A first-hand account from a Coalition for the Protection of Racehorses investigator and a rescuer.
This is the story of Georgia and Brian, but it could be a story about almost any ex-racehorse.
In December 2005, the Laverton Knackery in Melbourne was under investigation. Not by authorities, but by animal activists who had learned of the plight that faced most racehorses after they had outlived their useful purpose in the racing industry.
I visited the knackery several times a week, trying to piece together why so many horses – especially racehorses – were waiting to be killed for dog meat.
One day, a striking mare appeared in the kill pens. She was almost entirely black with a white star. She may have just arrived from one of the recent horse auctions or perhaps she had come directly from a trainer.
I entered the pen to film the horses. She soon introduced herself and demanded a pat, to which I obliged. But I had a job to do. As I moved from horse to horse, noting brands and filming through a keyhole camera sewn into my jacket, I noticed she was shadowing me. Every time I turned she was right there. She wasn’t content with just one pat. Then I noticed she was being shadowed by a much bigger bay. These two horses were to become known as Georgia and Brian.
This continued until I left the pen. Her eyes followed me for as long as I was in her sight. Her big bay stood right beside her. Emotions were welling up inside me. But, as an investigator, it is important to focus on the job at hand and not be distracted.
Over the next six visits, I became good friends with Georgia. As soon as she saw me, she would make her presence felt and demand my attention. She was a welcome distraction from the hell hole that this place was for horses and humans. With each visit, I dreaded the thought that it might be the last time I saw her and Brian.
I decided I had to do something. I registered my interest with the knackery owner and told him I would buy Georgia. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a place for her to stay. So, I contacted Pam Ahern from Edgar’s Mission Farm Sanctuary and told her the story. Without a second thought, she agreed to collect Georgia the very next day.
Now, in the words of Pam Ahern herself, the story continues.
To me, horses are the true embodiment of strength, majesty, nobility and freedom. They have always been close to my heart. So, it was with nervous trepidation that, after receiving that fateful phone call, I arrived at the knackery and lowered the tailgate of the trailer that was to carry Georgia to a new life.
My own nostrils filled with the same putrid stench of death that had no doubt been assaulting Georgia for the days she had languished at this house of horrors. It was a stench that I was soon to find would take days to eradicate. Alas, the memories of what was to follow will haunt me forever.
Walking to the pen where my friend was waiting with his beauty, my gaze was distracted by the pile of dismembered bodies to my right. The sight of those once magnificent creatures reduced to a pile of broken bones and flesh made my blood run cold. Repelled by this horror, I looked to my left and saw those who were next. My heart sank and I whispered: “How could we do this?”
Georgia, as if recognizing that her saviour had arrived, stood patiently by the gate that held her one step from redemption. But there was another who also caught my gaze. A large bay gelding was shepherding her closely. Prising the gate open just far enough for Georgia to slip through, we were surprised when she refused to oblige. Turning constantly to her buddy, she pulled the lead and me along with it, in his direction.
“Come on Georgia,” we coaxed, “you are going to a far, far better place than this.” Reluctantly she followed our lead and walked through the gate. However, her friend became frantic at the impending prospect of their separation. Brian raced up and down the fence line, calling out to his departing friend. Tugging at the lead, and at our heartstrings, Georgia was slowly coaxed into the trailer, all the while returning the calls of the friend she quite rightly thought she would never see again.
With a heavy heart and a newfound disgust for those who so callously desert these intelligent and sensitive creatures – at the moment when they need them the most – I made the trek home. If only the people who were responsible for these animals could witness their unconscionable end. Would they betray them so easily? I pondered.
That night, I awoke repeatedly in cold sweats. The sight of the big bay horse’s head on that pile of bodies stared blankly back at me.
At daybreak I made the call to my friend, “Do you think the big bay horse is still alive?” His feverish reply told me our hearts and heads were in sync. “I’ll make the call,” he told me. Nervously I waited. “Yes, he’s still there, but not for long. I’ll meet you there.” And the phone rang off.
In double time, I moved until I was soon watching the pitiful sight of the frantic yet still majestic bay fellow’s nostrils flaring over and over. He belted out a chilling neigh then listened for the reply which did not come. For a horse we knew so little about – a strong and robust fellow, sound of mind and limb, and not too old – one had to wonder why he had ended up in such a terrible place.
Obliging, brave and trusting would now be added to his list of charms as he walked into the small, confined trailer. All the while my heart pounded so loudly that I thought it would surely scare him. The dear boy.
Just an hour later, the horse I had named ‘Brian’ on the journey had a new home and the most unexpected surprise he could ever imagine. Arriving at his destination, Brian did what many a horse does when checking out his new place to call home. Neighing the equine equivalent of, “Hey where am I?” he looked from left to right.
And then, from the back of the sanctuary, an all too familiar whinny rang out in reply. It was his Georgia. Lifting me clear off the ground, the gentle Brian became a man on a mission as he proudly carried his head high and trotted in the most elevated, proud and purposeful steps to his beloved. And as their nostrils touched, my tears flowed.
This will always be one of my most vivid memories of true happiness, joy and yes, love. If only the world could have seen this moment, there would be no doubt that horses truly experience this most sincere and deepest of emotions.
And since that very moment they have never been apart. Never that was until the day that sadly, Georgia sustained a horrific break in her stifle; the result of a freak paddock accident. A veterinarian was quickly summoned and the prognosis, grim.
Armed with the knowledge that while horses are stoic their bones are not and that death is not the worst option, but that a life of uncontrollable pain and suffering is, we did the only decent, honourable and humane thing. We honoured the pledge we make to every animal who enters our sanctuary gates and that is: “we shall give you a life truly worth living and when we cannot, we shall help you pass from this world to the next”.
Georgia loved carrots and welcomed pats. She relished sleeping stretched out in the sun and grazing peacefully beside her buddy, Brian. People often asked if we were ever going to ride Georgia or Brian, but the answer was a simple, “No”. There was nothing they ever had to do for us.
It is abundantly clear from watching animals like Georgia and Brian that they live, love and lose cherished ones in just the same way we do. What we were to witness next was the purest form of grief.
Standing vigilant by injured Georgia’s side, Brian refused to budge until his beloved was laid to rest. Rearing up in anguish, he became distraught, calling out to Georgia. A call this time she would never return.
Georgia was indeed the love of his life and it was because of her love, all those years ago, that he was given a second chance of life. His palpable devotion and love for her that we witnessed all those years ago was indeed the sole reason he still walked upon this Earth. But now she was no more.
That she was Brian’s special someone there is no doubt – but she was also ours.