Today was a beautiful morning. The sun was shining, it was still early enough that it wasn't hot, the horses were all calm and peaceful. It was the middle of August, when the joy of a good Summer is still with you but you start to see the first few signs of an approaching Fall. Sweet Year (by Half a Year out of Above All Time) and Tara (Shirley Joyce by Individual Style out of Thai's My Mama) had come a long ways from the racing halls where they were bred to be patriots in the Sport of Kings. Both of them have been through the thick and the thin. Sweet Year and Tara had each been through multiple auctions, multiple rescues, multiple failed homes and spent the majority of their lives being passed around on the rescue circuit. I saw each of these horses first up for rescue back when I was shiny and new to rescue myself. When I had a bright and boisterous ideal of what rescue was and never thought twice but that these "saved" horses would go on to great lives. Over and over again these horses popped up needing to be saved from the latest rescue failure. Both horses were now cripples in different ways, although when they first went into the rescue system they were sound, and neither could go through another winter. They spent the Summer in each others company, which was really all they could handle any more, and had good grass, fresh stream water, and plenty of shade trees. Today they were put down in the shining sun and crisp air of a perfect fading summer morning. They were War Horses of the rescue world and putting them down broke something in me.
Sweet Year is everything that the very best of Thoroughbreds strive for. She is bold, daring, decisive and bright, while at the same time being safe, sane and trustworthy. This is a mare who an experienced rider can take out and do low level competition with in the morning and a beginner rider can take lessons on in the afternoon. She can ride in the arena, around the pasture or out on the trails. Sweet Year can be ridden around any other horses and is not spooky at all. This is a mare who thinks and while she can get upset at things (leaving a buddy), she is never ever uncontrollable or dangerous. You can ride her every day, or ride her once a year it is all the same to her and she forgets nothing. Or, at least you used to be able to ride her...
Sweet Year right now is a hot mess. Her back is terribly messed up and is causing her a great deal of pain from her neck, through her shoulder, across her back and down into her hip. I don't know what was done to her, and I don't know if it is fixable. We will try. If all Sweet Year does is spend the next 5-10 years bossing my geldings around, I will be happy. If she can be ridden again, I will be thrilled. I will be devastated if it turns out that we cannot fix her back, but at least I will know that we did what she could and were at least able to give her peace.
Sweet Year was born on 4/28/1994 in California at the legendary Golden Eagle Farm owned by the California racing icon John C Mabee. She was sired by "Half a Year" a Kentucky stallion who had placed in Graded Stakes races and earned $141k. Her dam was "Above All Time" who was also a Kentucky bred horse, but who never earned a single dollar in racing. "Above All Time" was sired by "Private Account" who was also a Kentucky horse, but he was a Multiple Graded Stakes Winner and earned about $340k.
Although Sweet Year is a Thoroughbred, she was apparently not born to race. On March 28, 1998 at Emerald Downs she ran her one and only race and didn't even finish it. Her jockey was Octavio Vergara and her trainer was Ben Harris. She was running under the Sun Stables banner. A Thoroughbred mare who won't run, Sweet Year found herself relegated to the breeding barn of Nancy Nuckolls (partner in Sun Stables). There she was bred to "Acquitted" and on 3/2/00 produced a filly named "Tiger Tiger Tiger". This filly was later raced herself and won a grand total of $610.
At this point Sweet Year found herself sold into a different breeding farm, Gibson Thoroughbred Farm, owned by Elwin F Gibson. She spent the next 6 years here and produced 4 foals. On 3/31/01 she had a colt "Mist Some Spots" by "Misty Wind", who went on to earn $2,690 on the track. On 4/30/02 she produced a filly named "La Sweetness" by "Le Sabotour", who ended up earning $239 on the track and last I heard was owned by a woman named Jenelle Black. Her next foal was a filly born on 3/12/04 named "Sweet Slew" by "Le Sabotour". Sweet Slew did not live long and was reported dead in 2006. Her next foal was a colt born on 3/7/06 was named "Devil From Dixie" by "Dixie Land Go", who raced and earned $6,245. During this time she also lost two foals, both by Le Sabotour.
On 3/20/06 her welcome was apparently wearing thin at the Gibson Thoroughbred Farm, but she was bred to "Kasparov" on her foal heat and later confirmed in foal. As soon as she weaned her last colt, she was tagged for sale. On 12/3/06 she was sold at the Washington Thoroughbred Breeders Association auction. She brought the pitiful bid of $100 and was sold to Tracey Barker of Yakima, WA.
In the spring of 2007, once again Sweet Year lost her foal and so was promptly given to Samantha Milbredt who at the time was running Columbia Basin Equine Rescue. If the name sounds familiar, that is because she is still running horses out of Chuck Walker's feedlot in Zillah, but now does it for a group called Rebels Equine Feedlot Sales. I have been told that Sam got a couple Thoroughbreds from Tracey and that she planned to ship them, but this is pure hearsay and in any case isn't what ended up happening.
