Covergirl at the Bombardier Open
By April Horowitz
(The Heart of a Horse Story, part 19)
Well before she arrived in California, I had already made ambitious plans for Covergirl, which were going to unfold the very week she arrived. To promote rescue and the Heart of a Horse mission, I was putting on a big event at the 100th Anniversary of the Bombardier Pacific Coast Open Polo Championships. These were going to be held at the Santa Barbara Polo & Racket Club, and I planned to make the event Covergirl’s California debut. My idea was to launch her as a poster girl for horse rescue. Kevin and all our volunteers were excited when I explained the plan to them. As Kevin put it, “Covergirl’s the one who’s going to capture the hearts of people and bring attention to the plight of the horses that are in need in this country.”
From the very beginning when I was just getting involved in horse rescue, I already was realizing that the biggest problem we faced was the lack of public awareness about horses and their needs, the cruelty that no one paid attention to and the general ignorance that caused people not to understand that horses were domesticated animals who depended on us for their survival. The bad economy, which had overtaken the country in the fall of 2008, had caused 100,000 horses to be abandoned by their owners. The only way to stem the growing tragedy was to create a new awareness among people of the condition of these animals and mobilize support for them.
Jack Roth and Arlynn Whittaker were friends in the advertising business. Jack was the head of AdMarketing and Arlynn was his CFO. When I approached them with the situation and our plans for the Bombardier Open, they put their staff at our disposal and produced a thirty-second ad spot to promote our event. To dramatize the plight of the horses, the AdMarketing team created a script with a female voiceover impersonating a horse and ran footage from the videos we had made of the starving horses from the Lockwood case. As the spot unfolded a female voice said:
I used to have a beautiful life. I was fed and cared for. And most of all, loved. But all that’s changed. It got too expensive to feed me. My owners sometimes abused or abandoned me.
Then the voiceover in the commercial changed to screen actor Robert Davi, known for his portrayal of James Bond’s adversary in License to Kill. Robert is a dear friend who loves animals and has gone out of his way for Heart of a Horse on many occasions. I enlisted him to be our mc at the Bombardier event, and to do the second voiceover on the TV spot for us. This is what he said in his deep resonant tones:
We at Heart of a Horse realize how difficult times are financially. But nothing is more devastating than what’s happening to one of the noblest creatures on earth – the horse. Please help us in saving lives. Give generously. And join us in supporting the Bombardier Open polo event, August 15.
With Jack and Arlynn’s help we were able to run more than twelve hundred of these ads on cable stations like BRAVO. We ran them from Los Angeles all the way up to Santa Barbara and the Santa Ynez Valley, at a minimal cost for television advertising, thank to Ad Marketing’s relationship with the stations. As a result, hundreds of thousands of people saw our message about the horses. In addition, KHAY Country, the big FM country music station in Ventura County, ran 100 spots about the event for us for free. Covergirl’s story was featured in the local press both before and after and I felt satisfied that just through the publicity we generated for our event, we had accomplished an important task for horses in need and inspired many more people to help them out.
I was able to get the Santa Barbara Polo & Racquet Club to sponsor the event, and then, the Bombardier company, because of my friendship with Ed Snider, the famed owner of the Philadelphia Flyers. Ed had a home in Santa Barbara and also a very big heart. I called on another friend, Bo Derek whose love for horses had been an inspiration to me, and who agreed to grace our event, and to accept an award I designed for her. Actress Selma Blair, known for her roles in Legally Blonde and Cruel Intentions, showed up unexpectedly to help us make the event a noteworthy happening. Trainer Kandice Watts, my friend and volunteer, created an activities center called Kid’s Corner with games and entertainments for the youngsters. One of the highlights was a trick horse that students from the Equine Department at Cal Poly brought to perform.
