Sugar Creek Horse Auction

We drove up and down the rolling hills of Ohio with our trailer in tow on the way to a place hidden behind a tourist town where people walked happily shopping at the small shops.  I suppose people that visit the town of Sugar Creek don’t realize that off the beaten path every Friday a horse auction is held where horses are sold to slaughter for pennies on the dollar.  We arrived at Sugar Creek Livestock Auction early Friday morning, parking our trailer and venturing inside.  The pens were already packed with horses of all colors and breeds, packed in like sardines with not much space to move.  Hay and water were nowhere in sight for most of these horses.  They stood solemnly waiting for the end to come, waiting to be sold to a kill buyer to be loaded onto a trailer for the long ride to Canada. 
I had imagined in my head how difficult it would be to choose just a few horses but when I started walking through the pens it became so real.  These horses did not deserve to be in this awful place with stickers hot glued to their rumps.  When they walked into Sugar Creek they lost their name, their identity, their purpose.  They were now just a number, a number to be sold for a few hundred bucks to the highest bidder.
I could say I’ve become hardened to many things in the rescue world but nothing can prepare you to walk through Sugar Creek, it’s the bottom of the barrel, the worst place a horse could end up.  I began my search for the horses that I would rescue.  We looked through the pens and started jotting down numbers of horses that tugged at our hearts. 
The pens are packed with horses so evaluating them is very difficult.  In a 10x12 pen there were 6 horses; one had a note glued to him.  It read “awesome trail horse, very sweet, easy going”.   He pushed through the other horses and came over and nuzzled my hand.  He looked bewildered as to why he was packed in with so many other horses.  He was a blue roan with remarkable coloring.  We jotted down his number and kept walking through.  Every time we would think we looked in every pen they would unload 25 more horses, by 10 am there was over 300 horses jammed into the small pens.  The more horses they added the more screams you would hear.  Horses screaming for their lives, horses getting separated from their friends, horses screaming for their owners that had dumped them there. 
I watched a women drop off a young foal and its mother.  She signed the paper and walked away from them without a second thought.  I asked myself what was the point of breeding this mare when she would be dumped at an auction with her young colt that was clinging to her side scared to be touched.  I assume he did not have any handling and probably sat out in a field.  He had a long white blaze and looked petrified of everything around him. 
A large Belgian mare was stuffed into a pen with a group of standardbreds, she could hardly move around and had the look of exhaustion on her face.  We stroked her face and told her it would be ok.  You could see into her soul when you looked into her eyes, the soul of a horse that had worked for years on an Amish farm and was dumped at Sugar Creek like she was an old tractor being dumped at the junk yard.  Her number quickly went onto our list; she won us all over with her huge heart.
I watched horses of all breeds packed into pens, kicking and squealing, fighting for a few strands of hay on the floor.  Many of them stood in the corners with their noses almost touching the ground, it’s the look you see on a horse that has given up all hope, given up on humans.  As we walked past a pen packed with 40 bay horses one stood out in the crowd, she had a blank look on her face, her lip drooped.  She was non responsive to touch, it was as if she was a shell, her soul was gone.  We all scratched her and tried to get her to respond to us but she just hung her head low.  She was identical to about 10 other mares in that pen but she was the one that drew us all in.
I wish I could write about every horse that called out to me that day but the list is too long, horses in every pen stuck their noses through the wood for a scratch.   They begged me to pet them, to reassure them, to give them hope.  I held back tears as I pet each nose, telling them it would be ok.  The amount of horses was overwhelming; I wished I had a bigger trailer, more funds, more space.  So many horses called out to me that day, their faces are still burned into my head.  A little chestnut mare with a unique blaze pushed her way through a group of high strung horses to get a sniff at my hand.  She had a cute face and a great personality.  She was filthy, skinny, and in need of some major care.  I liked her; I liked her ambition to get to me from the other side of the pen, I liked her way of speaking to me through her eyes.  She went on my list along with a few other horses from this pen.  My list was longer then I wanted it to be, I would have to pick who to bid on soon enough.
Just a few minutes before the auction was to begin I found a tiny pen filled with trash and some baby goats.  They still had their umbilical cords on and looked to be about a day old.  They screamed for their mother, it was heart breaking.  One of them curled up in a ball in the corner of the pen barely hanging onto life.  I put my fingers through the wood and stroked his head; he barely had a heartbeat.  They already had “Slaughter Only” tags on and they had not been on this earth for more than 24 hours.  The world was showing these baby goats just how cruel it could be.  One baby was sucking on my finger, craving a good meal.  I pet them all and had a tough time walking away.
The auction began and they brought in the baby goats to be sold first.  They were selling quickly and when the one came through that was sucking on my finger we just had to bid.  He was mine for just $16.  They tossed him up to me and he sat on my lap like a dog.  The horses started running through in a flash, it all went so quick I did not know how we would possibly be able to bid on the horses that we wanted.  They ran every horse through loose; you had seconds to look at the horse, seconds to figure out if the horse was on our list.  A few horses that I had my eye on ran through and all sold to slaughter.  It was so quick, not like any other auction I’ve been to.  They opened the door, a horse ran in, they opened up the door on the other side, the horse ran out.  It was like a video on repeat.
