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Editorial: Camden cares for its horses

Posted: May 17, 2018 3:36 p.m.
Updated: May 18, 2018 1:00 a.m.

Horses and the equine community, in general, have played a key role in bolstering Camden and Kershaw County’s economic, sporting and cultural lives since colonial times. It can be argued that no animal is more revered here than the horse.

In the two most recent issues of the Chronicle-Independent, nationally syndicated columnist Kathleen Parker had a pair of her columns which dealt with the Kentucky Derby and horse slaughter. The first of those was written following her watching the Kentucky Derby in Camden.

The emphasis in both Parker columns dealt with the thousands of horses transported annually from this country to Mexico and Canada for slaughter. In her first column, she wrote, “If you’re a horse owner, winning can be lucrative. But if you’re a horse, it’s a matter of life and (postponed) death.”

Fortunately, in and around Kershaw County, horses which are no longer able to be competitive on the racecourse have been provided new ways to live out their lives while receiving the best of care.

Horses which may have not been able to make it on the flat track are converted to steeplechasing, with those which have put their time in running in competitive settings moving on to less stressful second careers as show jumpers, event horses or hunters. In other cases, some horses are turned out and become pleasure horses.

This part of the country is lucky to have groups which look out for the welfare of all horses, whether they have been at the track or not.

Located in the horse country of Rembert, Heaven’s Gait Horse Sanctuary provides older, non-rideable horses a comfortable home to live out the remainder of their lives. Down the road, the Wateree River Correctional Institution is home to the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation’s Second Chances program in which retired race horses enjoy vast acres of land and are repurposed to pursue a second career or be adopted by individuals who will look after and provide care for them. Additionally, the program serves a second purpose, as selected inmates go through an intense program in which they learn the proper care of a Thoroughbred which, in many cases, leads to their having productive and fulfilling careers once they have served their sentences.

Just last December, LEARN Horse Rescue (Livestock & Equine Awareness & Rescue Network) out of Aiken, saved a group of starving horses from Camden with a goal of nurturing the animals back to health and placing them in responsible lifelong homes under the watch of caring owners.

Those are just three recognized equine aftercare programs. There are many other individuals in Camden who have, or continue, to take in horses of all breeds and give them the best of care on a daily basis.

Citizens in Camden and the surrounding areas have been exposed to the atrocities involving horses of all breeds worldwide thanks to the city of Camden’s successful effort in bringing the renowned EQUUS Film Festival to Camden’s Little Theater the past two years. More than one of the many films which have been screened in Camden --- as well as in other EQUUS stops --- dealt with the slaughter and inhumane treatments of horses while offering solutions as to how to rectify these situations.

The weekend EQUUS Film Festival stop helps raise awareness of the struggles in the horse industry while also putting on display many of the wonderful things which are going on with horses and how various breeds can help humans in their day-to-day lives.

Closer to home, Camden is also home to some of the best trainers in the country, both of the flat track and jump racing variety. The care which these conditioners, their assistants, grooms and hotwalkers provide are second to none with every horse always having a set of eyes on them to make sure they are always provided for in every facet.

On hot days in the spring, summer and late fall, trainers will put box fans in their horses’ stalls. If put out in the paddock or pasture, a “cooler” is placed on the horse for its comfort. On colder nights and mornings, blankets are placed on back of a horse in order to ward off the chill while morning and afternoon feedings are closely monitored by trainers to assure each horse is given what they need in order to go about their daily routines.

Many of those coolers and blankets are produced locally by Fenwick Equestrian Products. In addition to developing young Thoroughbreds on their farm, Fenwick owners and siblings Wilhelmina and Fred McEwan are on the cutting edge of innovations to improve equine health along with the well-being of those who work with and ride atop horses. Fenwick products are known globally and their coolers have adorned horses from the Kentucky Derby to the Breeders’ Cup races to -- here at home -- the Carolina Cup Steeplechase Races in Camden.

These trainers take the Thoroughbreds in as babies, develop them while intently watching their every step and follow them through as they make their way onto the track -- and then care for them when they return or, in some cases, retire, from racing. Horses are not just put into a van and taken from their barn -- and the job of the trainer and their staff is finished. It is the ongoing care for the horses which make members of this well-meaning community unique in what they do on a daily basis when it comes to the well- being of and tending to horses seven days a week, 365 days a year.

It was the late Camden resident and Hall of Fame trainer Frank Whiteley Jr., who, while being interviewed one Christmas day at Aqueduct Race Course while tending to his string of horses there, was asked by a reporter why he was working on the holiday. Whiteley, motioning to the horses in the barn, tersely answered, “They don’t know what day it is.”

Horses under the care of professional trainers want for nothing, whether it is the best feed and bedding to ensuring the facilities and running surfaces are kept up and tended to more than once a day. Overseeing that part of the business are the jobs of Jeff Teter and Paul Anderson, who oversee the running of the Springdale Race Course and Training Center and the Camden Training Center, respectively.

Working hand-in-hand with trainers, riders and owners of horses of all breeds is a community of top-flight, highly skilled veterinarians, equine dentists and farriers who put the needs of the horses first and offer ‘round the clock care -- and will drop what they are doing to tend to a horse in need of their specialized services.

The Camden area is also filled with facilities which offer maintenance for a horse’s entire body, which are designed to get a horse back to full health following a layoff or injury.

There is virtually nothing a horse needs that its owner or trainer does not have at their disposal when it comes to keeping it healthy in Camden or the surrounding area. Such care demonstrates the compassion and concern which those in this community have for all things equine.

While we do not dispute the fact that, in some cases, horses are slaughtered senselessly (although certainly not here in Camden), there are those organizations and individuals, locally, who treasure and look out for the animal which has become synonymous with Camden. To those caring individuals in Camden’s equine community, the Chronicle-Independent offers a heartfelt thank you.

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