On the day of the event, two hundred people showed up, joining the thousands who came for the polo match. We gathered our ticketholders under a big white tent next to the clubhouse in the center of the field with a terrific view of the goings on. I had Peter and our Heart of a Horse film crew document the event and interview the guests. Selma Blair said on camera, “I’m here to support Heart of a Horse, which is a wonderful organization that is for the rescue and healing of horses, animals who are very dear to my heart. Horses have been very therapeutic for friends of mine and I have been involved in therapeutic riding programs.” Singer and actor Ed Ames, another friend and a horse owner said, “Everything I can do to help, I do, and everybody should help to save the horses.”
Heart of a Horse board member Robert Duvall was making a film and could not attend, but he sent a letter, which Robert Davi read not only to our group but to the thousands who came to see the polo championships:
To April and Heart of a Horse
Throughout my life and my career, horses have played a major role. From my uncle’s ranch in Montana, to the set of Lonesome Dove, my fondest memories have always included horses. They are a part of the very fabric of our country.
Thank you for being here to help in the effort to rescue and save this beautiful and noble animal.
We gave an award to Humane Officer Tracy Vail for the work she did with horses. Tracy was happily surprised when we included a romantic weekend at the Las Vegas Ramada Inn, which had been donated by its owner Pat Nesbitt. Pat also allowed us to use his nearby stables and his groom to prepare Covergirl for the event. Little Olivia, our poster girl, presented the award to Bo Derek, which read “A champion of champions. For her devotion to the well-being of our equine friends.”
The absolute highpoint of the day, however, was Covergirl’s debut. This took place before the stands full of polo fans. Using the public address system, Robert Davi told the story of her odyssey from a kill pen in Pennsylvania to center stage at the 100th anniversary of the Bombardier Open, and what a story that was. Kevin led Covergirl past the stands so the people could appreciate her. And how beautiful she was. Her newly groomed coat was shining in the brilliant sunlight, and she was wearing a wreath of roses – a tradition for racehorse winners that began at the Kentucky Derby. A ribbon across it bore the words “I Was Saved.” As she trotted past the stands, you could see that she was enjoying every minute, and Robert Davi said to the crowd, “Let’s give her a standing ovation. This horse was left for dying, and look at her now. This is what April and the Heart of a Horse Foundation have done.”
I had one more rabbit to pull out of the hat. To top off the event, I had arranged that Covergirl would be formally adopted and given a new home. Her new parents were Tanya and Alan Thicke who had never seen Covergirl but had agreed to adopt her after I had told them her story and what a perfectly wonderful horse she was. (Tanya, Covergirl, Robert Davi and Dr. Kevin Smith are pictured in the photo that accompanies this story.)
I had been introduced to the Thickes by Ed Snider and had previously taken my film crew to their ranch in Carpinteria to shoot a video explaining the Heart of a Horse mission. We called the finished video, “Who We Are.” It can be seen on our website at www.heartofahorse.org, and under “Videos” on this Facebook page. The Thickes have a beautiful ranch in the foothills of the California coastal range, with twelve elegant stables. For our film, Tanya said of horses: “This is an animal that has a heart and has a soul, and it’s our responsibility do the right thing. I think that animals bring so much love and kindness and happiness to people. When we are so blessed with everything that God has given us, it’s important for us to give back.”
When it was all over, I was happy that we had achieved the main goal of finding a home for Covergirl, and also that we had made many people aware of the plight of neglected and abandoned horses and the need for horse rescue. However, I had also hoped to raise significant funds to carry on the rescue work. After all, polo was a high-end sport and among the people who participated and who enjoyed it were many wealthy individuals who were horse owners as well. When all the costs were added up, the tent rentals, the food, and so forth, the net receipts from the event were a modest $15,000, and none of the large donations I had hoped for were forthcoming. This was a hard lesson, but was fairly typical of the horse rescue scene. There were just not a lot of charitable hearts out there for horses, certainly nothing like what was available for cats and dogs. It started me thinking that I would have to find other ways to raise the funds we needed.
Thank you, Build-A-Bear, for your recent grant award. We cannot fully express how appreciative our foundation is for this grant. Many horses will benefit from your organization’s generous donation. Together, we can end the suffering of horses everywhere.