River Bluff student takes horse rescue project to heart
Oak Grove, SC (Paul Kirby) – For 17-year-old River Bluff High School student Stephanie Aull, horses are an important part of her life. Since she was 5-years-old, she has been riding both recreationally and in shows as a way to show her deep affection for the large animals man has had an important relationship with for centuries.
Stephanie, like many other teens, has close friends she likes to hang out with during and after school. She likes to drive, has an ever-present smart-phone close by, and wears jeans and t-shirts just like many of her classmates. She also has a bright, beautiful smile and long flowing hair that only solidifies her status as a normal American teenager.
Stephanie however is different in other ways. Unlike many of her classmates, she has already taken an active role in a cause she feels is extremely important; she has taken a leadership role in rescuing a horse that was headed for the slaughterhouse. With the assistance of friends and others who have a big heart for horses, she made a difference for one little mare whose only crime was that she was a little too slow. While her friends and classmates are busy being regular teens, Stephanie made and executed her plan and championed a cause that has saved at least one horse from being someone’s dinner.
In many countries outside the US, horse meat is considered a delicacy. Although it is illegal to slaughter horses for food in the US, it is not illegal to buy them here and ship them to Canada or Mexico for the purpose of slaughtering them for food. As Stephanie found out last spring, this practice is all too common for horses of various ages that have committed no crime other than being too slow, too old, or living with an owner that simply needed to thin his herd for economy’s sake.
When Stephanie first saw the term “kill pens” on the internet, she was alarmed and shocked that such places existed. She, like so many of us, pictured all horses living out their days in a nice, clover covered pasture, frolicking in the sun, enjoy days of pure horse paradise. In many cases that’s the true life of a horse that’s owned by someone who cares, but in other cases that’s very far from the truth.
In both Canada and Mexico, horses are regularly slaughtered to be consumed by humans. Inevitably, along our most northern and southern states, kill pens are set up to buy and hold horses for sale to slaughterhouses in those countries.
According to Stephanie, kill pens are very open about their existence and easy to locate on the internet. In Pennsylvania, a number of them operate without fear of public retribution or backlash. Quite the contrary, they are extremely public and operate a sort of legal blackmail that pits horse lovers against the death clock as a way of making a profit.
Kill pens in both northern states like Pennsylvania and southern states like Texas legally buy horses that no one seems to want. They may be older, have problems with their legs or feet, or simply be too slow for their owners who may own stud farms or racing operations.
Once they have ownership papers for these horses in their hands, they boldly put pictures of the animals on the internet with a countdown to their slaughter date. They try to entice and incite horse lovers to “rescue” these animals by asking them to bid on them before they meet their demise and become someone’s meal. As the death-clock counts down, they continued to prod the animal lovers to do the right thing and save the horses’ lives just in the nick of time.
When Stephanie became aware of this practice, she was more than alarmed; she was in fact appalled. She began to follow a kill pen on line that was a member of the Pennsylvania Kill Pen Network. She did this with one purpose in mind, Stephanie wanted to identify, buy, and then bring a rescued horse to South Carolina.
Horse rescuing is not inexpensive. To be able to rescue a horse Stephanie would have to first bid on it through an on-line auction and win with the highest bid.
Once the horse was hers, she would have to have the animal picked up by an individual who was certified to hold it in quarantine for thirty days. This is done to ensure that the animal is not sick or has some equine disease that could spread to other horses in the South Carolina herd.
Once her horse was certified disease free, Stephanie would have to pay someone to transport it to her home near Oak Grove. All this cost big money; money that Stephanie didn’t have on hand when she began this process, but money she knew she could earn with a little hard work.
With determination in her mind and spirit, Stephanie first designed and then started selling t-shirts through her network of friends who also love horses. Many of these friends she knew through her years of showing horses in the hunter’s classes on the circuit. She sold these to riders and friends in Lexington and Aiken Counties as well as in the Camden area, an enclave of horse lovers and breeders. Eventually, Stephanie raised $2,200 through those efforts. Some of her sales were on-line.
After earning the money from her t-shirt sales and watching the PA kill pens closely, Stephanie set her heart on buying a 10-year-old mare from a buyer. She stumbled across the horse’s original trainer while surfing the internet and found that the animal was a descendant of horse racing great Barbaro, an American Thoroughbred racehorse who decisively won the 2006 Kentucky Derby, but shattered his leg two weeks later in the 2006 Preakness Stakes. That injury ended his racing career and eventually led to his death.
The little horse Stephanie wanted had nothing wrong with her really; she simply was too slow to win races. In the horse racing business, this was a death sentence and the mare was set to be slaughtered if no one bought her.
Although there were a number of obstacles that kept popping up during the process of acquiring the horse and getting her to SC, Stephanie overcame each one with sheer determination and grit. Eventually, she bought the mare she knows as Kylieu and had her quarantined up north, and eventually shipped to SC.
Stephanie received Kylieu in the middle of August of this year, just one day before she was set to begin school again. She introduced her newest project to her current show horse Oreo who seemed disinterested in the new stable-mate as long as she didn’t interfere with his food or attention.
Stephanie describes Oreo as a little lazy, a horse that would just as soon hang around the pasture and nibble straw instead of having to do anything significant or noteworthy. He was more than willing to ignore Stephanie’s new acquisition and simply share the pasture with Kylieu.
Stephanie has been working with Kylieu since August to train her for the show circuit. She says that it’s been hard to change her mindset from racing to showmanship. “When we get to a show, she immediately cuts on and becomes hyper, ready to run,” Stephanie said. “I’ve had to work to settle her down and help her understand that her job has changed. It’s not all about going fast now. It’s more about how she looks getting from place to place.”
In October, Stephanie showed Kylieu for the first time at the SC State Fair. She was a little apprehensive about how she would act in such a structured and horse saturated environment, but that in no way slowed Stephanie down. She was confident, ready, and certainly able to make the appearance and the experience successful.
Any money that Stephanie raised above the initial cost of buying and transporting Kylieu here will be used for her feed and vet care in the future. Stephanie is supporting her new horse 100% by herself. She practices her show skills regularly with Kylieu and looks forward to working with her horses year after year.
Stephanie hasn’t ruled out rescuing other horses but for now, she’s content and busy with the two horses she already has. She continues to be a student at River Bluff, an activist for horsesand other animals, and a normal teenager.
Although Stephanie is young, she is an inspirational example of a person who sets her sights on making a positive difference. Once she identified a need that mattered to her, she set goals, raised the funds and resources necessary to meet her goal, and accomplished her task with gusto. She is living proof that a desire to do good knows no age limit and has no boundaries.
You can follow Stephanie and her progress with Kylieu on her Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/stephanie.aull.7.