BOWDOIN, Maine — The horses were to go on the truck at 2 p.m., headed to slaughter from a Washington state “kill pen.”
Meghan Murphy, a Cape Elizabeth 12-year-old, was online looking for a riding horse to lease when she found a website called Auction Horses.
“I clicked on it and I saw there was this little 11-month-old that they were going to kill, and they were stopping feeding him on the day that I had found him,” Meghan said. “I decided that I couldn’t spend my money on me just getting a horse to ride when a horse is going to die if I didn’t help him.”
The horse, Geronimo, she renamed Dreamer, short for Dream Catcher.
Unexpectedly, she also rescued a second horse, GummyBear, renamed Murphy for his resemblance to a jumper named Murphy’s Irish Gem.
Slipping a blue halter onto 4-month-old Murphy in a small pasture at Triple J Farm in Bowdoin last week, Meghan recalled their first meeting.
“Dreamer wouldn’t get on the trailer without [Murphy], so I said I’d take both of them,” she said.
She kissed Murphy on the forehead.
“I just decided that if I didn’t save him, he was going to die.
“He was only 4 months old. So it was a pretty easy decision.”
“The day that I found them, they were going to be killed,” the girl said.
Meghan found them at 11:30 a.m. and said she had two and a half hours to find them temporary quarantine.
Kill pens are not supposed to be allowed to kill foals still with their mothers; these two were orphaned, Meghan said.
“Their mothers were killed, we’re guessing when they were around two months, because their mothers would be fat at that point and sent to a slaughterhouse.”
Meghan said that without Dreamer taking Murphy under his wing, “there’s no doubt in my mind that Murphy would have died, because Dreamer protects him.”
The girl notes scars on Dreamer’s body, most notably a kick mark on his forehead.
In a kill pen, a stallion like Murphy would go in with other stallions ranging from his age to 20 years old, “and they would kill him.”
It’s a practice and industry Meghan has been learning about, and disagrees with.
Horses have been bred to be companions, not to be killed or eaten, she said.
“It’s really hard to think that someone would kill them, and it’s not a business that needs to exist or should exist,” she said. “Kill pens shouldn’t exist, and slaughter shouldn’t exist. Slaughter really exists because of overbreeding, breeders and backyard breeders.”
There are kill pens over the border in Canada where horses in Maine get shipped, Meghan said, as well as in Mexico.
According to a June U.S. News article about federal approval of a slaughter plant in New Mexico, horse meat can’t be sold in the United States but can be exported, and is sold for consumption in China, Russia, Mexico and other countries.
Meghan said “kill buyers” can be found at auctions, bidding on the least-desired horses so they won’t be outbid, spending probably not more than $20 each on a horse.
“So really what needs to happen is slaughter needs to stop, because we can’t rescue them one at a time.”
Safety in Bowdoin
Meghan said she has been getting the horses used to lead lines, halters, turnout, grooming and people.
Just since their arrival a week ago on Aug. 23, Murphy showed how he could be led, walking in a circle and backwards.
The young horses also have to be trained to pick up their feet so the farrier can come. Murphy tends to point his toes outward, probably because it was easier to stand like that with weak bones — a result of malnutrition.
He has already put on some fat in place of bone, filling out in his neck, legs and hips, and his ribs aren’t as visible as when he was rescued, Meghan said.
The horses had stopped being fed Aug. 9, she said,
“He’s just been eating and eating and eating,” Meghan said of Murphy after he arrived.
Meghan’s parents were supportive of her mission to save Dreamer — and then Murphy, too — as long as she paid for them.
Her mother, Debbie, told her she could make all the phone calls — except to the actual kill pen.
Meghan’s first call was to Jan Marconi, who owns Triple J with her husband, Jim, off U.S. Route 201 in Bowdoin.
Marconi connected Meghan with Brogan Horton, who is involved in rescue work all over the country, and put Meghan in touch with a rescuer in Washington state, Lauri Smith, who was able to go and get Dreamer and Murphy.
Smith also quarantined the horses, which is required before they can cross state borders, and pointed Murphy to quotes for transporting the horses to Maine.
That’s where Keene Kessler and Brooke Bullard Thomas of Horse Carriage Transport found her.
Usually booked for days, weeks or months, Keene Kessler happened to find himself in the proximity of Washington state in between jobs and decided to connect with Meghan.
Without charge, Kessler drove the two horses more than 3,000 miles in seven days to Bowdoin, never leaving them alone until they arrived the night of Aug. 23.
Kessler stayed overnight and helped Meghan give the two horses what was probably their first baths ever the next morning.
Murphy has never been handled and, like Dreamer, never experienced grass or trees.
“It takes patience and a lot of love and care,” Meghan said. “You can’t rush them.”
She’s received many donations and contributions — from carrots to shampoo.
“Five dollars pays for one bale of hay, and one bale of hay gives them two days of food,” Murphy said.
Happy at the Triple J
Her two rescuees will be very happy at Triple J.
Every horse wants a job, and these horses will tell her if they want to be ridden, jumpers, or be “pasture buddies,” Meghan said.
When it comes down to it, horses are wild animals, she said, and “they let us ride them. Riding is a privilege.”
Her whirlwind effort to save these horses “has helped to shape me as a person, but it’s about the horses,” she adds.
“The American dream is really that everyone gets an equal opportunity and an equal chance and everyone deserves second chances. And if I didn’t rescue them … they weren’t even going to get a first chance.”
Triple J Farm’s Home of Healing Horses is the farm’s therapy program, “and I hope that … if they can be used for therapy, I’m going to let them be used in the therapy program because I helped them, and maybe someday they can help other people,” Meghan said.
“They’re so much happier,” she said on the hot, sunny day last week as the two young horses grazed, then let a reporter take their picture.
They were in shock when they arrived, she said. But already they have bonded with her.
Her big plans for them?
“I just want them to be happy,” she said.
Meghan says she couldn’t have saved Dreamer and Murphy without the help of several people: Jan and Jim Marconi; her parents; Keene Kessler and Brooke Bullard Thomas of Horse Carriage Transport; Brogan Horton; Lauri Smith; Lauren Atherton; her mentor, Chris Lombard; and many others.
Fun and funds
“I’ll be raising money for a while,” Meghan said. The corrective trimming by the farrier will be expensive and she’ll be paying $400 a month for the combined board of both horses, which is also discounted.
By mowing and babysitting, she had saved nearly $3,000 when she set out to lease a horse, and the impromptu rescue has left her with closer to $1,400.
She has paid the first month of board, and said she is thankful someone has committed to cover the following month’s board.
But she still needs shoes and medicine, and is trying to get veterinarian services discounted.
The horses have worms, and Meghan is going to try to get her 4-month-old horse extra-nourishing food.
“I pet-sit; I baby-sit; I work any jobs I can. I mow lawns and stuff to help pay for them, but it’s just not enough,” Meghan said. “We’re not rich.”
She jokes that, at age 12, “I have bills!”
While mowing lawns and babysitting may help, she’ll likely need more assistance keeping the horses on the right track.
She can be contacted at 799-8899 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
With future costs piling up, is it daunting?
“I have no regrets,” Murphy said. “I had help, but I saved two lives, and I don’t regret it at all.”