Tracking Sold Horses: Lucky Rescue of Little Cliff

During a visit to a known direct-to-slaughter holding pen in New Holland, Pa., Christy Sheidy, co-founder of equine rescue Another Chance 4 Horses, purchased a bay gelding. Thanks to a tattoo on his lip, Sheidy was able to identify the horse as Little Cliff, a Thoroughbred once owned by trainer Nick Zito. Sheidy also discovered a sticker affixed to the horse's registration documents, requesting that Little Cliff be returned to Zito when his racing career ended.

"The Zitos want him back and that's where he's going," said Sheidy.

Little Cliff horse rescued

A sticker on Little Cliff's registration papers helped him to be reunited with former owners.

The notation on his registration document was Little Cliff's ticket home. But most rescued horses don't get that opportunity.

"The tattoo and registration data follows Thoroughbreds wherever they go," said Kathleen Schwartz-Howe, executive director of Days End Farm Horse Rescue in Lisbon, Md. "Other breeds don't have that identification available."

While non-racing breed associations register horses' lineage and record ownership transfers, permanent identification, such as a tattoo, is not required, and papers might not be updated as horse changes owners.

Tom Persechino, senior director of marketing for the American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA), said no rule in AQHA's bylaws forbids owners from expressing their willingness to take back a horse they've sold.

"We just don't have a policy in place to accommodate that right now," Persechino said.

However, he said, the AQHA has formed a task force, and is consulting with sale barn operators to find ways to reduce the number of horses that go to slaughter.

"One of the things we're investigating is a form a seller can fill out at the auction that says if a horse is sold to a killer buyer, the seller would get that horse back," Peresechino said.

While that might work at sales at which the seller is actively involved, Schwartz-Howe has another idea for horses already in a rescue situation. Because most rescued horses don't arrive with registration documents, and rescuers generally withhold documents from subsequent owners to discourage breeding, she advocates building a "I Want My Horse Back" database. Former owners looking for a particular horse could detail the animal's description and last-known owner and location.

She noted for that for the idea to get off the ground, the database would need to have a national scope, and an organized group would have to take ownership of the project.

Persechino said he would would rather see breed associations stepping up to offer their members reclaim options.

"I can't speak for other associations, but I think the breed associations are best suited to handle a reclaiming effort, because we're already maintaining registration records," he said.

Meanwhile, Schwartz-Howe said matching rescued horses with former owners remains contingent on good luck and timing.

"We had a Morgan pony that showed up on camera when a television crew was filming here," she said, "afterward, three of his former owners contacted me about him."

About the Author

Pat Raia

Pat Raia is a veteran journalist who enjoys covering equine welfare, industry, and news. In her spare time, she enjoys riding her Tennessee Walking Horse, Sonny.

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