On November 30, 2018, numerous 911 calls were made by horrified motorists traveling north Florida’s I-75 when seeing a horse simply standing in a ditch alongside the fast-paced interstate.
The Alachua County Sheriffs Department responded and found a gelding who, while badly injured, stood quietly on the side of the busy highway. The horse had multiple lacerations, and one knee was badly injured. Another call was made to Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic, and Dr. Erica Lacher and her husband Justin Long (who later authored Adventures of the Horse Doctor’s Husband to document this, and other, experiences; you can read the book review here!) made their way to the scene, horse trailer in tow.
Even though the horse’s wounds were serious, he remained quiet and cooperative; he was then transported to the vet clinic where further evaluations were made. It was determined that surgery would be needed on his knee…which presented a problem. Surgical clinics are not cheap, and while no one wanted to see this calm, sweet horse – now dubbed Teddy Bear Highway – euthanized, there was no doubt this mission was in need of funds.
A suggestion was made to start crowdfunding through social media and GoFundMe – and within hours, multiple thousands of dollars were donated. Highway’s story had gone viral, and donations were pouring in from good-hearted people across the globe. As a result of the incredible generosity of all who were touched by his story, his surgery and recovery were a success, and Highway is now living out his days in peace and love with his new forever owner (she is clear he is not available for adoption now or ever again) at DreamCatcher Horse Ranch in Clermont, Florida.
It was hard to understand how Highway – a beautiful black gelding – ended up on the side of the road like so much garbage. The Alachua Sheriff Department began an investigation and far from what was thought to be a simple escape from a responsible owner (or something similar in explanation), Highway’s story became a horrifying tale of multiple owners…with his final destination nearly being the kill pens.
According to a local newspaper, the last owner of record stated that she had purchased Highway and, for whatever reason, he would buck when being ridden in the arena. Whether an effort was made to determine the cause of his discomfort, physical or mental, is not clear; a suggestion was made that perhaps he just didn’t want to be a competitor.
The owner stated that she did not want anyone to get hurt and decided to have Highway (not his name at that time) euthanized, and a man offered to do it for free. But, of course, the man did not “euthanize” her horse – rather, he loaded him up with a trailer full of other horses to be sold to the kill pens.
Hence Highway’s now-famous journey on I-75, in which the driver of the trailer forgot to fasten the trailer door and Highway was either thrown out onto the highway or backed out. When truckers flashed the driver of the horse trailer and he pulled over, he simply got out, looked around, closed the door, and took off. (I guess if you are willing to make a living hauling horses to an ugly death, then one lost on the side of the road is just a loss of revenue and nothing else.)
Highway did himself a favor by taking his fate into his own hands (okay, hooves), but what about his traveling companions? They were obviously not so lucky. While much has been made of Highway and his miraculous turn of events, he is not the only horse to find him or herself in such dire circumstances. We must understand that while he may be an ambassador or symbol in the horse rescue industry, the bigger picture is much like sticking your finger in the dam to hold back devastating floodwaters.
The content below this paragraph goes into detail about the heartbreaking background of what awaited Highway on the other end, that makes rescues like Yvonne Barteau’s Horses Without Humans so necessary. While it’s incredibly important information that needs to have a spotlight on it so that we can start to change it, consider this your Content Warning.
Over a hundred thousand horses a year in the United States are being trailered to the Mexican or Canadian borders for reasons of money made in the international horse meat industry. It doesn’t mean these horses have necessarily outlived their usefulness. The list includes babies, pregnant mares, champion horses, well-bred horses, the racehorse industry and any other type of horse that becomes disposable because someone no longer needs or wants them; it is all about our callous regard for life and the making of a dollar.
You can argue that everything dies, and while that is true, humans are responsible for how these horses die – and how they live until they meet that death. Crammed into trailers in such great numbers they cannot move, they are given no water or food for hundreds, sometimes thousands of miles in metal death chambers that have no air or heat while standing in their own urine and manure. There are horror stories like the thirty-plus horses in a trailer that caught fire in Tennessee – all of them burned alive.
And yet, while we all feel sad at hearing such tales, the agenda continues.
Of course, you will hear the argument of how cows, pigs, and chickens are also transported to their deaths from factory farms, and I agree. Cattle trailers whiz by on our highways, and we give little thought as to what these animals go through to meet their end. Whether they are fried with branding irons, babies removed from their mothers after day one, or chicken’s hearts still beating while being dunked in boiling water, the meat and dairy business on a factory scale is ugly and inhumane.
As humans, we have forgotten where our food comes from and most of us are guilty as charged. Those chicken nuggets bought in a fast-food drive-through for a buck cost more than a dollar in terms of suffering.
Do I suggest we all become vegan? Not necessarily. But we do need to take responsibility for where our food comes from. Be aware of the true cost of what lands on your dinner table.
Horses are not allowed to be slaughtered in the USA for many reasons. One is the fact that most horses are sprayed with pesticides, and even given them internally. You cannot control what a person puts on his horse or what they feed it. Many products you buy for the comfort of your horse states ”not to be used on animals intended for food.” But it apparently does not matter to other countries how our horses are maintained and the loophole we have provided to ensure they are supplied with horsemeat is on our heads.
Regulations are constantly changing to favor corporate bottom lines; whether in the name of Highway or some other noble steed, we need to concentrate on closing the loopholes that cause pain and suffering.
Horse owners need to take responsibility for where their equine friends go when it is no longer feasible or desirable to keep them. I always fume when I see a classified ad that reads 20-year-old horse needs forever home. Somewhere in that 20 years they probably thought they HAD a “forever home”! While there are no guarantees that any horse will remain with its current owner, we at least need to protect their futures the best we can. Circumstances can change overnight and we need to be prepared if that happens.
Most horses headed for the kill pens are not presented with the same opportunity for escape that Highway was given. It has been a little over a year since he became the miracle horse. Let’s not forget what he stands for.