Most who read this will never see the inside of horse slaughter auction house. We should count ourselves lucky.

Each year, more than 100,000 horses are shipped from the United States to brutal ends in slaughterhouses in Mexico and Canada. They are horses purchased by professional kill buyers and they come from auctions all over the country; dark, foul, overcrowded venues in country towns whose names have become synonymous with the “dirty little secret” of the American horse industy.

Most of the horses that run loose through these auction bidding areas have no owners to represent them. They come from states near and far; products of overbreeding, divorce, old age, or any number of circumstances. If you think these horses have nothing to do with you, think again. They are outgrown kid’s horses, senior school horses, intercollegiate team horses, and yes, former show horses.

There aren’t many who have what it takes to visit one of these places and come back unscathed, even if only to save the horses they could. Fortunately, for ponies like Rose, there are people in the world who do.

Rose in the kill pen before her rescue. (Courtesy of Bella Run Equine.)

Rose, a 7-year-old quarter horse pony, was saved by Rachel and Zack Bendler of Bella Run Equine rescue last spring. She was uneducated, and while Bella Run works to retrain and uncover just what its adoptees are best suited for, Rose was turning out to be a bit of an enigma. Until, that is, Rachel and Zack realized she could jump. After publicizing their discovery on the Bella Run Facebook page, the rescue received a note from one of their former adopters, Dawne Franjesh and her daughter Teigan of Akron, Ohio.

“In May, they posted a picture of a little red pony in line with three others. It simply said ‘she would be the cutest hunter pony’, and while we weren’t in the market at the time, we had a few friends looking at our local barn,” explains Dawne. “So we thought, we’ll just go look at her to see if she could fit the bill for someone else.”

The first photo Dawne saw of Rose (far left) at Bella Run Equine. (Courtesy of Bella Run Equine.)

For Dawne,  the fact that she was a repeat customer at Bella Run actually helped to seal the deal. “We had already adopted a mare from Bella Run [and] we fell in love with the rescue due to their honesty, knowledge, and commitment. We have gone horse shopping many times in the past and it is hard to decipher truth from [lies]. It was a no-brainer dealing with Zack and Rachel.”

“She can move off the leg, side-pass, and collect herself in the canter, but she loves to jump!”

For their part, and as is their policy with all the horses they take responsibility for, Bella Run made no bones about Rose’s background and the reality that, at age seven, she had had little training—a fact that had made her situation so precarious to begin with. “Being uneducated was the sole reason for [“Rosie”] ending up in the kill pen,” says Dawne’s daughter, Teigan, 15. “The first time I rode her, Rosie was kind, but very unbalanced, forehand-heavy, and [she] had anxiety. Nevertheless, we saw she had potential. Our plan was to just foster her for the summer.”

Teigan and Rose training at home.

Yet, as is so often the case in horse training, there is an ebb and flow to progress. For Rose and Teigan, those first few weeks together were slow—to say the least. “We wondered if we had been wrong and she was not cut out for this,” Teigan admits. “She had the bad habit of head thrashing [from] her anxiety. Because of this, she carried her head low and balance-forward in a flight position. But slowly, she became more comfortable, sure of her feet, and confident in herself. I started to increase her education.”

The tide began to turn as Teigan was able to incorporate jumping into Rose’s regular training.

“She can move off the leg, side-pass, and collect herself in the canter, but she loves to jump!” Teigan says. “She gets excited to see jumps and to focus her mind on something. [When we began jumping it] started to click for both of us. We were getting each other and it made sense. She knew what I was asking, and she was eager to please. We were enjoying each other.

“I tried to expose [Rose] to everything I could. I took her trail riding, through water, and up and around everything. She wasn’t anxious anymore; she was a quiet, good-minded little pony. So we thought she was ready to see what a show was all about. Just for experience, of course, no expectations. Although she is schooling over 2’6″ at home, we entered her in an 18” [division] because we had no idea how she would be in the show ring.”

Wheels up Rose!

As it turned out, that show at Chagrin Valley Farm in Chagrin Valley, Ohio, wasn’t just a trial run for Rose, it was a smashing debut performance. “She handled it like a pro and there was not an anxious bone in her body that day,” Teigan says. “She [won] reserve champion. Never in my wildest dreams six months ago would I have thought she would have come this far. But this is just the beginning of our journey together. We plan on continuing our training…and the difficulty of classes we enter.”

The rapid progress Teigan and Rose have made this season has had a big impact, not just on Rose’s future (she’s now a permanent part of the Franjesh family) but also in how Teigan understands the mare and her training needs. “I no longer think she’s an anxious pony. She just didn’t know what was expected of her. Now that she does, we have become a great team!” she says.

Teigan and Rose win reserve champion at their first show together.

While wholly thankful for her ‘diamond in the rough’, Teigan is equally aware of where Rose came from and the fate she so narrowly escaped. “None of this would be possible without Bella Run. There is a stigma with rescue horses that they have baggage and are bad horses. I have ridden expensive jumpers down to green rescue horses, and everything in between. And, let’s be honest, they all have quirks!”

“Rescue horses aren’t any different than any other horse. No one told them they are different.”

Mom Dawne agrees. “Rescue horses aren’t any different than any other horse. No one told them they are different. There are great horses at Bella Run at a fraction of the cost. It’s a great feeling, being certain that [Rachel and Zack will] tell me everything about each horse, good or bad, because they love [them] and want to match them with the perfect home,” Franjesh says.

“I encourage everyone, if they are in the market for their next unicorn, to check out Bella Run or any horse rescue. Chances are you might just find one that everyone else overlooked because they are ‘only a rescue horse’.”

About Bella Run Equine: Bella Run Equine in Athens, Ohio is a non-profit organization dedicated to the responsible rescue, rehabilitation, and rehoming of slaughter-bound horses. Bella Run makes a commitment to do right by each horse that passes through their doors. To learn more or make a donation, visit bellarunequine.com or their Facebook page.

-Photos courtesy of Bella Run and Dawne Franjesh.