Equine advocates lasso Willie Nelson for benefit
MICHAEL KORB , For The Saratogian 07/19/2004
SCHUYLERVILLE - We all love horses. But there's only one place this summer where you can shout out a request for "Beer for My Horses" and not have animal protection agencies breathing down your neck, and that's at the Equine Advocates Annual Awards Dinner and Charity Auction on Thursday, Aug. 5, at Stone Bridge Farm.

This could be the season's gala of galas with none other than music legend Willie Nelson set to perform at the event. That's right, Nelson (who co-wrote the hit "Beer for My Horses" with country star Toby Keith) along with his full band is making his only area appearance at an intimate evening benefit in Schuylerville, making it the one "must have" ticket this summer.

Equine Advocates is a nonprofit equine protection organization whose mission is to rescue, protect and prevent the abuse of all varieties of equines.

With Nelson's appearance, Equine Advocates has consciously made a move to the next level, going from regional rescue and placements to understanding the power of celebrity to help get out a message. Though Nelson is being paid to perform that night, there is no doubt of his love and respect for horses: the aforementioned song being just a clever aside to its breadth.

Sadly, the message Equine Advocates is trying so hard to get out deals with the dark issues of horse slaughter. There are three horse slaughterhouses in the United States (that number is up from two just a couple years ago). Like cats and dogs, horses are companion animals, and yet they too often cast aside when their commercial purpose - racing career, jumping career, PMU production, trail riding, farm use - begins to falter. Too many in the horse industry would rather earn a few hundred dollars from killer buyers (people who buy unwanted horses then resell them to slaughterhouses for a profit) than find caring homes for the healthy horses or spend money to have the ill horses humanly euthanized.

"The common denominator for every aspect of the horse industry is the slaughterhouse," says Equine Advocates President Susan Wagner. "Slaughter gives an easy out for those people in the horse industry who want a way to get rid of their unwanted horses quickly and for a profit ... What is needed is more public awareness of this cruel practice. The more it is exposed, the sooner it will be banned nationally."

Because Equine Advocates was founded to protect these animals, the organization is constantly rescuing horses. This requires not only the dedication of a number of hard-working individuals, but also the money to buy the horses before slaughter then lodge and treat them while they await placement with an adoptive family.

The organization's work has proved so important since its founding in 1996 that this year arrangements were made to purchase it's own 128-acre farm in Chatham which, after a great deal of renovation, will be able to stable up to 60 horses as they await placement.

"We really want to establish a different kind of horse sanctuary where we not only house and rehabilitate, but we also can educate the public," Wagner says. "Hopefully we can have an education center where we teach humane horse handling through lectures and demonstrations of natural horsemanship, where you respond to the horses body movements and they respond to cues and signals."

But by buying the farm, Equine Advocates has doubled its operating expenses overnight and anticipates them tripling in the near future; thus the need to get out the word with the help of celebrities. Mary Tyler Moore, Richard Gere, Chevy Chase and Rue McClanahan are all vocal supporters of Equine Advocates and its cause.

But the chance to see an icon like Nelson in such an intimate setting is truly remarkable, especially since he canceled an earlier scheduled concert at Albany's Pepsi Arena. (Nelson opens his world tour with Bob Dylan Aug. 6 in Cooperstown.)

The evening's other purpose is to recognize one individual who has shown exemplary leadership and compassion in helping to bring an end to equine abuse. This year, racing figure John Hettinger is the recipient of the Equine Advocates Safe Home Equine Protection Award for his vocal role in ending the practice of horse slaughter in the United States and for founding Blue Horse Charities, an organization which contributes toward the rescue and placement of thoroughbreds.

Hettinger has been a trustee of the New York Racing Association for nearly 20 years and is director and the largest shareholder of The Fasig-Tipton Company. Along with his wife Betty, they own and operate Akindale Farm in Pawling.

"He has become so incensed by the slaughter issue, he has dedicated his life to getting it banned," Wagner says. "He has gotten numerous racing associations to take a stand against it. Racing never really had a public stand before ... He really is a hero to all of us who care deeply about this issue."

Hettinger is the first to admit it's sad that an organization like Equine Advocates even needs to exist. "I feel a horse is the responsibility of its owner. Period," Hettinger says. "He (the owner) owes it a peaceful life and a respectful end ... I knew (horse slaughter) went on, but until people proved to me that there was a possible legislative answer, I never thought of going that way."

Now there is a federal bill, introduced by U.S. Rep. John Sweeney, which could put an end to horse slaughter in the United States. The bill is currently being held up by Virginia Congressman Robert Good-latte.

"We have enough co-sponsors to pass the bill tomorrow," Hettinger says. "Congressman Goodlatte is having his day for reasons known only to him. If it doesn't pass this session, there is always the next or the next. I don't plan to quit, ever."

Much of the Aug. 5 event, including the concert, will take place in a brand new state-of-the-art training arena built at Stone Bridge Farm, owned by Equine Advocates board member, Jeffrey Tucker. A silent auction will take place in an adjoining tent from 6 to 7:30 p.m.

The rest of the evening's festivities, including the awards ceremony, a live auction, a gourmet dinner (catered by The Lily & The Rose) and, of course Willie Nelson's performance, will be in the arena.

Tickets are $200 per person and must be purchased by July 29. Tickets will not be available at the door. Legendary Daily Racing Form satirist and cartoonist, Pierre Bollocq, better known as PEB, will chair the event. Attire is casual elegance.

For more information, or to order tickets, call 245-1599. For more information on Equine Advocates including information on how to adopt a horse, visit www.equineadvocates.com.


ŠThe Saratogian 2004