Rachael and Nicole Cullen stand ringside at the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair with tears streaming down their faces. The girls’ beloved pony, Mud Slide, rescued 16 years ago from a meat auction, is now a Canadian Champion.

“We knew he could do it, he wants to win,” Rachael said, wiping back a tear. “When they announced he’d won, I saw that our rider, Ayla Torigian, was crying hysterically. I just started crying, too. I don’t think there was a dry eye in the house..

Janet Rowe is the owner of a horse rescue stable in Bracebridge, Ontario. In 2001, she went to the Ontario Livestock Exchange, an auction sale barn in St. Jacobs. Most animals sold there go to slaughter. Her eye caught a 13.2 hh paint pony. He was severely underweight. She noted he was moving as if he was foundered and in a lot of pain. “I just kept coming back to him,” explained Rowe. “Even though the little guy was in rough shape; I knew in my heart that he had more life in him.”

Rowe paid $75 for the pony. “When he got to the farm, we found he was worse than I originally thought. We guessed him to be about 3 or 4 years old. He was still a stallion. He required a lot of attention to correct his feet and loosen his stifles. Most of all, he needed to eat…food, lots and lots of good food.”

It took Rowe almost a year to get him comfortable again. She began riding him and soon sold him to a friend as a lesson pony. Rowe lost touch with him after that, until this year.

In the meantime, Mud Slide’s career had taken off. In 2006, the Cullen family bought him for their eldest daughter, Rachael, to show in the Medium Pony Hunters. “He was still inexperienced, but my coach thought the pony had a raw natural talent. She said we could work on the rest,” explained Rachael.

The two went on to win numerous championships and, two years later, qualified for the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair, considered the Canadian Championships for English style Hunter/Jumper style riding. “He loves showing indoors. It’s like he knows this is the best horse show in Canada,” smiled Rachael. He would return to the Royal in 2011, ridden by Claire Fleming, and left as the reserve champion. Mud Slide also took the younger Cullen sister, Nicole, to the Royal, winning a class. Last year, he repeated as reserve champion of the medium pony division with yet another little rider. “We were joking with Ayla that he has won every ribbon there is to win at the Royal, except Champion,” Nicole recalled, “He has that now!”

The girls never knew Mud Slide’s background, so they said they always made up stories about his past. “We knew he was likely abused because, to this day, he still hates men. He is not comfortable around adults, but men especially,” Rachael speculated. “However, he is protective of his little riders. He just loves kids.”

A few months ago, Rowe saw Mud Slide at a horse show and instantly recognized him. She contacted the Cullens to let them know how far their pony had come. “While it is so tragic to find out that he had been dumped at a meat auction to be slaughtered, it is relieving to know his past. I can’t thank Janet enough for saving him,” said Nicole. “He is so loved right now, and will be with our family until his last breath.”

Winning the championship at the Royal means he is automatically qualified for next year’s show. “He is 20 years old now, so we are going to find a little rider to show him in the mandatory 4 shows next year to officially go to the Royal,” Rachael explained. “But he is getting close to a well-earned retirement.”  Right now Mud Slide is back at his farm in Waterloo Ontario for a well-deserved rest. (Note: Mud Slide has been at Sherwood Farm since the beginning of the lease orchestrated by Robin Hannah Carlton, who trained and coached him and Ayla to the championship at the Royal this year.)