If you were lucky enough to know John Hettinger, especially during the last ten years of his life, you knew about his burning passion for horses. “I never met a horse I didn’t like,” John would say. “Wish I could say the same thing about humans.”
He loved other things, for sure-- his family, for instance. They could light up his eyes in a hurry. He also loved his hunting dogs and would give them human characteristics, saying things like: “That rascal Bailey. What a sense of humor he has.” But John always came back to his love for horses. He loved them so much that he devoted the last decade of his life to protecting them from those who would do them harm.
Every time John sold a race horse there was a stipulation on the bill of sale that if at any time the horse was no longer wanted, John would take it back, no questions asked, and put the horse out to pasture at his own Akindale Farm. He did this because he knew that too many unwanted horses wind up on a cruel and inhuman journey to a slaughterhouse, bound for the dining tables of Europe and Japan.
No one worked more fiercely to close these cruel slaughterhouses than John. He wrote passionate ads decrying the horror of horse slaughter and ran them as full pages in The New York Times, Roll Call and The Daily Racing Form. He funded lobbyists to persuade Congress to do the right thing and close down the slaughterhouses once and for all. He argued tirelessly with anyone—friend and foe alike -- who supported the cruel practice of horse slaughter and he would say how delighted he was to annoy as many people as he did.
As John’s illness sought to defeat him, he worked even harder to defeat the enemies of the American horse. The year when his brain tumors became particularly aggressive he authored several hard-hitting ads that irritated a lot of people in Washington and the horse racing industry. At the end of the year his efforts paid off. Congress passed a law closing down the three remaining slaughterhouses in the United States. And even though it had become difficult for John to even stand on his own, he turned to his wife Betty with a huge grin on his face and said, “Wasn’t this a great year?”
John worked to save horses until the day he died. Even after that most miserable day, September 6th, 2008, the fight for the cause he held so dearly goes on.
Before he died, John set aside 1,000 acres of his Akindale Farm as a home for rescued thoroughbred horses. The horses he loved so much now have a home on the land he loved with an equal passion. When you drive down the rolling terrain of Quaker Hill Road or Akindale Road today you can see huge pastures filled with horses who are living out their lives the way horses were meant to live: free, happy and unafraid.
In the first two years of operation, Akindale Thoroughbred Rescue (ATBR) has saved more than 100 horses directly from auction houses from which they would have been brutally transported to legal slaughterhouses in Canada and Mexico. ATBR can’t save all the unwanted horses from a horrible fate, but it’s John’s enduring legacy to save as many as we can until Congress makes it illegal to transport American horses across our borders and into foreign slaughter houses.
If you want to join this great cause, please consider making a donation. Each donation makes a difference in the lives of our horses, and for horses yet to come. Consider making a donation, not just for John, but for all the unwanted horses that don’t deserve the cruel, harsh fate of the slaughterhouse.
-Nina DiSesa Goodall