Margaret Ransom, an award-winning writer who has worked in the horse racing industry for decades, recently moved from California to Texas and started The Bridge Sanctuary. Its mission is to bridge the gap from forgotten horses to forever safe horses. Here’s her story about how it all came together.
By Margaret Ransom
A year ago, after a very depressing monthslong COVID-19 lockdown that brought me overwhelming anxiety and some of the darkest moments of my life, I decided to sell my home in Pasadena, California, and buy a home and some land just outside of Waco, Texas with the idea that I would finally be able to help horses more than just donating money to my favorite rescues.
The Waco area is perfect for me. My new home is near a small city, not too far from Dallas, Houston and San Antonio — each with large and active racetracks – yet far enough outside of the city for the country living I was craving. I had been planning to move out of California for a few years, the pandemic becoming the impetus I needed to implement my plan.
When I moved to Texas, I didn’t know if I wanted to establish a legitimate rescue or just foster for my friends who run rescues. I just knew helping horses in need and taking care of them would be a center part of my life.
To be clear, I didn’t decide to jump into horse rescue because I thought I could do it better. Or do it differently. Or to make money and take away from any other rescues. I am fortunate to work and earn money, I just wanted to do more directly for the horses if I could, simple as that. Fortunately, I am lucky to know the difference between good and bad rescues and have some amazing examples of how to do it right and friends who have rescues who have been supportive, encouraging and open to helping and advising me if I need them.
Forming The Bridge Sanctuary
Coming up with the name The Bridge Sanctuary was easy, the fundamental thought of being the bridge from forgotten to being forever safe. I carefully selected board members – all friends, but also people who brought different things and expertise to the table — and we created a corporation, filled out the IRS applications and waited patiently for our approval.
Just days before the 2021 Kentucky Derby and with the IRS website indicating The Bridge Sanctuary approval was imminent, one of my oldest, closest, and dearest friends randomly shared a Facebook link to a video of a horse in a Texas kill pen.
My friend doesn’t spend a ton of time on social media and I can’t remember the last time she shared a horse in need, but there it was, begging me to find out more about the skinny beast staring at me through the screen. I did what I try to never do, I clicked.
Before establishing The Bridge Sanctuary, I tried to avoid these types of videos because they literally hurt my heart. I always knew that as much as I wanted to, I couldn’t help them all and watching the horses in need always made me feel sad and depressed and helpless, the same way I felt as the pandemic lockdowns closed in on me.
But for reasons I probably will never understand, this link was different.
The horse in the video was ordinary, though clearly a thoroughbred and in all probability a former racehorse. And as is typical for horses in these kill pens, he was very dirty and had mud caked way up past his ankles on all four feet. His coat was ratty and long, though rain rot was obvious on his back, and it was easy to see his protruding hip bones and count every rib.
I’m no Henneke body scale expert, but I am sure he was at least a 2, which meant he was significantly starving. And he looked so defeated, even on the video you could see the lack of light in his eyes. As soon as the man in the video slapped him on the butt and forced him to trot, noting that he had a single shoe on a back foot, I knew I would help him.
That man also read off a tattoo number, which I furiously looked up and discovered belonged to a Sir Ivor mare. No, that poor skinny soul was clearly a gelding and after punching in every possible combination of numbers and letters into The Jockey Club’s website, I found him. The markings matched exactly.
Clever Cody. A son of stakes winner Clever Return (by Clever Trick) and the Arts and Letters mare Letter to Rose, foaled in Texas on April 15, 2001. As Clever Cody he raced nine times all over Texas until age 5, even at a couple of now defunct facilities, and never won a race or earned a dollar. Sprinkled in his past performances are a couple of “DNF” designations for various reasons, including bumping and gate trouble, and almost 16 years ago, after a last-place finish in a race at Retama Park he disappeared from the radar.
I watched the video my friend shared over and over and knew there was something significantly wrong with him, probably in his hind end. But what really indicated that had some significant issues was that he was offered for the “bargain” price of $850. Anyone who knows even the basics about how the kill pens work knows a thoroughbred at any age can bring a hefty ransom, and ones who appear to be sound go for $1,500 or more.
So, I knew the chestnut with the defeated demeanor on my computer screen was not, in fact, sound. And looking at his condition I was afraid he might not even survive.
Generally, I’m not a big supporter of paying the ransom these kill pens and auction lots call “bail” using fake ship-to-slaughter dates as emotional blackmail against kind and caring horse lovers, but it was clear this horse needed help, and soon.
