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Saved from Slaughter

Fairfax Station couple tries to find homes for Premarin foals by Oct. 19.

Cocoa and Champagne were skinny, sickly foals when Jocelyn and Neville Connolly brought them home, barely 5 months old and rescued from a certain death.

Seven years later, the two horses are pictures of health, energetically playing with the five other horses on the Connolly's farm in Culpeper.

"They're so loving and so gentle because of the draft horse in them," Jocelyn Connolly said.

Cocoa and Champagne are two of countless horses rescued every year from farms in Canada and parts of the Midwest, most specifically North Dakota, born to supply pharmaceutical companies with pregnant mare's urine, a key ingredient in the estrogen-replacement therapy Premarin.

The foals, if not adopted by a certain date, are sent to slaughterhouses and sold overseas for human consumption, Jocelyn Connolly said.

AS A YOUNG GIRL, Jocelyn Connolly said she'd always wanted a horse and begged her parents for one. True to their word, she got her first horse in high school but didn't have another until she and her husband purchased their home in Fairfax Station.

"I was looking at an ASPCA magazine and saw an article on Premarin foals," Jocelyn Connolly said. She got in contact with Christina Follansbee, a Pennsylvania woman who had an arrangement with ranchers in Canada to find homes for unwanted foals.

This type of rescue presents some complications, Jocelyn Connolly said. When the foals are taken to auction, representatives from meat packing plants who want to take the foals to slaughter try to convince auctioneers not to sell to the rescue workers because they drive up the prices, she said.

The company that makes Premarin, Wyeth Pharmaceuticals, doesn't want the source of their drug to become widespread knowledge for fear that the demand for the drug will decrease, Jocelyn Connolly said.

Candace Steele, a spokeswoman from Wyeth, said programs are in place to help the 70 ranches they work with find homes for the foals. More than 22,000 foals have been placed to date, she said.

"We have a placement fund in place to work toward ensuring these quality animals are placed in productive markets," Steele said. Productive markets could mean farms, recreational facilities or other uses, she said.

When asked about the treatment of the foals on the farms where they are born or auction practices, Steele said she could not "speak to ranches outside of our network, but those that we work with know resources are available to help place the horses."

Follansbee was able to make a deal with someone in North Dakota that agreed to have a private veterinarian examine the foals and give them the vaccinations they need to travel for $30 per horse, thereby saving them from slaughter to find homes.

"When we got Cocoa and Champagne, they were full of worms and very sick," Jocelyn Connolly said. "We were able to get them through it with lots of love and now they're fine and healthy. They're just the sweetest little horses you can imagine."

In addition to their first rescues, the Connollys have five more Premarin foals on their farm in Culpeper, all of which were rescued.

The Connollys have been working with Follansbee for the past six years, helping her find homes for the foals she brings back from North Dakota each fall.

"This is the first year we've come close to being able to save all of them," said Jocelyn Connolly, of the several dozen horses Follansbee will bring in later this month. "We need to find homes for nine or 10 more before Oct. 19, when they are shipped here."

THE FOALS ARE sold for $1,300 each, which the Connollys said is a reasonable price for horses carefully bred by the farmer in North Dakota. Most of the foals are part thoroughbred and draft horses, which gives them their kind temperament and good athletic ability.

Neville Connolly said he and his wife were won over by the demeanor of the horses.

"When you walk out to the barn, the next thing you know, you're getting nuzzled by all these horses," he said. "They all come right up to you. They want to love you so much."

Bob Carson and his wife, Rae, of Aldie, Va., said they were inspired to adopt a Premarin foal earlier this month.

"There's a young lady that boards her horse on our farm and she asked to use our trailer to pick up a foal," Bob Carson said. "We went with her to pick it up and went back the next day to get ours."

Carson said it was "love at first sight" for his wife, who urged him to go back and adopt their thoroughbred and Clydesdale mix foal, Annabelle Lee.

"We already have thoroughbreds and a pony, so we thought she'd fit right in," Carson said. "When we brought her home we put her in with the pony and she bonded right away."

The pony taught the young horse how to eat grain and the two have been playing in their pasture for the past two weeks, Carson said.

"She's such a little doll," he said of Annabell Lee. "We'd recommend other people getting one of these horses. They're far too nice to go to the slaughterhouse."

Most of the horses are halter broken when they arrive at the Connolly's Culpeper farm, which they built to accommodate their expanding equine family.

"We miss Champagne and Cocoa looking over the fence at us in the morning," said Jocelyn Connolly. They are currently looking to sell their Fairfax Station home, hopefully to another family of horse enthusiasts.

"If you get a foal from this kind of farm that's paying attention to the breeding, you're not only getting a quality horse but you're saving their life," Jocelyn Connolly said.

A Haymarket veterinarian used by the Connollys for their horses said "they've never seen one of our foals in anything but excellent shape," Neville Connolly said. The foals are not physically different from other foals; they are simply bred in excess to keep up with the demand of urine for the drug.

"The farmer in North Dakota won't let the horses off his farm if there's anything wrong with them at all," Neville Connolly said.

"The only thing we can do is to fight it through legislation," Jocelyn Connolly said. "There's no reason why these horses should be slaughtered."

According to Norm Luba, executive director of the North American Equine Ranching Information Council, 5,600 foals are produced in conjunction with the pharmaceutical industry's need for pregnant mare urine used in Premarin every year.

Luba said, however, that any rancher associated with Wyeth Pharmaceuticals that sells horses to slaughter is violating their operating contract.

"By contract, the ranchers who breed these foals have to sell them to productive markets," Luba said. "Any rancher that doesn't comply with that is in jeopardy of losing their contract."

Some of the foals from Canada, however, aren't so lucky.

"The horses there are treated like cattle. They come over in horrible shape," Jocelyn Connolly said, describing the unfortunate condition of Champagne when she first arrived at their home. "It absolutely breaks your heart."

As more information about the foals becomes widespread, people around the country have been contacting rescue farms about adopting the horses.

"There's a police woman from Texas who is coming up to adopt three foals," Jocelyn Connolly said. "She wants to try to convince the Texas police to use these foals for their mounted police unit."

Eventually, the Connollys hope the demand for Premarin will decrease, as alternative medicines become available. Until then, they will continue to work with Follansbee to find homes for the foals she rescues each year.

In the meantime, the Connollys are working with rescue groups to urge Congress to pass legislation to stop the slaughter of Premarin foals and the mares that produce them.