Thursday, October 17, 2013

Starving, Abandoned US Race Horse Thriving in Ontario

Starving, abandoned U.S. race horse thriving in Ontario

A starved former racehorse found abandoned and partially blinded in the Florida Everglades now has a new life at a St. Catharines farm.

Robin Hannah constantly talks to Prodigioso, who's blind in his right eye, when they're working.
The former racetrack horse has become a confident jumper.

By: Valerie Hauch News reporter, Published on Wed Oct 16 2013  As posted on

To look at him now — a sleek chestnut Thoroughbred who flies over jumps, knees tucked, ears pointed forward in concentration — you’d never know that the same horse was found starved and partially blinded in the Florida Everglades.

Nowadays, Prodigioso, who has developed a fondness for Scotch mints, is considered the smartest horse at Sherwood Farm in St. Catharines where he’s lovingly tended by owners Marilyn Lee-Hannah and her 27-year-old daughter, Robin Hannah, who trains and rides her “special guy.’’
They adopted the 6½-year-old former racetrack horse who “loves to please’’ in May. They saw his photo on the Facebook page of the non-profit horse rehabilitation group, Florida TRAC (Florida Thoroughbred Retirement & Adoptive Care Program) and were moved by his story.
And a sad, but not particularly unusual, story it is.

South Florida SPCA took this photo of Prodigioso shortly after finding him abandoned
in the Everglades with a cement bucket tethered to his back legs.
Someone had called the South Florida SPCA after seeing Prodigioso by the side of an Everglades road in July 2012.
“He was a starving rack of bones,’’ said South Florida SPCA spokeswoman Jeanette Jordan, adding that abandoned horses are common in a state with no legal slaughterhouses.
The frightened horse had rope burns on his back ankles, which were tied to a bucket of cement. He’d been dragging the bucket along “in search of food and water,’’ said Jordan.
Had the SPCA been able to prove who owned Prodigioso when he was found, criminal charges would have been laid, said Jordan.
Prodigioso also had scars on his face, feet that oozed with a painful thrush infection and a right eye that had been freshly blinded.
“He could have run into a tree — there’s no way of knowing’’ how his eye was damaged, said Celia Scarlett-Fawkes, vice-president and intake director of Florida TRAC.
The group, which helps former racetrack horses find “second careers’’ and works closely with the SPCA, agreed to take Prodigioso into care.
The Jockey Club in Kentucky registers Thoroughbreds and they all have tattoos under their lip. That’s how Prodigioso was identified.
His racing career was less than stellar: the first time he ran was in March 2011, the last in January 2012 when he came 11th. His best showing over the entire period was a seventh-place finish.
When horses are not winning races and not covering the cost of their upkeep, some owners will just give them away and wash their hands of the animal, said Jordan.
After a couple of months, the horse, which had visibly trembled on arrival at Florida TRAC’s rehab centre, started playing with other horses. He “had to get new bearings’’ to get used to only having one eye, said Scarlett-Fawkes.
By about nine months he had recovered to the point where he was ready to be matched with a new home. He weighed about 450 kilograms, a healthy hike from the 225 to 270 kilograms he weighed on arrival.
But while the handsome horse was a “pretty little mover’’ with a long, loping stride, most people backed off when they heard he had only one good eye.
Not Marilyn Lee-Hannah, who was perusing Florida TRAC’s Facebook site and was taken by the fact Prodigioso was a dead ringer for another horse she’d once had and loved.
“My daughter said, ‘We just don’t have room.’ ” (They currently have 35 horses, 12 of their own, the rest boarders.) “I said, ‘He’s blinded in one eye,’ and she said, ‘We have to have him.’ ’’
Lee-Hannah saw him once in Florida before he was transported to Canada in May. She and her daughter have never regretted the adoption, which has been written about a couple of times in the online publication, which highlights the success stories of former racehorses.
“He’s special and he knows it!’’ said Robin Hannah, who’s preparing Prodigioso — called Piper when he’s at home — for a show in Lexington Va.
“When I first started working and riding him he was nervous of all new things. To help him cope with the vision loss I do lots of different things with him, and show him there is nothing to be afraid of.
“Now he is so brave and takes me over to investigate things he would shy from before like tarps, water, dogs, etc. I talk to him non-stop while riding him . . . let him know it’s OK.’’
Hannah and her mother say they’ll never sell Prodigioso. They hope to keep training him, at a slow, unhurried pace, to increase his confidence and show that former racetrack horses can have successful second careers in competition and as companion animals.

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