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A very Lucky day

Local families save thoroughbred from slaughter

April 21, 2012
By KIM LOCCISANO - Staff Writer ( , Times Leader

"Around the barn we just call him, 'Lucky.' But when we first got him, his name was Number 789." His formal name is now, "Thank My Lucky Stars."

That was the number - 789 - that was stamped on him at the auction where he had been purchased by the slaughter buyer, and it was expected he was heading to a certain death as soon as the truck he and nine others had been crammed into immediately after the sale arrived at its destination: a slaughter house in Canada.

Such buyers are not normally allowed to attempt to purchase horses at auctions affiliated with Camelot Horse Weekly, explained Lori Ulman.

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Mikayla Westlake, St. Clairsville, will compete with “Thank My Lucky Stars” or “Lucky” for short, this summer under the expert instruction of Lori Ulman, the owner of Springhill Stables in Colerain. Lucky definitely earned his name, as he was one of a lot of ten thoroughbreds saved from slaughter.

That number and a few words on a Facebook page would lead to a little slice of heaven for this now 15-year-old thoroughbred gelding, thanks to the pleas of a teenage girl and a handful of adults - all with strong ties to Ulman, owner of Springhill Stables in Colerain.

His luck took a life saving twist when a local teen, who loves horses and riding, fell in love with a tragic tale she saw on the Facebook site, Camelot Horse Weekly, which promotes networking efforts to save horses in need of caring owners after they go through a more traditional auction process without being initially purchased.

The reality: a group of horses who came to be known as "The Camelot 10" had been initially sold at auction - unwittingly - to a "slaughter buyer."

Miraculously, when the nature of the initial sale was discovered, the auction owner contacted the buyer and struck a deal to buy back the 10 horses if the man would bring them back to the site in New Jersey where they had been purchased just days earlier.

"No one expected anything could really be done to save the horses from what seemed like certain death, as they were being trucked to a slaughter house in Canada," shared Ulman, owner of Springhill Stables at Equestrian Meadows Farm in Colerain and the E. J. Joseph Farm in Wheeling.

Ulman's student, McKenna Coyne, had introduced her instructor to the unusual Facebook page, Camelot Horse Weekly, and the two had been regularly monitoring the information on horses coming up on the page for sale when news of the very unlucky 10 horses began spreading nationwide via the social networks.

As soon as the nature of the buyer's professional intentions were realized, a groundswell of emotionally charged pleas from thousands of fans and followers of the now popular Facebook page moved the businessman to try to reverse the situation.

It was nothing short of a miracle that changed the fate of "The Camelot 10."

It truly was their lucky break, as the highly unusual business deal of returning horses to the auction owner was successfully transacted.

The horses had been packed into a tractor trailer for transportation from the Cranberry, N.J., auction site to a slaughter house in Canada.

Number 789, who would soon come to be called "Lucky" arrived back at the New Jersey auction location in much worse physical condition than when the truck with the "Camelot 10" had pulled out of the area after the initial purchase was completed.

Normally "slaughter buyers" are not allowed into the auction, but it happened, explained Ulman. She explained they do not usually transport the horses in any way that provides for little more than essentials - and sometimes there are too few of those supplied them while in transit.

Impassioned pleas by Coyne to her sympathetic riding instructor started a chain reaction of events that would land the then 14-year-old thoroughbred gelding as a permanent resident of Ulman's barn in Colerain Springhill Stables, thanks to the kindness and generosity of a group local families with deep ties to Ulman as an instructor and friend, agreed to purchase a small part in his salvation.

It would prove to be the deal of a lifetime for them all.

Ulman, a lifelong accomplished equestrian herself as well as being a successful instructor, owns a number of horses, but she admits none are quite like "Lucky."

She has been responsible for guiding numerous teams of riders and horses successfully through the various levels of this rewarding but exacting, demanding and generally unforgiving discipline known as "hunter jumpers," specifically "hunt-seat equation."

A year ago, she opened her heart and barn to the thoroughbred gelding she only knew as Number 789, the impersonal identification number he was given as he was readied for sale.

Life at her barn in Colerain Springhill Stables has never been the same since, and everyone involved in the unusual purchase could not feel better about how everything has turned out, as Lucky has become a winning member of the teams mentored by Ulman.

A little more than a year ago, this blue ribbon winning Thoroughbred hunter jumper was just a few days short of a certain death at a slaughter house in Canada.

When his current teammate, Mikayla Westlake, an 8th grader from St. Clairsville, readies him for regular workouts in the arena under Ulman's expert instruction, any trace of Lucky's former bad luck streak has disappeared completely.

Once he had been safely delivered to the local barn on a quiet hilltop in Colerain, Lucky was kept apart from the other horses being boarded at Springhill Stables, or who are part of the established group Ulman owns and maintains there.

"He was in pretty bad shape by the time he arrived here. He could hardly walk off the trailer. His legs were badly swollen, and he had gotten some pretty bad cuts from kicks while they had been in packed into the truck on the way to the slaughter house in Canada," recalled Ulman. "But they were injuries that would heal and did, and we knew we were already going to quarantine him for a month anyway."

"He would get walked a little, but we needed to give him time to get used to life in this quiet setting where he was suddenly getting really good care all the time," Ulman offered.

Once the period of quarantine was completed, it was time to see what kind and quality horse they had actually purchased for $450, and the cost of getting him from the auction site in New Jersey to a healthy and happier life at the barn in Colerain.

"When you look at this whole thing, we went into it blind. We bought him literally with only two lines of a description on a Facebook page to consider when it came to deciding whether or not to buy horse Number 789," recalled Ulman.

Once he was ready to get acquainted with life at the spacious barn, Lucky wasted no time when it came to letting his personality and athleticism shine.

"When McKenna started riding him, he very quickly showed us he could do what we had read on the Facebook page that he was supposed to be able to do. He is an awesome jumper; has a gorgeous trot and canter, and for the most part is just a really great horse," Ulman offered, noting with a smile that he does have a few quirks - as he should. After all, he is a thoroughbred, and they are expected to be anything but boring.

Group ownership of Lucky originally included Ulman, McKenna and Jenny Coyne, Mikayla and Cheri Westlake, Katrina Spichek, Sarah Schneider, Pat Bonititabus and Amy Berry.

Since connecting with Lucky through this unusual transaction, Ulman and the other adults involved in the transaction will readily acknowledge it is wonderful to be able to have a positive impact on the world around you, but they freely admit understanding there is no way every horse can be saved - even though such passionate efforts are put forward through Camelot Horse Weekly.

But the real value of the experience for the adults has been sharing it with the younger riders, for whom this has been a benchmark experience - a true chance to make a real difference in the world by committing to something worth working for and following it through over what may be a relationship spanning several decades, as Lucky and his young teammates all find their respective path into adulthood and beyond.

Ulman often shares a 2012 wall calendar featuring stunningly beautiful photos of the many life-worn horses making their way through auction and a hoped for sale to a caring home through the resources of Facebook and Camelot Horse Weekly's page on the social network.

But there is one particular photo she makes a point of talking about to those who have just learned of Lucky and his trek to the local riding stable: it features a small dog and a horse.

"The little barn dog's name is Rosie. They say she goes up to every horse that comes through Camelot Horse Weekly and promises them they will get a good home."

Welcome home, Lucky.



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