That spring, Sam sold Sweet Year and a few other Thoroughbreds to Dean Solomon for $500 a piece. Dean was at that time running both Pacific Equestrian Center and Washington Thoroughbred Transitional Facility. Dean owned Sweet Year for about a year before things became dire and she came up on charges for Animal Cruelty. At the end of that period she reached out and offered 7 horses for rehoming, amongst those was Sweet Year. I networked for those horses like crazy and tried to find anyone who could take them but no one, including rescues, wanted to get involved even if it meant getting these horses out. I ended up being told that Dean had found homes for the horses herself and I would not know what became of Sweet Year until a long while later.
It turns out that in December 2008 Sweet Year was given to Katie Burris of Burris Dressage. In Katie's words she rescued her from "a very poor situation in Covington". Sweet Year needed rehab at this point, most especially with her teeth which Katie spent over $500 fixing just so that she could eat her food. She had been intended to be a broodmare and lesson horse, but for whatever reason soon found herself back on the market. After about six months Katie rehomed her to "a nice lady with a nice trailer".
I'm uncertain how many homes Sweet Year passed through in the next couple of months, but on 8/9/09 she showed up again at the Eugene Livestock Auction. She was purchased there by a woman from Portland who wanted to use Sweet Year as a barrel racer. However, I guess barrel racing was not in Sweet Year's career plans.
On 12/6/09 Sweet Year turned up at the Enumclaw Sales Pavilion. The woman who was selling her did not know her name or even that she was a Thoroughbred (she had thought she was an Appendix QH). Sweet Year was ridden through the auction and sold for $190 to Dean Solomon. Dean either gave her or boarded her with a woman named Shelley, but Dean and Shelley had different accounts as to how that all went down.
In any case, Sweet Year was back in the ESP kill pen by 1/31/10. It is lucky that she was spotted there as apparently she was not destined for the auction, but rather for the slaughter yard. As soon as I was told that she was there I rushed down to check on her. She was in terrible condition and I did not feel that she could go out to pasture or I would have bought her myself. As it turns out she had not been actually signed over yet and Shelley gave her to Patricia Clark of Serenity Equine Rescue.
Patricia took Sweet Year back to her rescue and I sponsored her while she was there, but she wasn't thriving and didn't stay long. On 2/19/10 Sweet Year came up to foster with me in Redmond. I got her fat, sassy, and up to date with all her vet and farrier care. It was at this point that I found out her teeth were terrible and that she would probably need to have them done every six months for the rest of her life. While she was with me, she received a tune up for her riding and she proved to ride well so long as she has a proper fitting saddle - which is easier said then done with a build like hers.
In early June news came that Serenity had found an adopter for Sweet Year and so on 6/6/10 she was taken back to the rescue to be adopted out. She was in fact adopted, however within a month her adopter decided that Sweet Year wasn't the right match for her and so she was transferred back to the rescue. On 8/21/10 Serenity Rescue had a fun show called SummerBlast that they used as a fundraiser and a chance to showcase some of their horses. Sweet Year and another Thoroughbred, a 4 year old gelding named Eddie's Native, were seen by Pam Bridgen and her partner who wanted to adopt them.
By October 2010 the adoption was finalized and Sweet Year and Eddie's Native were delivered to their new home in Cle Elum, WA.
Fast forward four years to October 2014 and the adopters are wanting to return Eddie's Native to the rescue because he isn't working out for them. Upon going out to pick up Eddie's Native, Patricia was so irritated by their lack of care and concern, that she took back both horses. Patricia contacted me and told me about what was happening and asked if I would take Sweet Year. I said yes, but under the condition that I would be taking Sweet Year into my rescue with full ownership and not as a foster again. This was agreed and finalized on 10/26/14 when I went out to see Sweet Year and her condition. Sweet Year did not at all resemble the mare that I used to know. I hardly recognized her. Of course she was the same mare; her build, her face, she is unmistakable. But where was her spirit, her shine, her daring bold intelligence? She was dripping snot, depressed and lame.
On 10/29/14 Sweet Year came home to my pasture where she was so happy years ago. Two days later she saw the vet and had her teeth done and a lameness exam, but we had barely gotten started with the lameness exam when we had to quit. When Dr Dana first saw her she asked me to lunge her so she could see how she moves and she moved almost sound, so she was thinking she wasn't too bad. However, then she went to feel her back and put finger pressure here and there and SY was very reactive. Her neck, her shoulder, her spine and her hip are all hurting her badly. She is painful over it all and her muscles all seize up when you touch, but there are some places that hurt her so badly that she would bow her whole body to get away from it. Sweet Year also has muscle wasting on her hip. We are going to be trying to things to relieve her pain and perhaps cure her soreness, but it is doubtful that Sweet Year will ever be a riding horse again.
*Board/feed costs are rarely posted, however most horses incur approximately $200/month in such costs.