Spared from slaughter, horse celebrates 50th birthday

Jennie Ratcliff and Jackson found each other over 30 years ago at a horse trader’s ranch. Mackenzie Atkinson photo Jennie Ratcliff and Jackson found each other over 30 years ago at a horse trader’s ranch. Mackenzie Atkinson photo

Jennie Ratcliff was only 21 years old when she met Jackson, a 16-hand-tall horse with a chestnut coat that matched her own auburn locks. Not much is known about Jackson’s life before he was purchased at auction by a horse trader to prevent him from being slaughtered. 

Nineteen years old at the time, Ratcliff sized Jackson up with a trained eye. It was a match made in heaven. She told the trader that she wanted him, took him home for a trial period, and officially purchased Jackson, who she described as gentle and amazing, eight months later. 

“He is amazing, and I’m so lucky that God dropped him in my lap,” said Ratcliff.

That was roughly 30 years ago. Over the course of his time with Jennie, he was a trail horse at a children’s camp and competed in three-day event consisting of dressage, cross country and show jumping. 

Ratcliff said that cross country was Jackson’s favorite.

“You always try and keep your horses calm before you go cross country,” she said. “We were just chilling, standing in the box and he’s standing there head down and eyes closed. The guy running the box was wondering if he was going to wake up and go. The minute I nudged him out of the box, we were gone. I used to have to do circles out on the cross-country field because he was just going.”

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Jackson is a well behaved, calm horse but has a naughty streak that adds to his personality.

“He’s such a goofball,” Ratcliff said. “One time, he had heard my truck coming from a ways off and grabbed a broom that they had been cleaning his stall with and he whacked himself right between the eyes with the broom. When I got there everyone was laughing and he was just standing in the corner and wouldn’t come out of the stall. Naughty didn’t go well for him that time.”

In September 2020, Ratcliff made the difficult decision to surrender Jackson to Hope for Horses after enduring financial hardships. She had purchased a house that needed repairs and was raising her son, Carter, on her own. She also felt that she could neither take care of Jackson on her own nor give him the life he deserved.

“It’s hard to admit that I couldn’t keep him anymore,” said Ratcliff. “It was such an emotional decision, but he is so much better here. I have no doubt that this place is the reason he has lived as long as he has.” 

Hope for Horses is a nonprofit, volunteer-based organization founded in 1999 dedicated to the rehabilitation and care of horses whose owners could no longer care for them or horses that had suffered through hardships. 

“Jackson is a symbol of strength and perseverance, a living testament to the power of love and compassion,” said Dr. Ann Stuart, board president of Hope for Horses. “Behind every step Jackson takes, there is a team of volunteers devoted to his care.”

Sandie Bagarella, the farm manager of Hope for Horses, is Jackson’s primary caregiver.

“He has brought much peace to our sanctuary and is gentle and kind with all of his horse and human friends,” Bagarella said. “Jackson does not hesitate to make a new friend when he has the opportunity, and he is an absolute love of a horse.”

Jackson celebrated his 50th birthday May 18 in Leicester at Hope for Horses’ 30-acre farm.

When taking on Jackson, the staff believed he may not have much time left, and they were glad to let him live out the rest of his time on the farm.

“I just can’t thank Hope for Horses enough for giving him the retirement and love that he deserves,” said Ratcliff. “It’s hard to take on an old horse that’s going to eat a whole lot. They are a huge financial burden and they just said that they would come pick him up. I’m so glad he can have the life he deserves here.”

Mackenzie Atkinson is a senior at Western Carolina University majoring in political science and communication. 

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