Horse sold for £240,000 but found starving in filthy barn beats the odds to thrive in loving home

  • A horse who once sold for £240,000 but was “thrown out with the garbage” a few years later has gone on to showjumping success in a loving new home.

    War Celeste, who is by American former racehorse War Front, one of the most expensive sires in the world, was found in a group of 11 starving thoroughbreds by Irish charity My Lovely Horse Rescue in 2018.

    The mare, whose ancestry includes Secretariat and Northern Dancer, was born in 2012 and sold for nearly quarter of a million pounds as a yearling. She was sent for training but two years later was sold again, for £15,000.

    “We met War Celeste one wintry day in February 2018 when the doors of a large hay barn in Co Cork were prized open to reveal a sight that those of us present that day will never forget,” a spokesman for MLHR said.

    “Inside were 11 starving thoroughbreds. Some had access to a small muddy paddock, others were trapped inside individual stalls, standing on manure so high that the stall doors had to be broken off and the manure torn out with a digger to create a slope the horses could climb down. They came out slipping, falling, terrified.

    “War Celeste was in one of the four stalls. She was on her own, emaciated, head down, slowly dying. She was one of the horses in the worst condition and was in danger along with four others that day of being put down on site.”

    The charity took in all five of these horses, while the other six were taken elsewhere to start a new life. Two of the five had to be put down as their condition was so serious, but Celeste, Grandpa John and Kelly all survived.

    “For the first year that Celeste was with us, everything was geared towards keeping her alive, putting her on a slow and comprehensive re-feeding programme,” a spokesman for the charity told H&H.

    “It is a very tentative process when looking after a horse in such poor condition. Once we had Celeste over the first few weeks, the danger period, we sent her from our rescue farm to one of our experienced fosterers who put her out on grass. This, combined with the love and care from her fosterers, had a hugely beneficial effect on her health and eventual full rehabilitation and recovery.”

    The spokesman praised Celeste’s “unbreakable spirit”; who did not hide from humans as many rescued horses do but came to staff with “an amazing, ‘we’re all in this together’ attitude”.

    She had a fear of open spaces at first, and would panic if turned out, but “like a prisoner emerging from the dark, she eventually learned that freedom was a truly wonderful thing”, the spokesman said. “Her recovery was slow but she made it.”

    The charity did not know Celeste’s history when she was rescued but as it emerged, there was interest in her, mainly from breeders. MLHR has a strict no-breeding policy so has decided to keep the mare for good, to best protect her welfare.

    She now lives with long-term volunteer Martin Laffan and his granddaughter Abi Plunkett, who have given her “magnificent care and love, giving her time out to grass and special feed to keep body on her”.

    With them she has been schooling and jumping, and has competed at Showjumping Ireland shows.

    “There has been great excitement everywhere she goes when people realise who she is and where she came from and people are utterly amazed at the transformation in her since we found her,” the spokesman said.

    “For us her story shows both the tragedy and the glory of every horse’s life. Celeste did not make the grade as the racehorse she was supposed to be and so at a very young age was left to fall down to the very bottom of the ladder.

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    “If she hadn’t ended up as she did in that barn, she could well have ended up on the back of a truck on her way to the slaughterhouse. She didn’t deserve that, no horse deserves that. Just because you can’t run fast enough or jump high enough does not mean you should die. We don’t do it to humans and we shouldn’t do it to animals either.

    “We want Celeste’s story to show that there are so many ways to be a champion. We want her story to make everyone think of all the horses, in Ireland and all over the world, who are doomed to abandonment and death just because they are not what their owners want them to be.

    “We want people to look at Celeste and see what lies deep inside all horses, beauty, intelligence, grace and the strength of a champion, which allowed our Celeste to survive against all the odds and against everything that humans threw at her.”

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