My social media call to action was simple: “Anyone want to help me help him?”
Supporting the cause
It was too soon for any donation toward his rescue to be considered tax-deductible, but almost as soon as I hit enter on my plea, my inbox started to fill up. Every one of The Bridge Sanctuary’s board members contributed, but most importantly they supported my decision to help. A Facebook friend from New York, who is a single mother whose money would be no doubt be better suited to a Disney vacation for her family, said there was just “something about him” and after discussing his situation with her children decided that she needed to help. Before long, his bail was paid, and we were arranging to pick him up. I call these people his angels.
George (Clever Cody) arrives
A few days later as Clever Cody gingerly stood in the horse trailer, completely unaware he’d never be hungry or neglected again, I was stunned at how badly he looked in person. He was much thinner than I expected, his feet were in terrible shape, and he had cuts and scrapes all over. Some of the abrasions were new, but some were clear signs of past abuse and I struggled to choke back my tears as I studied him.
I wondered what he was thinking as he looked over his shoulder at me. All I could say to him at the time was that he was safe forever, but even if he could have understood me, I’m not sure after all the betrayal he’d already suffered at the hands of humans that he’d have believed me anyway.
And at that moment he was no longer Clever Cody, or “Cody” as I’m sure he’d been known. The name that no doubt brought him as much negative as positive in his 20 years of life needed to go, and in honor of the late husband of The Bridge Sanctuary’s board president, whose good heart shined through during his own physical troubles late in life, the skinny chestnut would now and forever be known as George.
As soon as George arrived here at The Bridge, we re-introduced him to the simple concept of love. He was quiet and shut down for a while after he got here, and I worried about him constantly. I was terrified his poor body had suffered too much and that one morning I’d find him gone, unable to overcome the neglect he’d suffered.
Yet slowly and surely George began to open up to us. At first, he didn’t go outside his stall into the backyard behind the barn much and it took him several days to feel secure enough to lay down, but after a couple of weeks his personality returned. He began to eat more, though he’s still a little reluctant sometimes, and he now hollers for his breakfast and dinner and thoroughly enjoys a long drink from a freshly scrubbed and clean water tub.
He has gained a significant amount of weight since he arrived here three months ago, though he’s plateaued and remains a little on the thin side for my preference. Whether it’s due to hot the weather of the summer or self-preservation of some sort, he doesn’t usually eat as much as he’s offered. And he won’t touch a meal if it has even a sprinkle of any sort of supplement, even if doused and covered with his favorite food, carrots.
The saddest thing about George is that it’s clear someone loved him for a while. They taught him manners and basic commands. He is more-often-than-not polite and respectful. He loves his humans and the company and the attention. He stands well for a bath, ties easily and his body twitches and contorts when the brushes find his special tickle spots.
His now bright demeanor is rarely dimmed and usually only when he’s forced to spend time in his stall inside the barn, which mostly is due to weather. Rain or shine and even during the hottest time of day, he loves to be outside under his run-in and standing in his misters in front of his fan. I can say he is happy and before long, once our friend and veterinarian, Dr. Jackie Rich, has solved the puzzle of what’s wrong with his hind end he will be free to roam the acreage here on the farm.
And he has friends here, two retired show horses who live next door and a recent surrender to The Bridge, a former racehorse we named Atticus.
Judging by the fact he has no upper teeth, George was a cribber for most of his life, a habit that he’s seemed to have dropped over the last three months here at The Bridge. And though it’s clear that George’s riding days are over, he is forever safe, and his personality and gentle soul is perfect to serve as a community ambassador for The Bridge Sanctuary.
I’m not sure why George came into my life but looking back now three months later I know his presence here was meant to be. Was it fate? Or even a happy accident and chain of coincidences? It’s almost as if he was the verification that I’m doing what I should be doing and helping horses, especially the Thoroughbreds who have been the centerpiece to my life.
Helping George, and the Bridge Sanctuary
If you want to help George, or any of the horses who will follow him through the gates here at The Bridge Sanctuary, including a couple we are working to secure right now, go to the website at thebridgesanctuary.com and click on the donate button. Or through PayPal at email@example.com, Venmo at @Margaret-Ransom or CashApp at $redransom. The Bridge Sanctuary is a registered Texas corporation and a 501(c)(3) non-profit, so all donations are tax deductible.
And a special shoutout to the people at USRacing.com, who have supported me and my mission to help horses by both donating and always allowing me to write about the horses and the causes that mean something to me. I will forever be grateful to them.