Meet Justin Thyme: Abandoned and left to die, he fought like the champion he was—and rose like a phoenix. - Modern Farmer

Meet Justin Thyme: Abandoned and left to die, he fought like the champion he was—and rose like a phoenix.

How a throw-away racehorse kindled the birth of a horse sanctuary.

Photography by Toni Horrace

In May 2014, Jen Mansky found a horse laying in the mud in a field near Amy Yahna’s farm in Earleville, NY. He was covered with harness sores, had numerous injuries, and was so weak and malnourished that he was unable to stand. Jen quickly called Amy for help, and the two began ministering to the horse. Despite his dire condition, he nickered and encouraged them all day as they hauled gallons of water to his side, brought hay to put under him, fed him handfuls of grass and flake after flake of hay to help him gain enough strength to try and stand up. Through what seemed like sheer determination, the horse eventually managed to get to his feet and was brought by trailer that day to Amy’s barn.

That evening, the horse—nicknamed Justin Thyme—got his own GoFundMe page and overnight, a community of contributors and friends donated enough money to cover his round-the-clock care. Jen slept in the barn and, along with Amy and her partner Brian, would hoist him to his feet multiple times each week. When it became clear that Justin needed more help than they could provide on the farm, Amy raised a second round of funding to send him to the local equine hospital, Leatherstocking Equine Center.

Justin, every inch a champion

The Mark of a Champion

In addition to his overall compromised state, Justin was also suffering from EPM (Equine Protozoal Myeloencephalitis)—a common but potentially lethal neurological disease. Through his treatment, Justin soldiered on, showing a powerful will to live against all odds. After a long convalescence, the crisis was over. But one question loomed large: What path had led this horse, near death, to that muddy field? A faded tattoo on Justin’s shoulder led Amy to the answer.

Through their subscription to the Standardbred Racing Database, the vets discovered Justin had been a racehorse who had earned nearly $300,000 on tracks in New York, Ohio, and other states. At the end of his successful career, his slow, painful descent began. As Amy learned, Justin was sold through auction yards as a buggy horse—something altogether unsuitable for a pampered racehorse. He lasted only two years and, like the majority of buggy horses who can no longer work, Justin was placed in a crowded trailer headed out of the country for slaughter. Reduced to skin and bones, sick and weak, Justin fell down in the trailer. Since so-called “kill buyers” at auction are reluctant to take a downed horse, Justin was dragged from the trailer into a nearby pasture where Jen ultimately found him.

Justin and Girlie, free to roam

Hope Springs Eternal

To Amy, Justin’s resurrection epitomizes the power of horses to inspire the human spirit. In her case, he’s inspired something more: the Hope Springs Eternal Horse Sanctuary. Working with the McWilliams Collective, a professional consultancy, Amy is currently raising capital to expand her infrastructure and capacity to house and care for more horses. With her private acreage and natural environment as strong assets, she envisions creating a therapeutic surrounding where horses and humans can enjoy an interactive equine sanctuary and ecological retreat center.

And what of Justin, the sanctuary’s inspiration? He now spends his days grazing with the sun on his back and the wind in his mane, inseparable from his fellow rescue Girlie. He has many human visitors, some of whom have supported his recovery financially. Mostly, though, his retirement embodies Amy’s vision for Hope Springs Eternal: a place where animals can just be and live, without the seemingly human need to profit from them or use them in some way. It’s utopian, to be sure—but thanks to Justin, Amy thrives on hope: “He’s taught all of us that in your darkest hour there is always hope: Hope for a better way, for a better life, for healing, for happiness, and for love.”