Sanctuary Stories

The Racehorse Marked For Slaughter, Turned Sanctuary Nurse

Cici Devine was bred for racing, but when she didn’t perform she was sanctioned to a kill pen — until Equine Advocates stepped up

Jessica Scott-Reid
Published in
5 min readDec 2, 2019


Photos provided by Equine Advocates

Twenty three years ago, Susan Wagner was working in the horse industry, but says she knew nothing about horse slaughter. The Queens, New York native was working at a zoo, caring for an old horse named Gandalf, when the revelation, she says, hit her like a punch to the stomach. Gandalf was in the zoo’s petting area, not behaving well and biting children. “So the zoo decided to get rid of him,” Wagner says. “One of the other animal keepers said to me, ‘Oh well, he’ll probably just go for meat. You know they eat horses in Europe and Japan.’” Wagner was floored, “I was working in the horse industry and had not known this was going on. I couldn’t believe it.” And it was in that moment that everything changed, she says. She knew she had to save Gandalf, and eventually many more.

Today, Wagner is the co-founder of Equine Advocates, a sanctuary in New York State, about two hours north of New York City. Gandalf is also named co-founder. Her 140 acre property is home to 80 horses, many who were seized by police in cruelty raids, saved from petting zoos or PMU