Rusty, now called “Rusty’s Some Kind of Special Rascal”

Former Maine Standardbred racehorses were rescued this June from the kill pen in Pennsylvania, where they were bound for slaughter in Mexico or Canada. A volunteer organization collaborating with the Standardbred Retirement Fund in the area was able to facilitate pulling these former Maine racers out of a painful early death and on to productive lives in retirement.

People outside of the racing industry often wonder how racehorses end up in the “kill pen” bound for slaughter. One path is through retirement from the race track to the Amish community, who use the pacers and trotters for primary transportation and for pulling a plow. After using them until the horses no longer can work, the Amish often sell them at livestock auctions or to a kill pen. Sometimes it’s due to an accident, illness, or injury; oftentimes their legs can no longer pound the pavement, and when the horses are in their teens the Amish typically turn them over for “fresh” horses. Because a Standardbred racehorse is branded or tattooed and registered, volunteers can identify them when they show up in the kill pen.


Aqualou shares his naturally friendly nature with new friend Sara.

One rescue volunteer in particular, Helen, was dogged in her pursuit of the funds and logistics required to get three such Standardbreds out of danger and into safe quarantine, with a goal of helping them return to Maine where their careers had begun. Helen and fellow rescue heroes Allie, for quarantine, and Debi, for transportation, literally paved the way for the horses’ safe rescue home, while the uncommon kindness and generosity of former owners Kevin and Tom made it possible. We celebrate the heart of such ethical and kind owners as Kevin and Tom when they reach back and do the right thing by a horse who was once theirs but who, by a series of subsequent transactions, has later fallen on hard times. It’s no easy thing and no practical matter for former owners to take full responsibility for all of the horses who’ve passed through their lives when subsequent owners abuse, neglect, or send them to slaughter. For this reason, NLHR has created an endowment fund where large donations made to the organization can keep on giving, instead of owners having to re-donate every time a former horse of theirs gets into crisis. So now, large one-time gifts can give again and again, and benefit horses for many years to come. Learn more in the article, “Large Donor Dollars Re-give Perpetually.”

Meantime, what happens next for these three Standardbreds Rusty, Sundancer, and Aqualou? After veterinarian exams and some appropriate care and planning, they get to “just be horses” for a while at one of our member farms. And Rusty’s Rascal, whose former owners Kevin and Tom made his rescue possible, has a new middle name – Some Kind of Special – as a result of their kindness. We hope Kevin and Tom’s example inspires others to step forward and Do the Right Thing when their horses are found at such great risk.

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