Our Belgian was sent into the ring and they started bidding, we tried to get a bid in, they did not even look into the stands, they just looked at the kill buyers lined up in the ring.  I stomped my boot on the floor and yelled.  We got in a bid and kept bidding till she was ours.   They shuffled her out of the ring within 30 seconds of her entering.  They had probably run through 50 horses at this point.
The blue roan that I liked was sent through, I noticed him only by his color.  Again it was hard to get a bid in; they didn’t pay much attention to the people sitting in the stands.  We were bidding against Baker for this horse and won.  If it was not for us being there this “quiet trail horse” would have been slaughtered, no one would have ever been able to sit on this trust worthy horse and head out on a nice trail.  Now he had a new lease on life.  Soon after the blue roan a nice paint horse was rode through, one of the 10 horses that was rode through the auction.  He was cute as a button and quiet as can be.  He didn’t seem to care about what was going on around him, he just trotted along.  We decided to bid on him, again we were bidding against a kill buyer.  I noticed that not one person in the stands was bidding; they were all just there to watch the show.  Since the auction had started not one horse besides the ones we had purchased had sold private, they had all sold to slaughter.  We bid on the little paint horse and won, he deserved a second chance just like every other horse there that day.
I watched tons of sound, fat, healthy horses run through the auction, all selling to kill buyers.  After they were sold they were put in the pen of the kill buyer that had just purchased them.  Every kill buyer had a designated pen that would soon be packed with horses that would either head to Canada and Mexico to meet a cruel end.  It was sickening to watch, pregnant mares, quarter horses, ponies, horses of every color all jammed in together waiting for the end.
The mare and colt were run through quickly and the colt sold for just $10.  They both sold to separate kill buyers and were quickly torn apart to be put in different pens.  This colt was not ready to be torn away from his mother; he was still nursing and was probably about three to four months old.  He let out high pitched screams calling to her.  She must have known that it was the end for them both because she never did return his desperate screams.  She was already jammed in a pen with 50 other horses.
The mare with the strange face marking ran through quickly.  I would have never known it was her if she did not turn to look at me.  It was as if she was yelling out “hey you over there, look at my weird blaze, HELP ME!”.  We bid on her, we won, she trotted right out and took one more quick glance in our direction.   There was something about this mare that made me smile; she had a personality to die for even in this horrific place.
Around 20 bay horses ran through the auction, we were unable to find the mare that had looked so defeated in the pen, I assume she sold to slaughter with the rest of them; the fast paced auction was claiming the lives of hundreds of horses that day including the bay mare that had given up.  I assume she knew that there was nothing to live for and she had tuned herself out to what was going on around her. 
The auction ended quickly, we began preparing our trailer for the journey home.  I took a walk through the pens during this time and watched the workers labeling the horses for slaughter right there on the spot.  They separated them with some technique, possibly by weight, and loaded them onto slaughter trucks.  They were packed in and all I was able to see was noses sticking out the holes of the tractor trailers.  Different colors and sizes and they were all heading to the same place, I hoped they would reassure one another that they soon would be in the green pastures in heaven.
I spotted the little colt in a pen with another mare, not his mother, standing in the back, scared to death.  Getting him to approach me was impossible but who would blame him.  He had never met a nice person, why should he trust me now.  We approached the kill buyer that had purchased him and he told us to just take him.  I was elated; I wanted to show this baby all the love in the world.  He was not even halter broke but we managed to get him on the trailer with little trouble.  After he was loaded all I could think about was his mother, she was one of the noses already on the tractor trailer.  In the moment I said a prayer for her, and for all the horses I was unable to help that day.  I promised her that I would treat her son like my own and would give him all that this world had to offer.   I hope that she saw her precious baby load onto the trailer of a “good guy” and know that he was safe and would never be put in the position she was in. 
Just as we were getting ready to leave we spotted the bay mare with her head in the corner of a kill pen, we watched a worker scramble her into the line of horses getting slaughter tags put on.  She had her head hung low; it was so close to the end.  We called out and asked to purchase her; she was next in line to be tagged.  They stopped tagging horses for a moment and got her out on the line up.  She lifted her head and started at me, I suppose she was in shock and disbelieve.  I through a halter on her and walked her to the trailer.  I could already see her eyes brighten. 
Six lucky horses came home to Project Sage that day, six horses out of hundreds.  Everyone tells me “you can’t change the world” but that day I changed the world of six lucky horses, in my eyes thats one good day.  Viola, Husky, Charm, Chance, Spice, and Opie all have a second chance because of the amazing supporters of Project Sage Horse Rescue.  I thank everyone that donated to our trip the Sugar Creek Horse Auction.  It was one of the most heart wrenching experiences of my life and I still can remember the faces of many of the horses that I was unable to help. 
Today the colt that lost his mother is living happily on our farm in Northport, waiting for his forever home.  He was named Chance, the most fitting name for him.  He is the most outgoing foal I have ever had the opportunity to work with and has become the light of my life.  I try to keep true to the promise I made to his mother every day, he sports a Rambo blanket and a leather halter and enjoys the luxuries of carrots and treats.  Every day he makes us laugh and smile, I cannot imagine what would have happened to baby Chance had Project Sage not been at Sugar Creek that day.  Please take this time to visit our web site www.projectsagehorserescue.org to visit the horses we have for adoption and make a donation in honor of one of these amazing horses.  Thank you for your support!
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