Telling the Story, “Born to Die” – How Nurse Mare Foals Are Getting a 2nd Chance at Life
Sue Morrow grew up as a “city kid,” dreaming about horses. Never given the chance to ride as a child, she decided to pursue her passion later in life, and in 2007, she bought herself horse riding lessons. It soon became clear that she would never become the great rider she’d dreamed of.
“I’m a lousy rider,” she says with a laugh. “I started way too late in life.”
Instead of riding, Sue was content just being around horses. In 2010, she called Victoria Goss at the Last Chance Corral in Athens, Ohio and asked if she needed any volunteers.
Sue tells me, “I called her, and I said, ‘You need help muckin’ stalls?’ [Victoria] says, ‘Yeah, come on down.’”
For Sue, the chance to muck stalls turned out to be a life-changing opportunity. At Last Chance Corral, she discovered the fate of “nurse mare” foals―baby horses that are slated to die. She is now making a documentary about Victoria Goss’s work at the corral.
The Issue & the Responsive Leader
Nurse mare foals are horses that are born so that their mom will have milk. After the mom’s milk comes in, she is taken away from her own baby to nurse a thoroughbred baby instead. Foals, even non-thoroughbred, are often separated from their moms so the mom can be impregnated again quickly or put to work.
The orphaned babies that are left behind are likely to die. Victoria Goss takes them in and tries to bring them back to a healthy state. While the existence of orphaned foals is undeniable, there are no official numbers on how many are created each year. Breeders acknowledge the use of nurse mares, but don’t say how often they are used.
Even though it seems like a difficult story to witness, Sue has found the opposite. Victoria is about the same age as Sue and she inspires her with her energy and passion.
“This woman is strong like bull,” Sue says. “She never stops moving. She’s had so many injuries, you know, being thrown off horses. She’s had a broken back. Her hands are amazing. You know, they’re just completely work hands.”
Most importantly, Sue says, “The horses trust her. She is obviously a leader. The animals know it. She is tough with a heart of gold.”
It All Started with a Calendar
Although Sue has been a photo editor throughout her career, she was interested in branching out into multimedia. In 2011, she received a fellowship from the Knight Foundation to go to graduate school. It was while she was in school in Ohio that she began volunteering at the corral.
Her volunteer work at the Last Chance Corral soon led to a multimedia project. It started almost by accident after she took some photos of the horses and made them into a calendar.
“I made maybe twelve calendars for Last Chance Corral’s holiday fundraiser. One of them auctioned off for like a hundred bucks,” she says.
Both Sue and Victoria were delighted with the $100 donation. The other calendars were mailed to friends of the corral.
Later, Sue got a call from Victoria, which surprised her. Sue shares with a laugh, “She never calls because this woman is busy!”
Sue continues, “She calls and she says, ‘Sue, are you sittin’ down?’ I said, ‘What’s going on? Is everything alright?’ She goes, ‘Oh everything’s great; I just opened up a check for five thousand dollars. It’s because of your calendar.’”
The next season, Sue made a short video for Victoria to send to donors. It was also well-received. Since 2011, their multimedia efforts brought in more than $70,000 in donations, a god-send for the Last Chance Corral and a wake-up call for Sue Morrow. She was shocked.
Calendar Leads to Documentary
Sue decided she had to continue to tell the story of these orphaned horses.
“It’s a beautiful thing,” she says, “just to show the viability of animals that would be otherwise dead basically.”
She organized a Kickstarter campaign to fund a full-length documentary, “Born to Die.” At first she was uncomfortable asking for money, but discovered that people who love animals are drawn to the story. She was astonished when the well-known alternative rock band, Cake, sent her a generous check in the mail and a donation to Last Chance Corral.
As her work crossed the line from journalism to advocacy, Sue gave a lot of consideration to the risks involved. She looked for signs that the Last Chance Corral was a worthy cause.
“Victoria understands that sometimes the do-gooders create harm for a situation and that’s a very fine balancing act,” Sue says.
Victoria was honest with Sue about the corral’s mistakes in the past, like the year she “tried to save all of them,” but found that their death rate increased. Today, the corral chooses to stay small because the high-touch, technical work isn’t possible on a larger scale.
She Kept Going Back
Along the way, Sue wasn’t just deciding if she trusted Victoria; Victoria was also deciding if she trusted Sue. Students would often come to photograph the corral but never came back again.
“I kept going back,” Sue says. “And that’s one thing that I’ve learned from a lot of the photojournalists that I’ve worked with over the years; they keep going back.”
Today, the women are intensely grateful to one another and are excited to be bringing the message of the corral to a wider audience.
The Power of Believing in Something
As an editor, Sue knew the power of the medium, but hadn’t experienced it through her own work.
“I work with driven people,” she says, “and I thought I understood how they felt about a story but now I really understand. I know how it feels when you just believe in something so much that you’re gonna do it no matter what.”
Editor’s note: Sue Morrow is Assistant Director of Multimedia for the Sacramento Bee. Although she is no longer raising money for her documentary via the Kickstarter campaign, she urges people interested in nurse mare foals to donate directly to Last Chance Corral. You can find out more about the documentary at http://borntodie.org/.