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Fact Check Friday: The 52 Free Thoroughbreds

Yes, in 2011, there were 52 free Thoroughbreds in need of homes. No, they don’t still need homes. Get all the facts here so you can help set the record straight with your friends and family!

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Autumn changes to winter; the snows come and go. And annually, the infamous “52 free Thoroughbreds” posts emerge from their slumber and start to make the rounds of the internet once again.

We’re not really sure about the mechanics of how exactly this works — every year, it’s a brand-new post, dated just a few days prior, but with the same old copy:

FREE HORSES!!!! 52 thoroughbred horses need homes. Will go to Sugarcreek this Sat. for slaughter. Gentleman died and his son wants nothing to do with them. Most broodmares are broke and some are in foal weanling, yearlings, 2 yrs. and 3 yrs. old most are gelded. FREE and papered. Friend of the deceased is trying to find homes. 440-463-4288 Barnesville, OH.
Please copy and paste this on your status
I would hate to see all these horses put down. PLEASE someone help they are FREE and papered!!!!!!!!

The most recent iteration was created on January 2. With a recent date stamp, to the unaware but well-meaning, this looks like an urgent, brand-new post with horses in need of homes RIGHT NOW. Likely, this has already been shared to you several times in the past 24 hours. It’s a bizarre phenomenon that this particular (fake) post, every year, goes truly viral… especially when there are horses in need of homes every single day.

The truth of the matter is that all 52 of these Thoroughbreds found homes… eight years ago. The original post is from January 2011.

On January 27, 2011, Daniel C. Stearns, DVM passed away, leaving his Thoroughbred breeding and racing operation in the hands of his son Dan Stearns to dismantle. Prior to his death, the senior Stearns made provisions with his son to place certain horses with certain people, with the rest to be placed in reputable homes preferably in the Thoroughbred industry. Stearns made it clear that none of the horses were to go to kill buyers or first-time owners who might put the horses in a bad situation.

A friend of the Stearns, Lynn Boggs, posted the first urgent message on Facebook to help network homes for the remaining 52 horses — and within hours, had reached an international audience. She fielded calls and messages from all over the world, and within four days, all of the horses had found new, safe homes, mostly right within the Ohio area.

Boggs’ original post did not include any language about the horses going to slaughter — but shares and copies of the post mentioned the possibility that the horses would ship to slaughter if homes were not found. That was never Stearns’ intention, though the newfound urgency with that changed language did help the post gain even more early traction.

The original story is a reminder of the positive power of social media — but the re-emergence of this post and its subsequent annual viral urgency reminds us equally of a darker side. For whatever reason, this particular post grabs the public’s attention in a gripping way that drives everyone to share it like crazy, while real horses right now in 2019 in need of good, reputable, safe homes linger at rescues and placement agencies waiting for new owners as their social marketing gathers dust.

Just now, while writing this story down at our family farm stand, my sister-in-law got a phone call from a family friend to tell her about a post she had seen on Facebook about 52 free Thoroughbreds and asking if there was anything we could do for them. Imagine if we could grab the public intrigue about horses in need right now and enjoy the same kind of viral marketing and quick networking that placed all 52 horses back in 2011!

So let’s use this viral post as a soapbox, horse lovers — when your friends and family share it to your wall or your messages with pleas for help, encourage them to make a small donation to your favorite horse-related charity to help horses in need of help RIGHT NOW. The more people we educate, hopefully the fewer will share this post next year — and the more will be encouraged to help animals in need today.

Oh, and quit sharing those stupid Johnny Depp memes. Those are almost as bad as the original post.

Go riding.

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