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