Zoey Luna has always loved thoroughbreds. As a teenager, working under Nancy Turrill at Foxfield Riding School in Westlake Village, California, Luna learned to work with green, tough horses, and she produced her first OTTB. When she turned pro at 18, Luna began transitioning from former racehorses to new careers as hunters, riding mounts and jumpers. Now 26, Luna enjoys competing in the show jumping ring on her thoroughbred string.
If you visit him at ZL Equestrian in Moorpark, Calif., a little dark bay gelding named Troy probably won’t stand out. But with his own Instagram hashtag, #troythekillpenrescue and a string of successes in the 4-foot ring, Troy has come a long way since he was known by a different hashtag: #7573 at a feedlot in the Texas.
In 2018, one of Luna’s clients was looking to adopt a rescue equine to accompany his oldest Quarter Horse. Her client searched social media, coming across a potential candidate for Bowie’s Texas cattle auction, and she shared the post with Luna. At first, Luna was skeptical that the animals from the sale might be sent to the slaughterhouse, but she soon realized she was wrong.
“It’s a little different now, but back then there were a ton of horses that they were asking for maybe $100 more than the meat price,” she said. “They gave them a week, otherwise they left [to slaughter].”
Luna scrolled through the listings on the page, stopping when she saw two 2-year-old Thoroughbreds. She considered buying one, but something stopped her from committing, and when she logged back on several days later, the animals had been sold. It was a Wednesday evening, and she knew that the animals still listed on the page would be shipped to the slaughterhouse on Friday morning. Curious to see what kinds of animals still remained in the enclosure, she continued scrolling.
“That’s when I saw Troy,” she recalls. “They had him listed as a 10-year-old unstarted thoroughbred at 15.2 hands. No chip number. Unbroke-like, completely wild. They wanted $800, and that included his dewormer and antibiotics.
Luna scrutinized the few photographs offered by the auction. Troy was short, slightly backward, and extremely skinny. His bare feet were worn to the bumps; his mane and tail were matted, and on the limited video footage he did not look healthy.
“How many people are going to take a chance on a little older Thoroughbred that hasn’t been handled?” she says. “I felt a little bad for him.”
Luna decided to buy the gelding. She figured she had the skills to rehabilitate him and find him a home as a trail horse or companion. Shipping it from Texas to Lancaster, California (about an hour and a half north of Luna’s farm) cost more than its purchase price. When Luna made the trip to retrieve it, she discovered that the sender had dropped Troy off in a round pen. They had to rope him up to catch him and load him onto his trailer.
“That’s where the fun started,” Luna said with a laugh. “Being a thoroughbred he was tattooed which meant at one point as a yearling he at least got a name. Normally at 18 months they start training. But he was never microchipped, so he never went on the trail. Somewhere in between, it never started. I found this out the hard way.
When Troy arrived at Luna’s farm in September 2018, he had severe foot pain. The first time Luna’s farrier worked on him, Troy needed to be sedated to get his shoes on. Troy’s teeth also showed signs of neglect, with a full mouth wave that required three separate dental floaters to fully resolve. (They also determined that Troy was only 9 years old, not 10.) But most worryingly, Troy’s mouth was filled with raw sores, and the vet was concerned that Troy had equine vesicular stomatitis, a disease highly notifiable contagious disease.
“Troy has been in quarantine much longer than expected,” Luna said. “We cultivated it and ran labs. Fortunately, it was not [vesicular stomatitis], but I just thought, ‘That adds up very quickly from my $800 horse.’ ”
The vet determined that Troy’s mouth ulcers were likely the result of eating cheap cattle feed at the cattle auction; they slowly resolved themselves as Luna gave her some time to rest and recuperate. About a month after her arrival, Luna began to gradually introduce basic skills into Troy’s daily routine, including tethering, riding, and exposure to objects such as saddle pads. Initially, Luna approached training Troy like she would any off-road horse. But she soon realized that Troy would need a different approach.
