I am certain that you gave him the best years of his life. Thank you again for the kind words.

      – Andy

  10. Congradulations on your college journey, and being such a gifted writer. I’m sobbing… Such a sad sad reality. The poem helped

  11. Thank you Andy for your account of Unadilla. I have been there and can completely relate to your emotional and heartfelt account. My horse is a slaughter pipeline survivor from New Holland. He is my shining star of hope. As you said…saving one horse at a time. Everyone please share the SAFE ACT. I live uncomfortably close to Unadilla and always see the stock trailers headed to Canada. It leaves a huge pt in my stomach and tears in my eyes.

    • Hello, Deb. I will actually be attending a New Holland auction in the near future as I plan on attending it with the same rescue group that I went to Unadilla with. To relate to your rescue story, my mothers horse, Gypsy, was pulled from the dark aisle at Unadilla and has become a beloved member of our family. Hopefully with passage of the Safe Act, you will no linger have to see those wretched trailers on there way to Canada anymore. Thank you for writing.

      – Andy

  12. Andy, check out Copper Horse Crusade. This woman goes to SugarCreek just about every friday and manages to buy 3 to 4 horses. SugarCreek is a horse auction venue in Ohio. We all just admire her grit for enduring this place week after week. She evaluates and rehabs these horses and then sells to approved homes only. If for some reason said horse is not a good fit, they are under contract to be returned to her. Thankyou for being an advocate of these beautiful animals.

  13. Wow!! This story hits like a sad pit in my stomach..
    Thank you for this story to help bring awareness to those who live in denial that
    each horse finds a home, and all is well after you take them to the auction.
    Much like believing in the Tooth Fairy or Santa Claus.

    • Robyn,

      Thank you for writing. One of the goals of these posts is to enlighten people about an issue that many do not understand completely or at all. I hope that it does awaken those who bring their horses to auction about the reality of what they could possibly be doing to their horses.

      – Andy

  14. Hi, I guess I said I had been but I was to a regular horse sale, not the kill pens, sorry. I knew some o them would end up in the kill buyers pens the ones who did not have a coggins, felt sorry for people who signed in and did not know they needed a coggins and could not get the horse back out . My heart was braking for them. May be if we had our government see the inside of the slaughter house and what happens and how it happens may be then they would not want to do this to the horses ever again, It is horrible, these animals do not need this, to end tis way. Please write and try and help them from this terrible fate. So many need help, wild horses are being taken off their land and put in jail, and not taken care of the way they should be . You are a good writer and they need help. Thank you for what you did.

    • Daryl,

      Thank you for writing and thank you for your kind words. I think that horse auctions are overlooked by governments, and hopefully through small measures like this awareness grows to the point that it will be easily heard and understood by politicians. The SAFE Act is one possible venue for reform that could save thousands of American horses.

  15. Wow, Thank you for saving the horses you were able. I had hoped the one horse that caught your eye was safe in the end, or that someone euth. the injured black horse so not to travel to Canada and be stomped on and die in that manner. Too bad a KB cant spend a little to euthanize a horse.

    • Nona,

      I actually received notice that someone was able to humanely euthanize the horse the following day. Although terrible that the horse was euthanized, it was nice that it did not have to endure the journey to Canada. It was not a happy ending, but a better ending than it could have otherwise been.

      – Andy

  16. I spent a large part of my youth in Delhi, NY which is not too far from Unadilla. Thank you for writing this. I hope it spreads awareness as to what happens at this auction house and how owners need to be more responsible when looking to sell a horse. It makes my blood boil and heart hurt when owners are heartless and lazy and just dump their horse at an auction instead of trying to find a good home.

    • Larissa,

      Thank you for writing. I feel like there is a lot of fault with the entire institution in general. Although there is immense fault with some owners, there is also fault with government, the auction houses, the slaughter facilities and the kill buyers as well.


