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NZ thoroughbred found in US kill pen

May 5, 2011

by Neil Clarkson

Updated: Cusack: the story so far

Cusack is a New Zealand-born thoroughbred who found himself a long way from home and under threat of a trip to a slaughter plant.

The 11-year-old, who raced for four wins on Kiwi shores, ended up in a kill pen in Washington state in the United States, with his fate likely to be an abattoir north of the border, in Canada.

Cusack in the kill pen this week in Washington.

Salvation for Cusack is half way across the United States, in Kansas, and Horsetalk has intervened to help it happen.

Cusack ended up at an auction house, where $US600 was put on his head.

The price was dropped to $US500, in a bid to attract a buyer who might provide the gelding with a future.

Come next Monday, Cusack's time would have been up. No buyer, no future.

A Kiwi living in Florida, Susan Young, saw Cusack's picture online at the auction house and recognised his New Zealand brand. She contacted Horsetalk.

Cusack's plight was highlighted on a US online forum, where members monitor such sales in the hope of finding homes for horses like Cusack.

Deb Johnson, of Kansas, found out about Cusack through a Facebook link posted by a friend and felt she could provide him with a lifelong home.

She intends to give Cusack a home on the 40 acres she shares with her husband, 22-year-old daughter, and six horses.

"I've been trying to figure out a way to bail this boy out and get him to Kansas," Deb says.

Given Cusack's Kiwi connections, Horsetalk planned a fundraising campaign to get the money together to rescue Cusack, but it was clear time was too short.

To ensure Cusack's welfare, the website agreed to underwrite the cost of buying Cusack and shipping him interstate to his new home.

"We've put the cart before the horse, so to speak," said webmaster Robin Marshall, "but time was running out. We're still confident Kiwis will want to help to have a share in giving Cusack a great life."

She hopes Kiwis and Americans will still rally to raise the money necessary to meet Cusack's costs. Transport is likely to be $US800, plus some veterinary costs to make the interstate trip.

His new home with Deb is about two hours west of Kansas City, near a small town called Westmoreland.

She owns an Arabian horse, a Missouri foxtrotter, a registered paint horse, and a registered quarter horse. A friend also grazes two Arabian horses with her.

Deb says she hopes Cusack may suit a career in trail-riding, but only if he enjoys it or is up to it.

She is eyeing up events run through the American Competitive Trail Horse Association, which are becoming increasingly popular with horse owners in the US.

If a career cannot be found for Cusack, she is happy for him to live out his life in retirement.

Deb says she fell in love with Cusack when she saw his pictures.

"I took one look at him and thought, "Oh my God. He shouldn't be there."

Reports indicate that Cusack is placid and easy to handle. He looks to be in good body condition.

Deb, a former ski coach whose career was ended by injury in 2003, says: "I have a vet, chiropractor, body worker and equine dentist on board with helping this guy once he arrives.

"I can take care of his Coggins and health certificate for transport.

"I know a good horse transporter here, and if Cusack is healthy enough for the trip, we can get him moved rather quickly."

Deb says her horses all get yearly shots, regular worming and teeth floating.

"Everyone lives here on site, and receives daily care, attention, riding, or ground play," she says.

"This is a good place for him to be able to live out his life, and just be a horse."

She says competitive trail-riding would a good sport for Cusack, if he is healthy and willing, and he would represent off-the-track thoroughbreds in Kansas as the wonderful horses they can be.

"There is life after the track, and OTTB's make wonderful trail partners. This is only if he wants this job. If he just wants to graze and retire, that's exactly what will happen."

Horse heaven at Deb's place awaits Cusack in Kansas.

Cusack was bred in North Canterbury and his training for a racing career unfolded on a wide and sandy local beach.

Ironically, the future for the well-travelled horse now lies about as far as you can get from a beach - in the picturesque land-locked state of Kansas.

Cusack was born in 1999, by the respected stallion Simon Snorkel and out of a McGinty mare.

His breeders were Chris Rowe and Michael Stokes, whose wife, Tarsha, trained him.

Stokes told Horsetalk that Cusack - named after his wife's favourite actor, John Cusack - was born on Rowe's Mt Grey Downs property.

Tarsha trained him on nearby Waikuku Beach.

Rowe and Stokes raced him on their own account for a racing record that included four wins, two seconds and three fourth placings.

"He won his first race as a three-year-old," recalls Stokes. "He won three in a row for us."

After that, he was sold to interests in California.

"He was lovely to ride," he says. "He was a good natural horse. He had a few little tricks on the ground, but I imagine he would be a lovely animal now.

"He had some real ability. He liked to race back in the field, sometimes sitting last, and swooping."

He suspected they raced him on the pace in the US, which would have taken some adjustment for Cusack.

Records show his racing career in the US was brief, from May to August 2007, for a first, two seconds, and a third.



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