Thousands of Mares & Foals Without a Purpose or Future

Article and Photos by Marilyn E. Short

Rich and Anne Van Dyke of San Antonio, Texas have seen first-hand the PMU farms in Canada, Their farm was a drop point for a load of PMU mares that came to Texas this past February. That shipment was put together by an organization in Canada that finds homes for PMU mares and foals throughout the United States. Taking a couple of horses wasn’t enough for this San Antonio couple; they wanted to do more.

Anne explains, “When I first went up to Canada to visit and buy some horses, I didn’t really have a purpose beyond buying a few horses as potential carriage horses for myself. It was while we were there that a dream began and the vision was created.”

The Van Dykes own Yellow Rose Carriage Company in San Antonio, Texas and their livelihood depends on healthy, well cared for horses. Many of the horses used for producing HRT (hormone replacement therapy)…. better known as Premarin and PremPro were drafts or draft crosses, ideal types that have the potential to be trained as possible carriage horses for Yellow Rose.

When a study conducted to determine the effectiveness of HRT indicated a higher health risk to women than previously believed, there was a dramatic reduction of the amount of the drug needed as women and doctors panicked. Fewer prescriptions were written resulting in a drastic reduction of the number of PMU farms needed to produce the pregnant mare urine that was required for these drugs. As a result, many of the farmer’s contracts were cut.

At the time of the first cut of PMU (Pregnant Mare Urine) farms in the fall of 2003 there were over 400 farms producing the urine that was needed. The first cut in the fall of 2003 reduced the number of farms by half, the second cut reduced the number of farms to just over 120, and there is talk of more possible cuts in the future. Prior to the cuts, the typical PMU farm had hundreds of horses; one farm the Van Dykes visited had over 700 horses at one time. Now these horses needed a place to go.

Many of the farmers panicked when the initial cuts took place and sent their mares straight to market where they were sold for pennies on the dollar. These farmers felt it was the only option they had or face feeding these horses through the long upcoming winter. With their incomes severely cut, even pennies on the dollar could make a difference for their families.

The Van Dyke’s stayed at one of the farms in Canada for 2 weeks in May to hand pick the horses they wanted to purchase. While there, they helped with chores on the farm, and gained a better understanding of the process. Every morning they would go out, even during a freak heavy snowstorm with snow-covered pastures, and do a head count to see how many foals were born during the night. The numbers were amazing. Some farmers had over 100 mares due to foal in various pastures. Huge pastures, at least one they saw was 2 miles wide and 7 miles long.

The Van Dyke's stepped up to the plate with a goal to place 500 horses within Texas offering them a chance at a healthy, productive life. They have created Canexas: A Texas PMU Connection, Uniting Canadian PMU Horses with Texas Horse Enthusiasts. Anne stresses that Canexas (sounds like “connects us”) is not an adoption organization, rescue, or non-profit. Canexas is an organization that is set up to give PMU horse buyers a chance to evaluate a horse prior to purchase unlike what happens with other groups. “We buy these horses first, bring them to Texas to evaluate and start the socialization process before they are re-sold,” said Rich.

“While I certainly hate thinking about any of these horses going to slaughter,” added Anne, “it’s a cold hard fact that many of them will. With their incomes cut, the farmers just will not be able to feed all the horses they once had. And the greatest demand for the market dollar seems to be the fat weanlings and yearlings.”

“With so many beautiful, sound, healthy horses available, it is tragic that some farmers and placement groups will push the older, crippled, horses. That’s a personal issue I have with some of the so called “adoption” groups, and one of the reasons we formed Canexas.”

These are not $200 horses that Canexas “rescues” and brings to Texas to make a profit.  These are quality horses that Canexas pays fair monies for, some of which would definitely have gone to slaughter, some not, that the Van Dyke’s feel they can use to help promote the quality of horses that really are available at many of the PMU farms…and not the old, crippled, poor horses that some “adoption groups” are sending down.

Canexas was developed by the Van Dyke’s to make a difference…to purchase some of these horses and most importantly, to give them a chance at a productive life. By August 15 Canexas anticipates having purchased approximately 80 horses and relocating them to Hill Top Stables, just southeast of LaVernia, Texas, which was leased expressly for this purpose. Many of these horses have already arrived, are being socialized and some are even successfully started under saddle. A few have already found new homes.

Hill Top Stables has 24 nice sized pipe stalls/pens under cover and several fairly large turnout pens on the property. The facility is laid out to assist Anne and others with the training and evaluation of the horses. They purposely have not leased any of the pasture surrounding the stable as the horses need to be handled daily, and that would be difficult if they couldn’t catch them. A small round pen has been set up just outside the barn so a horse that is not yet halter broke can be directed into the pen from one of the stalls in the barn. After the horses have gotten used to being haltered, lead, brushed and handled, they will be introduced to the wash rack and stocks, as well as the indoor riding arena. Overall, the facility is a nice relaxing environment for the horses and the handlers.

