On January 20, 2012, Saving Baby Equine Charity co-founder, Joy Aten, and horse advocate, Kim, finally laid to rest their efforts to bring another deserving racehorse to safety. Since the fall of 2007, Joy and Kim had watched, begged and anxiously waited for the opportunity to acquire the racing Thoroughbred gelding, Hog Heaven. They never gave up hope, even though just 11 days prior, Kim's text simply said "Hog is gone".
He had been discarded by his owner/trainer soon after his last race in October of 2009. Hog Heaven was then given to a woman who had difficulty providing proper care yet she rejected multiple offers from Joy and Kim to acquire him. When she lost her home, they thought she would finally agree, being relieved of that "burden". Instead, she sent Hog Heaven to her father's property, where Hog and his herd mate, the American Saddlebred and former show horse, Medallion's Winged Spirit (aka "Sox"), lived with the cattle. There, Hog's and Sox's physical conditions deteriorated further without proper nutrition and shelter. The father, too, soon tired of the two horses and sometime around the first of December, he gave or sold the pair to a cattle feedlot owner in Custer, Michigan. Hog and Sox were treated as cattle there as well, living in urine and manure-soaked mud, fed silage, and left alone without any human interaction.
Hog Heaven has more in common than just being a "relative" of the great John Henry. He was foaled in 1997, by Will Be Dancing out of Orbits Bower by Ole Bob Bowers...Ole Bob Bowers was the sire of John Henry.
Although Hog Heaven didn't amass millions like John Henry, he was a successful racehorse nonetheless. Running at cheap Midwest tracks, he had 102 starts and accumulated just under $157,000... sixty times Hog Heaven finished first, second or third! For all but just several of his 102 races, he had the same owner, who also refused more than once to allow Hog Heaven to safely retire to a forever home. Like the illustrious John Henry, Hog Heaven is bay in color and has the same cranky attitude, but while the former was smaller in stature, Hog Heaven is a locomotive of a horse, nearly 17 hands with a massive girth.
But any similarities the two geldings might have shared ended at the conclusion of their racing careers. While John Henry lived his final years loved, appreciated and celebrated by thousands of admirers at the Kentucky Horse Park, Hog Heaven was forgotten and regarded as nothing more than the food animals he existed with. Other than his aging friend, Sox, he was alone. The applause for his thrilling wins had long since been silent, the proud and victorious pats to his glistening neck in the distant past. It was now Thursday, January 19, 2012...in the morning the feedlot owner was sending his cattle, along with Hog Heaven and Sox, to the livestock auction.
That same Thursday afternoon, in a final last-ditch effort, not wanting to imagine Hog Heven had already been shipped to slaughter as we had been led to believe, Kim's frantic phone calls led her to the one person who could tell them Hog Heaven was still alive and his whereabouts. Within the hour, Joy heard Kim tell her: "I am standing in front of Hog Heaven right now". Time and time again, they had the gelding nearly in their possession, only to have Hog's owner deny their pleas, thereby condemning him to a cruel existence and ultimate death by starvation or slaughter.
Friday, January 20, 2012, Hog Heaven and Medallion's Winged Spirit did leave the cattle feedlot in Custer, Michigan as planned. Nearly five years after the first appeal for Hog, he was finally "coming home". Two Hundred Dollars was given to the feedlot owner for the filthy, thin former winning racehorse. With jutting hip bones and legs swollen from infection and poor nutrition, he was visually a far cry from the gleaming massive runner he once was. But the heart and guts he showed on the track were just as evident now. He stepped off the trailer then stood tall with his head high and his nostrils flared, taking in deep, fresh breaths while contemplating his new surroundings. As Joy gazed up at the towering gelding, she marveled at his beautiful presence...no physical unsightliness could conceal the courage and heart of Hog Heaven. He had taken care of himself when no one else would.
Hog Heaven, safely loaded on the trailer after his rescue.
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