It’s a pretty good business model, if you think about it. People give you horses for free. Sometimes they give you money or food as a gesture of good will. In turn, you take the horses to the auctions and sell them directly to the kill buyer for about $300 each. Your expenses are limited and when you’ve sold 120 or so horses in this way, you’ve racked up a handy profit.
According to charges filed against Kelsey Lefever last week, that’s pretty much what she was doing. Now, there’s nothing illegal about selling horses at auction — or even directly to a kill buyer. The problem is that Lefever represented herself as a trainer who specialized in rehabbing and rehoming OTTBs. She went as far as to promise trainer Kevin Patterson that his horse, Beau Jaques, would never go to slaughter. Patterson cared for his horse. He’d recently spent $1,000 on veterinary bills so the horse could be placed in a non racing home. He gave Lefever $200 and 10 bags of grain to help support the horse — with an offer to provide more help if she needed it.
In return, according to the charges, Lefever took Beau Jaques and three other horses and put them directly on the trailer of Bruce Rotz, a contracted “kill buyer” for slaughter plant
Viande Richelieu in Canada. The deception was discovered when Sonja Wilhelmina Meadows, the director of Animal’s Angels, a non-profit animal rescue organization, checked for lip tattoos on the four horses and copied down two of them. After Beau Jacques was identified, Patterson was alerted. But by then, it was too late. Beau Jacques and the other horses on the trailer had already been slaughtered.
It was this knowledge that caused Patterson to contact the police — which brought the whole nasty business into the open. Lefever, who is currently free on bail, stands accused of five counts – one of deceptive business practices and four counts of theft by deception over the sale of four horses, including Beau Jacques. Three of the counts are felonies. According to statements taken by one of Lefever’s associates, she is reputed to have sent at least 120 horses to Rotz.
Sadly this is not an isolated incident. Legitimate rescues have warned owners for a long time to beware when trying to place horses they can no longer care for. Lefever played on her youth, good looks and her familiarity with racing trainers. But what she’s accused of doing has happened all over the country.
If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is
I should know how convincing these dealers can be as one of them tried to con someone I know. I wrote about it here but in summary, a woman wanted to place her pony, which has some health and aggression problems. She was referred by a “friend” to a man named John (no last name or address) who offered to take the pony for $1 and give her an excellent home as a companion. Coincidentally he wanted to pick her up right before the auctions in Agawam that are frequented by kill buyers. I’m not sure I ever convinced this woman of the fate likely awaiting her “beloved” pony, but I did manage to take her myself and place her in a legitimate forever home.
Advice from CANTER Mid-Atlantic
There’s some excellent advice posted on Facebook by CANTER Mid-Atlantic. Here’s a link to the page but for those of you not on FB, here is an excerpt:
Remember that for every horse you give away, no matter how pretty the girl who shows up is, no matter how sweet they seem, no matter if they have kids in tow, no matter if they say they are a grandmother looking for a horse for their grandchild–NO MATTER WHAT, you MUST check references and you must be prepared to listen to your gut and just say no if you feel uneasy. You are better off putting an animal down humanely before trusting that it will land on it’s feet with someone who you do not trust. Checking references means asking people for their vet or practice name, and obtaining the phone number yourself after checking the validity of the identity of the person who wants to give your horse a home. It means calling and speaking to the vet and asking questions like “how long has X been a client? How many horses does X have? How would you rate X’s fencing? Would you give her a horse of yours?”. You may get answers that require you to read between the lines, but if you’ve existed with any success long enough to have horses, you certainly have a “gut instinct”. Follow it! Your horse’s life may depend on it.
We have heard every vile story in the book over the past 15 years.
We have had women who borrow disabled children from neighbors to obtain “therapy horses”, only to sell them to New Holland or straight to slaughter.
We have had countless people show up asking for “4H horses”. (I, for one, have never met a 4H’er looking for a horse)
We’ve heard the “camp horse” angle.
We’ve heard the sick daughter angle and her dying wish is a horse of her own.
We’ve heard the “we’re really broke but will give him a great home!” angle.
We’ve just heard it all, and sometimes it’s hard to remember that not everybody has. Please tell any person you know at the track, any person you know with horses, that these people are out there, and they are out there in droves. They WANT TO TAKE YOUR HORSES AND KILL THEM FOR A PROFIT. Remember that. Kelsey’s head has been cut off, but three more will spring up in her place, and they will have t-shirts and coffee mugs, and brochures to convince you that their dimpled smile would NEVER let anything bad happen to your horses. They are liars and they are laughing every time they take a horse that you help load on their trailer so they can deliver it straight to it’s very cruel death.
Lefever is due back in court on February 6th. Let’s hope the horses get some justice.