Foal for love

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Ebsen adopted August from the PMU Foal Adoption Network. Photos by Robin Senter

The passion of the daughters of the late Buddy Ebsen saves young horses from certain death.

By Kim Zanti/Special to The Malibu Times

The late Buddy Ebsen’s legacy is more than amiable television characters such as “Barnaby Jones” and “The Beverly Hillbillies'” Jed Clampett. The actor also instilled an enduring love of animals in his children. For daughter Kiki, this love has grown into an avocation of connecting animals with people to honor the gift of life.

“I was always bringing animals home, since I could walk,” Ebsen said over tea on the shady veranda of her Agoura Hills ranch. “My parents were great about it and let me keep them all-dogs, cats, a family of hairless field mice. They never squashed my love.”

When not touring internationally as a singer and keyboardist with players such as Al Jarreau, Christopher Cross and Tracy Chapman, Ebsen performs at Kulak’s Woodshed in North Hollywood to encourage adoption of stray dogs.

Owner Paul Kulak said, “She’s a beautiful singer and a wonderful, charismatic person. The way she puts the music together, her voice and lyrics, tend to have a positive nature that offers up some hope and encouragement in confronting serious issues.”

Foal adoption is one of those issues. Ebsen is passionate about the subject and her two adopted foals, once referred to as the “necessary by-products” of Premarin manufacturing. The drug is prescribed to 22 million women worldwide to treat menopausal symptoms.

About 35,000 foals are born in the United States and Canada each year because pregnant mare urine (PMU), rich in estrogen, is the essential ingredient of Premarin. The foals, however, serve no purpose to the PMU farmer.

Some are sold at auction; others replace the mares. About 15,000 foals are sent to feedlots. They are fattened then slaughtered and shipped to Europe and Japan, where horsemeat is a delicacy.

“These horses are perfect, lovely, graceful, healing beings and we are putting them to death unnecessarily,” Ebsen said.

Illinois-based PMU Foal Adoption Network (PMU FANI), a 3-year-old volunteer organization, is dedicated to saving their lives.

Ebsen jumped at the chance to adopt, after one visit to its Web site, www.pmufoaladoption.org.

“There were pages and pages of horses being sent to the feedlot,” Ebsen said.

Distressed by what she saw, she called her older sister, Bonny Ebsen-Jackson, editor of Trailblazer magazine in Skull Valley, Arizona. The sisters immediately adopted four foals. Although they acted quickly, the adoption process took time.

PMU FANI brokered the adoption between the farmer and the Ebsen sisters. The foals, which cost between $400-$450 each, were adopted in August, 2002 and old enough to transport by October. Traveling from the North Dakota farm to Ebsen’s ranch took several days by tractor-trailer and cost about $300. For less money, adoptive owners can also have foals delivered to a central distribution point and then arrange for their own transportation home.

“The trip is traumatic for the foals,” Ebsen said. “I wouldn’t recommend having a baby in a load of more than 15 [horses].”

The foals are “non-papered,” meaning they are not pedigrees.

“PMU farms prefer draught or quarter horses because they’re mild mannered breeds,” Ebsen-Jackson said. “When you get them as weanlings, you can train them. You don’t need a registered horse to go down a trail and have a great deal of fun.”

She recommends that, potential owners, before adopting, realistically assess their time, money, training and ability to care for a foal.

The Ebsen sisters grew up with horses and began riding at early ages. Ebsen-Jackson laughed when she recalled, “Kiki was just fearless! She could beat me on a mare or a gelding. I could never let anyone know!”

The sisters train using natural horsemanship.

“It’s important to enter on the same plane, not as their master,” Ebsen-Jackson said. “This lets them know that you are not a predator. They have a huge flight mechanism.”

Ebsen spent 10 days sitting on hay, reading and drinking coffee, while Dusty’s Blue Rose (a roan) and August (a tri-color paint) got used to her. Because of her touring schedule, Ebsen partnered with another trainer to complete the initial groundwork.

“Watching them grow has been really rewarding,” she said.

Her husband, Steve, a production manager/sound man for the band Korn, said, “Strange as it sounds, the foals seem to have taken on some of Kiki’s personality traits. I can see a deep sense of satisfaction in her as the foals, especially Rose, make the transition from being just a scared baby horse into a more mature, talented animal.”

Foal adoption is widely considered a short-term solution to a larger problem: huge demand for Premarin. Available since 1962, Premarin has grown into a full line of hormone replacement therapy products and a billion dollar market. A sharp decrease in demand occurred recently in response to a potential link between hormone replacement therapy and breast cancer rates in women. Wyeth-Ayerst, the sole manufacturer of Premarin products, recently announced it would reduce production by one-third in 2004. A press release stated that 50 percent fewer mares would be farmed. Consequently, about 5,800 foals could be available for adoption in 2004.

Women have alternatives to Premarin. For example, a combination of stress reduction, dietary improvement, acupuncture, massage and herbal medicine can be effective. Homeopathic remedies that use the body’s natural energy for wellness can also be effective.

Ebsen, in her mid-forties and anticipating menopause, will look into these options.

“I’m going to explore other paths,” she said.

Meanwhile, she has earned certification as a member of Los Angeles County’s Equine Response Team, a rigorous training program for emergency rescue and evacuation of horses throughout the county.

“My passion is animals,” Ebsen said. “I’m just a sucker for them. They make me really happy.”