Being fattened up for life

Silver Ray is a shadow of his former self. Skinny, his hips stick out and his back caves in because there's not enough flesh to fill him out.

He has the equivalent of horse dandruff, and his tongue hangs out of his mouth because his front teeth are missing — a byproduct of harmful acts horses often carry out to curb anxiety or extreme boredom.

It's hard to reconcile the image he presents today with that of a thoroughbred that took top places at the Del Mar, Santa Anita and Hollywood Park race tracks in the early 1990s. In his heyday, Silver Ray raked in $268,532 in winnings.

Two weeks ago, he sold for just $30 at an auction in Mira Loma.

Cathleen Trope, president of Polo Pony Rescue in Glendale, has since taken in the 24-year-old stallion and is trying to find him a permanent home.

"Once we have him back to fat and shiny, he'll have a lot more spirit," she said.

At his stable in the Riverside-Rancho neighborhood on Tuesday, Melanie Davis, vice president of the rescue, brushed his tail and painted conditioner on his hooves.

"He's very healthy, except for being too darn skinny," Trope said.

Silver Ray eats wet hay — or what Trope calls "old man gruel." She jokes that he chews food like a senior missing dentures.

Silver Ray's story isn't uncommon. As horses like him age, they get sold from one owner to another, often to breed.

But some can fall into the hands of "kill buyers," people who snap up horses cheaply and then send them across the border for slaughter.

While horse slaughtering has disappeared from the U.S. landscape, there are still some people in the business of shipping horses off to Mexico or Canada for meat consumption, Trope said.

There are regulations in place to prevent such transports, but horse rescuers complain that they're not enforced.

Trope and Davis started Polo Pony Rescue about a year ago to find homes for former race and polo horses. They have seven horses at Trope's stable. The two get a few private donations, but most of the expenses are covered by Trope, an office manager from Hancock Park.

"Our biggest commitment to them once they come through here is that I want them never to be in danger again," said Trope, who along with Davis has been rescuing horses for years, even before starting their own nonprofit.

Rescuers often go to auctions and check for tattoos on the inside of the horse's upper lip. The tattoos act as an ID to trace registration papers, which can have information about racing careers.

Former owners or exercise riders can then be contacted to possibly chip in for future care.

"It helps save their lives," Davis said.

Some horses at Polo Pony Rescue go to what Trope calls "retirement homes" — mostly stables run by friends she has in Washington where there's cheap hay and lots of open space. She hopes to send Silver Ray to a sanctuary for former race horses in Kentucky, but spots there are difficult to get

"This is just a horse that worked really hard and certainly shouldn't have wound up where he did," Trope said.


Follow Brittany Levine on Google+ and on Twitter: @brittanylevine.


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