My name is Amber, and I am the Founder/Director of Shiloh Acres Horse Rescue. Shiloh Acres is named in honor of Shiloh, the incredible mare that was one of my first rescue experiences. I credit her for opening my eyes to the reality of horse slaughter and the auction circuits, and for fueling my passion to save other horses in her situation. The following is Shiloh’s story:
Located near my family’s house while I was growing up was a livestock auction yard, which I drove by almost every day when I went into town. This auction yard was the "last stop" for many animals; cows, sheep, goats, pigs and horses. My first visit to this auction many years ago left me in tears from the neglect, abuse and indifference showcased there. I hadn't gone back to that auction since that very first time, yet one winter day in 2000, after months of actively searching for a new equine partner (as my 20-something year old mare was ready to retire from regular riding) I had an odd compulsion to stop by again.
On this particular day the auction had already ended, but there were still groups of horses in the back pens waiting to be picked up by their buyers. My attention was immediately drawn to a large paint draft mare who nervously stood all by herself at the very back of an otherwise empty holding pen. When my attempts at coaxing her over to the fence where I stood failed, I snuck into the pen with her. She was very wary when I first approached, but after a few moments she let me stroke her large head and neck. I spent several minutes with her, and when I turned to leave she followed me closely every step of the way until I got to the gate. When I once again stood outside her pen, she stretched over the fence as far as she could, wanting to be closer to me. At that point I was already feeling a real connection with her, and I just couldn’t leave without finding out who had bought her... I hoped that she would be going to a private home, but when I saw that many other horses there were marked with the same buyer’s number as her, I became suspicious. I had vaguely heard about unscrupulous horse traders, rodeo suppliers, and ‘kill buyers’ that frequented this auction and were known to buy large numbers of horses every week.
When the man that bought her finally arrived, some auction workers abruptly pushed past me into her pen and began to herd her out into the loading chutes. She was then forcefully crammed into the back of a large livestock trailer, behind the many others which had been bought by this buyer that day (and which was many more than the number of horses that the trailer was designed to safely and comfortably fit). I approached the older gentleman buyer, introduced myself, and inquired as to what he intended to do with the horses he had bought that day. He skirted around the answer several times, making me very suspicious indeed, before hinting that they were headed "to Texas". With a little more prompting, he admitted that that meant "to the SALUGHTERHOUSE in Texas". Trying to keep my cool and not let him know how desperate I now was to save this mare from that fate, I managed to persuade him to sell her to me right there in the auction yard parking lot. I hurriedly called my mother for backup, and as I waited for her to arrive, I stared at my new, terrified horse huddled in the back of the man’s trailer. I began to wonder what I had gotten myself into: I had bought a horse I knew absolutely NOTHING about after having known her for less than an hour, and she was MUCH larger than any horse I had ever worked with in the past.
After the transaction was complete, my new mare was unloaded into the holding pen again so that I could arrange to get her home somehow (my family did not yet own a horse trailer at that time!). I scrounged around to find her some hay to nibble on while she waited, and every time I left her sight she would whinny after me. I made a trip to a nearby tack shop to buy a draft-sized halter for her, which then took a good ten minutes and several cookies to get on her. We ended up finding some cowboys at the auction who were willing to haul her to my house for a few bucks... and the next 15-20 minutes were spent with me coaxing her down and out of the scary auction yard alleyways, through the parking lot, and onto the trailer. The cowboys dropped her off at the entrance to our rural neighborhood, and I led her the rest of the way to our barn.
Over the next few days, I spent time just brushing my new horse, who I named Shiloh, and getting her to trust me more. I could tell she had not been handled much, and simple things like touching her legs or belly were new and scary for her. Her hooves were in such bad shape that they could not wait until she was trained to stand for the farrier to be trimmed; after about a week, the vet came out to give her some sedation and the farrier worked for well over an hour and a half just to get the excess length trimmed off. My farrier thought it had been at least a couple of years since she had any work done on her feet...
Over the next few weeks, I was able to track down and contact her previous owners through the auction yard, and I found out that she was a 5 year old Belgian/Paint cross from a Canadian PMU farm. She had been bought as a weanling, along with other PMU foals, and shipped from Canada to Colorado be used as a broodmare on a farm. Shiloh had been kept with a large herd on several hundred acres up in the mountains, where they were pretty much left to fend for themselves. The previous owners were stunned that I had not only gotten a halter on her, but that I had led her around and loaded her onto a horse trailer, as they claimed she had NEVER had a halter on as an adult, and had not been halter trained as a weanling either. (And, of course, Shiloh had never had her feet trimmed in all her 5 years.)
During the course of the next year I worked with a trainer, using natural horsemanship methods, to get Shiloh started under saddle. She was a very smart girl, and we developed a strong bond. The very first time I climbed onto her back and we walked around the arena together was one of the most awe-inspiring and gratifying moments of my life!
Although I pictured many more happy years to come spent with Shiloh, it was sadly not to be. To my utter devastation (and just 5 days after our very first ride together), I found Shiloh on the ground in a severe colic, sweating and groaning in pain. We rushed her to the veterinary hospital in town, where they immediately took her to surgery while my family and I waited terrified in the lobby. When the head surgeon came back through the doors after only 20 minutes, I took one look at her face and crumpled to the floor because I knew it was going to be bad news. Shiloh was still alive, but a large portion of her small intestine had become strangulated, cutting off vital blood flow and causing it to die off. The vet informed me that there was too much damaged intestine to successfully resect, and that unfortunately my only real option was to have her euthanized on the surgery table. It was the most impossible, horrible decision to have to make, but the only kind thing left that I could do for her. I don’t remember much else from that night, other than going out to sit with her body after the surgeon closed her up and moved her to an outside loading dock where she would be picked up by the crematorium in the morning. I hugged her and wept, saying my final goodbyes to her. I didn't want to leave her, as I irrationally worried that she was going to be cold, lying outside on that concrete all night... I had said goodbye to many 4-legged family members in the past, but losing Shiloh seemed different and more momentous in some way. I loved her so very much, and she was such a huge presence in my life that the loss of her was almost too much to bear.
Shiloh and I didn't have nearly enough time together, but I am forever grateful that she came into my life, even if it was only for a moment. I truly believe that our paths crossed for a reason, for I wouldn’t be the person I am today if not for her. After my experience with Shiloh, I began attending the same auction regularly (and still do to this day) to save other horses from slaughter and neglect. When I decided that this was my true calling in life, I founded this rescue... and our organization was named in honor of my beautiful Shiloh, who was the catalyst for it all.