Pony bound for slaughter makes East Tennessee detour
There are certain calls we never hesitate to answer. Calls for attention, calls to say hello, and calls of comfort. But when the phone rang in May of 2013, Susie Lones wishes she hadn't picked up.
"My doctor called to say I had a tumor on my pancreas. I don’t like to say the words together in a sentence but technically it was pancreatic cancer," Susie told WVLT News Anchor Amanda Hara.
Susie, a longtime equestrian, knew just where to go for comfort. Her lean-to barn and her horse Allie to lean on. "You have this connection with an animal that can just take away all those troubles," Susie said.
But like a shift in the wind, trouble pointed her way once again. In May of last year, Susie got another call. This time on Facebook, this time a call for help. Thompson's Horse Lot in Louisiana posted a video of a pony labeled number 1172 in its upcoming auction. The lot advertised that the pony would either be sold to someone like Susie, or purchased by what's called a "kill buyer" and sent to a slaughterhouse. According to the
, kill buyers are "middlemen who represent or sell to horse slaughter plants." The organization says once sold to kill buyers, many times horses are loaded onto livestock trailers for a long and dangerous journey to foreign-owned slaughter plants.
So Susie, the woman once rescued by a horse, saw a chance to be the rescuer. Elle, short for 1172, arrived at Susie's Lenoir City farm.
"I see the finished product, the thing I can make them into," Susie said. "We hope that they’ll be a show horse and have a good life."
Little did Susie know, Elle would be more than a show horse. She'd be a show stopper. Her 14-year-old daughter Bailey took the reins training Elle. "I’ve seen a lot of ponies like her coming from a kill pen and I just think how could people do that to their ponies? They could be so good and have so much potential and they just send them off to slaughter," Bailey said.
In this case, her intuition was right and her faith paid off. After just a few months of training, Bailey took Elle to her first big show. That's where Elle's story started getting attention. Each time a rider and horse entered the show ring, an announcer read the horse's show name and the rider's name. Elle's show name is 1172.
"A lot of the ponies at shows they have really cute show names like 'Butterscotch' or 'So You Think I Can,' all these cute little pony names. At the last show they started announcing "1172" and people were like what’s up with that show name that’s so weird and we said we wanted to draw attention to the fact that she’s a kill pen rescue. That was her tag number in the kill pen. She was just a number, she wasn’t a name, she wasn’t somebody’s pony, she was just a number looking at being slaughtered," said Susie.
During that first trip to a big show, Bailey and Elle, or 1172, qualified for the National Pony Finals, a competition for the country's most elite ponies and riders.
Pony finals are in August, but practice continues for Bailey and Elle. And in the end, it doesn't matter if they win, "It’s about the journey you’ve gone on to get there," Bailey said.
"It is a good underdog story for a little pony who had one foot on the trailer headed to Mexico going to slaughter to turn around and turn into a show pony in such a short amount of time is amazing," Susie mused.
The horse that escaped certain death, saved by the woman who beat cancer. In that way, Susie and Elle are quite similar. When death came knocking, both refused to answer.
Over the years, Susie and her daughter Bailey have rescued at least 20 horses destined for slaughter. They've helped find homes for more than 100 facing the same fate. The horses Susie and her daughter Bailey have saved now compete in endurance, dressage, pleasure, and hunters. Susie says one even made it as a Grand Prix dressage horse.