Worth the drive

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In advance of Equine Advocates’ 14th Annual Awards Dinner and Charity Auction Thursday night at Canfield Casino in Saratoga Springs, local freelance writer and PR/digital media consultant Alyssa McClenning made the trip to the organization’s base in Chatham, N.Y. 

“Are we going to take my car, or yours?” I ask my friend while eyeing his 1998 VW Cabrio.

The 5-speed is stripped down to its black primer, the morning sun catching spots of rust.

“Let’s take mine,” he says, “it’s better on gas mileage.”

I’m fastening my passenger side seatbelt and I notice the Cabrio’s odometer is several ticks past 250,000 miles. As soon as I hear the belt click in, I immediately unclick it while mumbling that I’ve forgotten my cell phone car charger.

“Um,” Kyle says somewhat coyly. “The charging port doesn’t actually work.”

I click back in.

Soon we’re on the road, making our way to Chatham to visit Equine Advocates, whose mission it is to rescue, protect and prevent the abuse of horses. The drive from Saratoga Springs to the quaint town in Columbia County is a mere 45 minutes, mostly consisting of beautiful countryside.

We’ve put the top down and between Kyle’s smooth, stick shift driving and an iced coffee hitting my blood stream, I find myself taking to the car I had nearly written off just a short time earlier.

Pulling off the main road onto Equine Advocates’ shady tree-lined drive, we’re greeted by Karen Wagner, the organization’s vice president and development director, who emerges from the farmhouse.

“We’re so glad you’re here!” she gushes. After pleasantries, she heads back inside to work on the organization’s upcoming fundraising gala and hands us off to Paula Bacon, the former Mayor of Kaufman, Texas, who successfully led the fight in 2007 to shut down a horse slaughterhouse in her town, to tour us around the 140-acre property.

We’re first introduced to Press Exclusive, who comes over for a quick hello – a media availability, I suppose – before ducking back in the shade. The 19-year-old Kentucky-bred mare raced 48 times and $436,810 for her owners, yet somehow ended up on truck bound for a Canadian slaughterhouse. She was rescued after nearly being trampled to death on that journey and now spends her days with her two pasture-mates – Sapphire and Femke.

We walk along the back edge of the property, where a slow moving train is passing by, and up over a knoll to a pasture full of miniature horses and Sheltland ponies. Mary Kate is the first to stick her head through the gate so Kyle and I can give her attention. Matt soon wanders over, captivating us with his unusual cream coloration and various polka-dot-like markings. This group, some of whom were rescued from game farms, is by far the most receptive to people.

We go on to meet Hayden and Annie and Ella and a handful of others who are willing to wander over to the black fence posts and say hello.

I’m struck by the fact that equines of all kinds – Thoroughbreds, Standardbreds, Quarter Horses, saddlebreds, camp horses, miniatures horse, donkeys, Amish work horses, mules and wild American mustangs – call Equine Advocates home. In addition to housing over 80 equines, the organization has played a role in rescuing thousands of others from slaughter, abuse and neglect.

Before we go, Paula brings us over to the Humane Education Center where experts and visitors gather for tours, lectures and summits. Equine Advocates’ dedication to education is an element that sets them apart from others.

Education is a major reason why Jeffrey Tucker, the organization’s board chair and whose name is written on the plaque hanging on the outside of the Center, got involved.

“Education, especially when provided to young people, is the means by which we can continue to build an understanding of the beauty of the horse, their care, and the resolve to end their slaughter and abuse,” Tucker said. “Understanding and bonding with equines through education will hopefully discourage the mistreatment of horses as well as all other animals.”

It’s nearing lunchtime so Karen ushers Paula, Kyle and myself out of the sun and into the farmhouse to hear about our tour and offer up dining recommendations in downtown Chatham. While she rattles off a few spots, I notice her dining table covered in live auction items for the upcoming gala.

The Equine Advocates team – like the rest of us – are getting into the #Pharoahtoga buzz. My eyes scan the original painting of American Pharoah by world renowned California-based equine artist Katie Upton (pictured at right), a halter worn by American Pharoah and “Sleeping Beauty,” an original work of American Pharoah’s awakening of the Triple Crown by legendary equine and political cartoonist, Peb (Pierre Bellocq), who will be honored at their largest fundraiser along with Eclipse Award-winning writer and author Bill Heller.

I click the calendar app on my phone, which has 6 percent battery life left, and check my availability for Thursday night. It appears to a commitment-free night for me; a rarity for summer in Saratoga.

“Are there still tickets available for the gala?” I inquire.

“Yes!” a volunteer pipes in from the other room.

I tap the details into my phone – “Equine Advocates Awards Dinner ::: Canfield Casino” – and add three horse emojis, followed by “Press Appearance, Mary Kate and Matt” for good measure.

My stomach begins to growl, a sure sign that it’s time to go. We bid adieu, hop in the car, and agree to come down for another visit before the end of summer.

Once we’re back on the main road, I reach over and turn the radio on, scanning the channels for something cruise-worthy. I land on a mellow tune and attempt to turn up the volume a bit.

“Oh,” Kyle says nonchalantly. “The radio only plays at one volume right now.”

It sounds perfect.

Equine Advocates will honor Peb (Pierre Bellocq) and Bill Heller at this year’s event and those interested in attending the gala may call (518) 392-0175 or email [email protected] for tickets. Others unable to attend, but interested in financially supporting Equine Advocates or visiting the horse sanctuary can read more about how to help at www.equineadvocates.org.