For Chance, a second chance
A down-on-his-luck horse named Chance is getting another one, thanks to the compassion of a young Andover couple.
An 11-year-old Paint gelding, Chance began life in Wisconsin, where he lived until he was 9 with a woman who trained, rode and loved him.
But the time came when she could no longer keep Chance and her other horses.
She gave them to a friend, who cared for them until this spring.
Then Chance was sent to auction.
He was bought by a horse dealer/kill buyer: someone who might sell him again, lease him for riding — or possibly sell him off for slaughter in Canada. (Slaughtering horses is illegal in the U.S.)
In the meantime Mary Thacker and her husband, Justin, were caring for their horses, dogs and cats at their home in East Andover.
A horse lover from the start
Mary, a native of South Paris, has loved horses since she had a pony as a child. After seven years with the pony, she and her family sold it and moved to Maryland. There, she took riding lessons and later met Justin.
After they married, the couple bought a horse named Sassy, as well as a “rescue” horse: a former racehorse named DOK (short for Dark of Knight).
In 2003 the Thackers moved to Andover. Justin became the pastor of the Praise Assembly of God Church in Dixfield.
They also continued to minister to animals in need, adopting an old dog, a very ill dog (which they nursed back to health), a cat and even Mary’s childhood pony (see sidebar).
Mary also taught recreational horseback riding lessons.
In June of this year some of her students leased a horse to ride with her.
It was Chance.
After arriving in Maine, he had first been leased to a children’s summer camp.
But he didn’t do well with the kids.
His next chance came with Mary’s students.
But he arrived in Andover dehydrated, with overgrown, uneven hooves and poor-fitting tack.
“They were going to send him back,” said Mary.
With two strikes already against him, Mary was fearful of what his next destination might be.
She convinced her students to keep him for the summer and let her work with him.
“I wanted to buy him, and I tried to do some fundraising,” she said. “I got some donations.”
But it wasn’t enough for the purchase price of $1,250.
Then Mary had another idea.
“I had a horse trailer for sale. I asked if [the horse dealer] would trade him for the trailer.”
The deal was made in late August, and Chance had a new home.
Mary has been working with him to make him a better saddle horse. He’s coming along nicely, she said.
Chance’s story (often without the happy ending) is one Mary says is being repeated much too often in this poor economy.
“People can’t afford to keep perfectly good horses like Chance,” she said. “They have to decide between feeding their horses and feeding their kids.”
“You look at the lists of horses to be auctioned and there’s even baby horses in there.”
Because slaughtering horses was outlawed in the U.S. several years ago, dealers have instead been shipping horses that can’t be resold for other uses to Canada or Mexico to be killed.
Their meat is then sent on to Europe, where it is considered gourmet food, Mary said.
She said Americans who worked to get the practice of slaughtering banned here simply moved the problem somewhere else — perhaps bringing more suffering on the doomed horses. The animals are often jammed tightly into shipping trailers for days-long rides out of the U.S., Mary said.
Many (if they survive the trip) arrive at their destinations with broken legs.
And once there, said Mary, the slaughter techniques may be inhumane.
A bolt hammer intended to kill them does not always work the first time, she said.
“They may still be half-conscious when they’re hung up by their hind legs,” she said.
If horses must be slaughtered, said Mary, she prefers to see it made legal again in the U.S. — and regulated humanely.
“I don’t know what the answer is,” she said. “I think overbreeding is a huge issue. People want their horse to have a baby, but they don’t think ahead to know it may be around for 30 years. And the selling market is bad.”
Becoming a horse haven
Mary hopes to do her part by getting approval from the state of Maine to serve as either a horse rescue shelter or a horse sanctuary.
As a rescue shelter, she would try to find homes for adoptable horses. As a sanctuary, she would simply provide a home for horses that are in too poor shape to be adopted.
Whichever format she chooses, the Thackers’ one-acre property in East Andover won’t be big enough.
“We’re looking to buy a place with more land,’ said Mary.
The cost to keep a healthy horse is approximately $100 to $120 a month, Mary said.
Chance needs dental attention and to have his back checked.
“I would take donations and be sure they were used for the animals, but as I said, I am not a state recognized rescue at this point,” she said.