“I don’t know what kind of manipulation he had,” she said. “I’m not going to say he’s a perfect boy now – he’s a bit quirky, and that’s why he’ll never leave me – but I think he’s seen a tough hand. He’s been tested. everything that happens in the atmosphere – during a show, the world might fall apart, and he will stand there, without being scared. But if you approach him with a very strong presence, or if you approach him very quickly, he moves away as if you were going to hit him.
“I don’t know what happened, I have no way of knowing. He has calcifications on his ribs and the bridge of his nose – he has white hair and scars there. At first, I couldn’t halter her. I had to step aside, without looking at him, and slide him over his head. At first he wasn’t eating and I treated him for ulcers. There were a lot of ups and downs. »
Later that fall, Luna began basic under-saddle work. While a video taken of his second gallop Under Saddle went viral with nearly half a million views thanks to what Luna describes as “full PBR bronc mode”, in general it made steady progress after the first few outings.
“The funny thing about Troy is that once we got the ball rolling, he figured out that [being ridden] wasn’t that bad, things happened pretty quickly,” Luna says.
In December 2018, three months after her arrival, Luna took several horses to the Thoroughbred Classic Horse Show held at the Los Angeles Equestrian Center (California). Troy was still too green to compete, but she brought him in for the mileage.
“I thought I would take him just to see how he reacted, but he didn’t understand,” she said. “You could see he definitely thought he was back – he was really stressed. He wasn’t eating, and walking with him was like a loading freight train. They have a acting class where you can walk and trot by hand, and I thought I would do that, but there was absolutely no way.
When they returned home, Luna changed her approach with Troy. She began to simply spend a lot of quiet time with him – just hanging out in the round pen or standing quietly in front of the mounting pad – working to establish a relationship of trust. Eventually, their bond grew so strong that Troy was able to work unbridled and in complete freedom, following Luna around the ranch with what she calls a “locked association.”
“It was the little things that took time but built trust, and now he would do anything,” she said. “If I asked him to jump the fire, he would. I think he knows, maybe, and I know that sounds corny – he knows he was on the edge of the expedition and in a bad place.
Luna’s change in direction paid off and Troy began to make steady progress both in and out of the arena. Although he didn’t take the jump naturally at first, Luna applied the same slow and steady approach until Troy figured out what to do with his feet. About a year after having him, she felt he was ready to return to the ring, and this time it was a success.
“He never says no, never, it’s just not in his dictionary,” she said. “He’ll take anything from anywhere, whether I think it’s a good idea or not!” He’s super cool, and I can’t say enough good things about him.
Luna has since shown Troy as Ever So Clever in the 1.0m and 1.10m classes with good success, and she hopes to enroll him in a few 1.15m classes this season.
“He never says no, never, it’s just not in his dictionary,” Luna says of her kill pen rescue at 15.2 hands. Photo courtesy of Zoey Luna
“He did 1.10 [-meter] a lot of classes – it’s an absolute walk in the park for him,” Luna said. “He’s the horse in the stable that I would trust to do anything. At our last barn, he was galloping through the hills. Some shows have a cross-country field, and he’ll go jump the practice and preliminary fences. He’s small but mighty, the little Energizer bunny.
“I’m a rote jumper, for sure, but we do everything,” Luna continued. “Thoroughbreds are such versatile horses and in a sense you’re missing out on everything they can do if you don’t take the opportunity to do it all. So Troy does it all. He does beach, trail, cross, dressage, liberty, jumping.
Luna admits that Troy still has his quirks around human body language, can’t handle alfalfa (“he runs the engine for years and years”), and gets fat on the air. But he found a permanent place in Luna’s barn and in her heart.
“The thing I always say about him is he’s my rock,” Luna said. “Troy is always there like, ‘Yup, I can do this.’ ”
Do you know a horse or pony that has been rescued from a dangerous situation to become a healthy and trusted competition partner today? If you think you have a good candidate for “From Rescue To Ribbons”, let us know by emailing [email protected]