Margaret Ransom is an award-winning writer who has worked in the horse racing industry for decades who recently moved to Texas from California and started The Bridge Sanctuary. Its mission is to bridge the gap from forgotten horses to forever safe horses. Here’s her latest rescue story.
By Margaret Ransom
I want to tell you all about Atticus.
Even though Atticus is nothing special by thoroughbred industry standards, he happens to be special to me and all of us here at The Bridge.
So far, almost all the critters who have passed through the gates here have been relatively easy; we’ve dealt with skinny body conditions, bad feet, bad teeth and overall neglect, which when addressed left us with otherwise healthy, mostly sound and happy horses.
Atticus is different. He came to us with a significant injury that nobody cared enough to fix before they dumped him. But I’m getting ahead of myself in telling his story.
Atticus is a huge, handsome, shiny copper penny of a horse who represents just about everything that is typical in horse racing. He is average in every way, at least on paper (aside from his over 17-hand size) – he has a fair pedigree with decent genetics, was bred, raced and trained by the average person, competed at the average racetrack with average results.
The unfortunate thing about being average or typical in horse racing is that despite being the majority, horses like him get the least amount of attention, care and help when they need it most — when their careers are over and they’re no longer useful to the racing or breeding industry.
“I Need Help”
His registered name is Speedactus and he’s an about-to-be 6-year-old Louisiana-bred son of the winning Storm Cat son Speed Limit (who hails from the family of champion Banshee Breeze) and the Cactus Ridge mare Cactus Conie). He was bred by the partnership of Donny Burton, Angela Burton & William Neal Williamson Jr., and competed mostly in the claiming ranks in Louisiana for different people over two seasons, though he did make a single unsuccessful stakes appearance. He was retired in early 2020 after a fourth-place finish in a claiming race at Fair Grounds with a career line of 13-1-3-2 for earnings of $27,330.
Back in June, an email came into The Bridge Sanctuary from a woman in Dallas who explained that in the last days of 2020 she bailed a big, handsome thoroughbred from a faux Texas “kill pen” for $2,000. She had hoped to turn him into her riding horse because on his Facebook video, he was advertised as sound and didn’t appear to have any significant issues.
She paid his bail and began planning for him to move to a stable near her home after his quarantine was complete. This was all just before the winter storm hit Texas, which delayed his shipping and extended the expensive board she paid to the faux “kill pen” to house him.
When the thaw came and it was time for him to finally “come home” to her, she was aghast at his condition. He was hundreds of pounds underweight – far skinnier than when she purchased him – and he was clearly unsound in his right hind. “Speed,” as she called him, was soon off to Weems and Stephens Equine Clinic outside Fort Worth for a workup and diagnostics, such as blood tests and radiographs. The results weren’t good. He would need surgery to clean up his badly injured stifle and his prognosis for being rideable at any point was guarded. And even before he could have surgery, he would need at least six months to gain enough weight to safely undergo anesthesia.
His owner was heartbroken, and she was honest about becoming frustrated. After great expense to purchase him, as well as the extensive medical tests, he wouldn’t be able to be the riding horse she dreamed of, but she couldn’t bring herself to euthanize him. His personality was so happy and bright all the time and if there was a chance he could have a pain-free life, she thought he deserved a chance.
Now normally The Bridge Sanctuary, which is heavy on OTTB residents right now but not exclusive to them, would not take a horse from someone who just didn’t want to deal with the problems anymore. But after talking with his owner, I got the feeling that wasn’t the case. After several back and forth emails, full disclosure on his injury and medical reports, as well as a discussion with our veterinarian, Dr. Jackie Rich, we decided that we would take him in as a surrender and do our best to raise funds for his surgery when he was healthy enough.
His next and most important chapter
The day he arrived here, the shipper had very little to say except, “I hope you take better care of him than the place where I picked him up from.” Atticus was so very thin, not a bag of bones thin like George was, but painfully thin. And I realized when I saw him that even after he left the faux “kill pen,” the woman who loved him enough to surrender him had again been paying for care at a boarding facility that he never got.
As I led the big lanky chestnut to his new stall, I told him he would no longer be known as “Speed” here at The Bridge, that his old life was over, and a new name was fitting for the next chapter. His name would be Atticus, I told him, which was suggested by a board member and is a play on his registered name of Speedactus but also reminiscent of a majestic ancient Greek city like Athens.
I also promised him I would fight for his chance at a pain-free life.
It would be nice to say that Atticus has been completely easy, but the truth is he’s a bit complicated and sometimes difficult. He forgets he’s a gelding, which can be a problem since we have a couple of mares here, but his behavior is monitored and controlled with separation and a good electric fence. He also isn’t aware of his size and can be pushy, and he’s battled bad foot abscesses (he came in with the strangest trim job I’ve ever seen), which we finally seem to have in his rearview mirror for the time being. But he’s also a big love, kindness overload and happy and friendly to a fault.
He didn’t eat treats or really understand what they were at first, but he has now decided he really loves carrots and apple wafer treats. I also think he associates them with positive attention, which he gets a lot of here.
The hardest part, however, is watching him struggle with the pain in his stifle. We’re managing it for him, but it’s easy to see it hurts him. And sometimes he gets frisky, as any 5-year-old thoroughbred can, and it’s difficult to watch him hop around three-legged when he’s otherwise feeling so good. The flip side is that he is often easy on himself, lays down a bunch when he needs a rest or when his stifle is hurting, and will make a great patient when he does have his surgery. I am prepared to do whatever it takes to successfully rehab him.
Help us help him
A friend in rescue told me the most compassionate thing would be to just euthanize Atticus. As much as I respect her and her opinion, I don’t agree. The veterinary analysis of his injury indicates he can at the very least be the most handsome pasture pet in the greater Waco area without significant pain, but also that he may be suitable for some light riding at some point, which would be ideal. I keep going back to the kind of horse he is. No black type, no significant earnings, no significant impact on the industry, but he did his share. He filled the entry box and people wagered and cashed bets on him because he did his job. He tried hard every time and did what he was bred to do, what he was supposed to do only to be discarded six months after his last race.
I ask people every day for money to help me take care of these creatures here and thanks to the kindness of mostly strangers, the hay gets bought and the feed gets paid for, for the most part, with little to spare for luxuries like surgery for a broken former racehorse. The truth is we all owe a chance like this to all of them, from the stars to the bottom claimers, and if we get any enjoyment from watching horse racing at all, it is our responsibility to help, even if it’s just donating a little to a favorite rescue.
Today, I am asking for Atticus, maybe more than I have for the others, because I can’t think of a kinder soul or one who deserves a chance more than he does. One of our volunteers, who quickly bonded with Atticus over their shared battle with bad joints, set up a Go Fund Me to help with the expenses of the surgery, which will run somewhere in the low four figures, not including hospitalization and aftercare.
We can also take donations on our website at thebridgesanctuary.com, Venmo @TheBridge-Sanctuary or PayPal at email@example.com. Just make a note that the donation is for Atticus and remember, all donations are tax deductible.