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Animal Science Student Rescues Racehorse

May 14, 2015
woman holding a horse
Lindsay Zacco with Buck. (Natasha Ogden Photo)

Buckdeer faced a career change.

He was, by all measurements, a failure.

A name change and career switch later, he’s back in the saddle again. At least, his owner, University of Wyoming junior Lindsay Zacco from West Chester, Pa., is.

The thoroughbred that finished dead last in his only race gave her the courage to pursue her dreams, says Zacco, an animal science major who has an equine science option.

Buck was sold, at age 3, to a trainer at the same Pennsylvania horse barn Zacco used. Buck was to be trained as a hunter-jumper horse after his failed race career. Zacco says Buck wasn’t working out with his new owner.

“He (Buck) and I just always got along,” says Zacco, who began riding at age 8. “With everyone else, he was a little crazy. When I rode him, he was always very good. The woman just decided to give him to me.” 

She bought him for $1 two years later and, a few years after that, Buck was in a horse trailer bound for college in Wyoming with his owner.

Buck got a name change and would major as a hunter-jumper with a minor in western trail.

The horse excelled in March at the Colorado Most Wanted Thoroughbred event, a competition that promotes the rescue of unwanted thoroughbred racehorses. Buck showed off his ranch horse and jumping skills and, with Zacco aboard, he’s at home on the range, herding cattle or helping guide horse tours on dude ranches.

When younger, Zacco and her parents vacationed at a dude ranch near Jackson. She loved Wyoming.

“I told my parents if I was going to college in Wyoming, my horse was going,” she says. “I think they just kind of assumed that.”

She later worked at the same dude ranch with Buck.

“He never really had a problem with any of it,” says Zacco. “Which is shocking. He had never seen a bear or buffalo, but he didn’t care. Black bear, grizzly, bison -- he’s pretty laid back.”

By coincidence, a Pennsylvanian posted the Colorado competition on Zacco’s Facebook wall. Zacco says Buck qualified because he had been boarded in Colorado during the year (he’s now kept about 5 minutes from Laramie).

The Retired Racehorse Project sponsors Colorado’s Most Wanted Thoroughbred event. Today’s unwanted horse topic is very relevant in the equine industry, says Jenny Ingwerson, an equine lecturer in the Department of Animal Science in the UW College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

“It was an honor Lindsay and Buck were chosen for this competition among many applicants,” Ingwerson says. “We are very proud to have one of our UW animal science undergraduate students participate in this event.”

She says the number of unwanted horses, neglect, abuse and welfare cases have increased with horse slaughter banned in the United States and the drop in the economy.

“Many unwanted racehorses can end up as an animal welfare case or going to slaughter, even though it isn’t legal in the United States,” she says. Some “ex-race” horses do find good homes and alternative futures, she adds.

The Colorado event showcases what the “ex-race” horses can do, Zacco says, including jumping, which Buck does naturally.

“He’s an unexpected horse to do so well in competition,” she says. “A year and a half ago, we thought he was going to die. He dropped about 600 pounds and was skin and bones. It’s still bizarre. We still don’t know what happened.“

They rushed him to a veterinary clinic at Colorado State University, where he stayed for two weeks.

“To go through that and be able to jump 4 feet high is kind of amazing,” she says. “In three days, he had gone from healthy to almost dead.”

The jumping comes naturally to Buck. That characteristic taught Zacco patience, she says.

“He’s always been a little unpredictable. He’s always really calm and then, all of a sudden, he’ll jump into the air,” she laughs. “He used to do it more when he was younger. Never malicious, never bad or anything like that. He just does it when he gets really excited. It’s been entertaining trying to get that out of him. But, it’s also what makes him such a good jumper.”

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