      – Andy

  17. This was so hard to read, but thank you for posting it. It breaks my heart into thousand of shards when hear these stories and can do hardly anything. My last three horses though have been rescues of one sort or another and so in a way I guess I am doing something. I wish though I could do so much more but more than that I wish humanity would evolved past all of this.
    God bless you

  18. Hi Andy, I found a link to your blog and story on the FB page Americans Against Horse Slaughter. I am copying my post here for you. Thank you for so eloquently bearing witness to what you saw and felt at Unadilla. Please dont stop writing!
    What a great job this blogger Andy has done showing us all a view down the “dark aisles”. An incredibly well-written story that needs to go mainstream. I wonder how many Americans realize the travesty of horse slaughter, and the heart breaking truth of what happens in our own backyards, and worse yet-across the border to our North. Perhaps if enough people take the time to read stories like this, and educate themselves on the facts, strength in numbers CAN make a difference. There are Unadillas in probably every state, and the Kill Buyers dont care if they are buying a retired athlete, some young teen’s best friend, or a majestic wild mustang rounded up in a botched BLM or Reservation sell-off. Its all about money-dirty blood money from one of the most inhumane businesses out there.Thanks for the link, and for posting this story. Darrell’s quote in the comments above is absolutely the truth. Read Andy’s blog, people. Get outraged. Understand this is one small story in a HUGE library of sad books about the truth of horse slaughter. I will never accept this as a “solution”, nor will I ever believe horses are meant to be treated like animals raised for “food”, despite what other countries claim as “culture”. These auctions are not the only evil truths out there, not by a country mile. From the unthinkable killing of nurse mare foals to use their hides to make pocketbooks, to shipping the same babies to Japan to be stored alive in the back of restaurants to feed those wanting fresh horse sushi-the atrocities are everywhere. Culture, my ass! There is a level of utter inhumanity here that few people want to acknowledge exists in this world- and even fewer people get outraged enough to speak out, like I am, or ACT to do something like Andy and the many great horse rescues out there who try to make a difference, one horse at a time. Education IS power, and it is a start. If one more person is made aware then small battles can be won. For the love of all horses, thank you. ♥

    • Sheril,

      That was beautifully stated. I strongly am under the impression, too that awareness incites change. Just as the portrayal of the atrocities occurring in the South on mass media and news outlets during the fight for Civil Rights created support for a cause, so can the rising of awareness about horse slaughter ignite social and institutional change. It’s a beautiful thing when people start to recognize the power that can be born out of shear number. These auctions attempt to keep the public out by not allowing video or still frame cameras into auctions, but as technology evolves and this becomes easier to do, it is inevitable that this will hopefully become an issue in the main stream media. I use this quote as one to live by. It may be from a book that is considered for children, but it still raises a valid and applicable point and message. “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” If that isn’t the truth, I am not sure what is, then. Thanks for writing such a thoughtful response.


      – Andy

  19. Our mare is a rescue from Sugar Creek in Ohio. The KB had no more room on his truck and agreed to sell her for $100. more than he paid for her. We have had her for 7 years now, a beautiful, loving, intelligent horse. Slaughter is wrong. The SAFE Act MUST be passed so that our horses no longer suffer a terrible long ride to a horrendous death in Mexico, Canada or anywhere else.

    • Melanie,

      Thank you for writing. It seems to me from personal experience and from the stories that I have been hearing that the majority of rescue horses have become loved members of whatever families they become part of. Thank you for saving the horse that you did.


      – Andy

  20. Howdy, i read your blog from time to time and i own
    a similar one and i was just wondering if you get a lot of spam remarks?
    If so how do you protect against it, any plugin or anything
    you can suggest? I get so much lately it’s driving me
    mad so any support is very much appreciated.

    • Hey there,

      So generally I have not had any problems with spam remarks. The only thing I can think to do is to just mark the remarks as spam and hopefully that will at least block the account that is spamming you. Sorry I can’t be much help.

      – Andy

  21. First of all I want to say superb blog! I had a quick question in which
    I’d like to ask if you do not mind. I was interested to find out how you center yourself and clear your
    thoughts prior to writing. I’ve had difficulty clearing my thoughts in getting my thoughts out.
    I truly do enjoy writing but it just seems like the first 10 to 15
    minutes are usually lost simply just trying to figure out how to
    begin. Any recommendations or tips? Kudos!

    • Hey there, I appreciate your kind words.

      Well let me begin by saying that clearing your thoughts is sometimes exactly the opposite of what you should be doing before you begin writing. Sometimes the best way to begin writing is to just literally put your fingers on the keyboard and leave them typing for 5-10 minutes. This is called stream of conscious writing, and it helps a person get some ideas out, even if they may seem disconnected and subpar. Sometimes these ideas can be spring boards to further stories and ideas.

      To guide initial stream of conscious writing, sometimes it can help to begin with a random word (there are rndom word generators online) and then just write about the first thoughts of that random word initially and let your mind take you elsewhere.

      Sometimes asking a broad question can also focus initial stream of conscious writing.

      What it comes down to is that the best way to improve your writing is to just write.

      I hope this helps a bit.


      – Andy

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