It’s not enough for the Van Dykes to purchase the horses and bring them to Texas; they want to ensure they have the best possible chance at a new life. The greater percentage of these horses have had very little human contact, they were treated like a product…like cattle. Herded into portable pens then sorted out through chutes for branding or any type of medical work, which was minimal, meaning no vaccinations, no Coggins or teeth floating. These horses have never had their hooves trimmed in the conventional way; they were guided into a chute, strapped to a tilt table and their hooves were grinded with a sander once or twice per year. “We want to feel sure these horses will safely accept human interaction before we sell them.”

Since these horses were from a herd environment, Anne took the time to handpick most of the horses brought to Texas. While there were many things she looked for in determining which horses to pick, what Anne looked at the most when deciding on which horses was the expression in the horse’s eyes. “These horses are different from the domesticated horses most of us are used to,” said Anne. “Most are not used to a kind soft touch. They do not have the softness in their eye… no light, no interest or curiosity, they were wary and cautious, resigned and defeated… sometimes they seemed to look right through me as if I had no significance at all. Those were the hardest for me.”

Anne has started the process of socializing the horses and finds it amazing to work with these horses for the first time. “I love to watch the changes in their body language as I work with them,” said Anne. “I watch for the subtle changes, such as the turn of an ear, a softening in their eye, some curiosity and wonder. Once they start to understand what I’m asking of them, their eyes and body will noticeably soften and they’ll look eagerly for a kind stroke or a soft word of acceptance.”
Canexas is looking for experienced horse people from various disciplines to visit and assist in the evaluation process of the horses. “We don’t want to fit square pegs into round holes,” said Anne. “One of our goals is to have each horse evaluated to know where it would physically, as well as mentally fit in comfortably.”

Many individuals have come forward to lend a hand already. Sonia Flores takes daily care of the horses and has been directly instrumental with helping to get them started under saddle. Lupe Neault and Joel Kirkpatrick of San Antonio have helped with the feeding, handling and gentling of some of the horses. Bob Barton of Rockin’ B Feed & Saddle Shop of Von Ormy has provided Lone Star Bedding at a reduced rate. Louis Castro, a farrier out of LaVernia has been trimming the Canexas horse’s hooves. Having been an Animal Trainer at the zoo for 12 years, he has a calming effect on theses horses that have only been herded, strapped and grinded.

A major benefit for Canexas is the involvement of Dan Sumerel of Sumerel Training Systems (STS). Sumerel was very popular at the TETRA Equestrian EXPOs in 2003 and 2004 and will be returning to Texas for another STS clinic at the K Bar M Equestrian Center, just outside of Waring, Texas.

Sumerel not only studies the behavior characteristics of the breed, but studies the personality of each individual animal as well. Those behavior concepts are the foundation for Sumerel’s unique approach in dealing with horses. He believes the Sumerel Training System (STS) doesn’t contradict any other valid method of training, but goes a step beyond most with more focus on the individual needs of each horse due to its personality, making the training more effective, which will be extremely beneficial to the horses of Canexas coming from a herd environment.

“Horse owners need to relate to each individual horse,” said Sumerel, “not force or pressure each horse to adapt to a set training method.”

It is understood that for an equitable relationship with your horse you need the horse’s respect first. Too many training methods place too much emphasis on what kind of tack or equipment to use with the trainer conveniently selling that equipment. Sumerel’s approach that, “What you have in your head is more important than what you have in your hand” is indicative of his beliefs about handling horses. Sumerel has seen that when you devote more effort to getting the horse’s respect, you find the equipment to be less important. Also, it has become very in vogue to promote learning the horses’ language in order to begin training. Sumerel say’s “forget the whispering…listen to the horse – there’s more to it than just ear movement, licking, and chewing!” We are too quick to talk or even yell at the horse, we should be spending more time listening.

The plight of the PMU mares and foals is very dear to Dan Sumerel and his fiancé, Jocelyn. Sumerel will hold a Sumerel Training Workshop and a Charity Benefit for Canexas this coming fall. The Charity Benefit/Public Demonstration for Canexas will be held Thursday evening, September 30 at the K Bar M, the cost is $10 per person. Dan will work with one of the Canexas horses during this demonstration. The Sumerel Training Workshop will be October 2-3 with a maximum of 8 horses/owners to participate at $195 each. Auditing for the entire workshop is $95 per person. If you choose to audit for Saturday only the cost is $60 per person. Canexas will also hold a raffle for at least one of the PMU horses trained at the workshop. For more information about the Sumerel Workshop, you can contact Dan or Jocelyn at 800-477-2516 Toll Free, 434-386-8172 Phone, or 434-386-8173 Fax, email:, or visit

Canexas will host an Open House with light refreshments on August 7, from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. and another on August 21, from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Come and meet the horses and the crew. There will be a petting zoo and pony rides for the kids. You are always welcome to come see the horses on other days as well. If you would like additional information about Canexas, you can contact Anne Van Dyke, 210 912-7408 or visit

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