Hippo Manchester
August 4, 2005

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Exploring purgatory and paradise

Bold new exhibit addresses issue of women’s health and the horses that improve it

By Michelle Saturley

If you or a woman you know has ever had a hot flash or any of the other unpleasant symptoms of menopause, chances are you have heard of the drug Premarin. The drug, manufactured by Wyeth, is derived from the hormones found in the urine of pregnant horses. Women all over the United States have been prescribed the drug to relieve symptoms of menopause.

But what most women don’t know is the hellish lives of the mares raised for the sole purpose of being serially impregnated for their urine. Worse, the foals these mares bear because of these repeated pregnancies are looked at as a by-product — and are often treated as such.

Photographer Teri Gladstone became aware of the ugly underside to Premarin when she began working at Live and Let Live Farm, a horse-rescue facility in Chichester.

“We work with abused and neglected horses, re-training them to trust people again so they can be adopted,” Gladstone said. “I’m a nature photographer, so I started taking photos of the horses to record how much they changed from the time they arrived to the time they were adopted.”

Gladstone’s first exhibit of photographs was held at the New Hampshire Technical Institute’s Concord campus in February. Not long after that show, Gladstone found a new subject — one that she felt needed exposure.

“Not long after I started working at the rescue farm, we started taking in mares and foals that were part of the ‘fall purge’ from farms that raise horses strictly for Premarin manufacturing.”

Gladstone was appalled to learn that mares are repeatedly impregnated to get the hormones in their urine. After the mare gives birth, the foal is either put up for sale at auction or destroyed. Then, when the mare is no longer producing offspring at a fast enough rate, or becomes too ill to breed, she is destroyed as well. The “fall purge” happens each September, when the Premarin farms dispose of older, sickly or low-producing mares as well as foals they can’t sell at auction.

“Our farm became affiliated with the United Pegasus Foundation, which is a national organization working to save these horses and stop the Premarin farms in the U.S. and Canada,” Gladstone said. “We take the horses before they are destroyed and try to find homes for them.”

One night, Gladstone and her husband were watching a documentary about famed photographer and conservationist Ansel Adams.

“My husband looked at me and said, ‘You know what you have to do, right? You have to take pictures of those horses you want to save, just like Ansel Adams took photos of the environment he was trying to save.’”

Once she heard that idea, Gladstone was on a mission. She began taking photos of the mares and their foals as they were being unloaded into the paddock at the rescue farm. She was always struck by the animals’ unbridled fear, wondering if the place they were being brought to was worse than where they came from. That’s why she decided to name the show “Purgatory or Paradise.”

Gladstone had the unique opportunity to see both sides of the Premarin issue when she began experiencing symptoms of menopause. Her doctor immediately recommended Premarin. Though she already refused to take it because of her work with the rescue horses, Gladstone did some independent research on the drug just to be sure. She discovered that the drug had some serious side effects, including the possibility of blood clots, stroke, and breast and uterine cancer.

Though the drug is designed to be taken for no more than six months, most doctors keep their patients on the drug for several years. In July 2002, the National Institute of Health (NIH) halted a major clinical study of 16,000 women due to alarming preliminary findings. The data suggested that after only one year on Premarin, an otherwise healthy woman faced increased risk of heart attack (by 29 percent), breast cancer (by 24 percent), blood clots (by 200 percent) and stroke (by 41 percent). The National Cancer Institute also reported in another study that ovarian cancer risk in postmenopausal women increased to 220 percent if they took Premarin.

“I have a history of breast cancer in my family, so this concerned me,” she said. “I was told that the risk was small, and that even if I did get breast cancer, it would be a less aggressive form of breast cancer. I thought that was crazy! Cancer is cancer. I don’t want to increase my risk, even if it was a smaller risk of a less aggressive cancer.”

This made Gladstone curious. “I started wondering if other women really knew all the possible side effects of this drug, and what the alternatives were to taking this drug,” she said.

“Because nobody told me anything. I had to find out on my own.”

This personal experience added a new layer to the photography exhibit Gladstone had been working on.

“I realized after that, the only ones who truly benefit from this drug are the people at Wyeth,” she said. “It’s a dangerous situation for the women who take the drug, and it’s definitely a deadly situation for the horses at the Premarin farms.”

The information Gladstone found became part of the exhibit. Along with her moving, black-and-white photographs of the Premarin Farm rescue horses, Gladstone will feature statistics and information about the dangers of the drug for women. The exhibit will open August 15 at the Concord campus of NHTI. Proceeds from the show will go to the United Pegasus Foundation.

“I have two goals with this show,” she said. “I want people to see what the consequences are of using these animals to make the drug. And I also want women to be better educated about the drugs that we are being told will make us feel better. We need to be better armed with information when we walk into the doctor’s office. We need to know where the drugs come from, how they’re made and what they could do to us.”

Fore more information about adopting a Premarin farm foal, go to www.unitedpegasus.com or www.liveandletlivefarm.org. For more information about the dangers of Premarin, go to http://www.doctorsagainstpremarin.org. New Hampshire Technical Institute is located at 31 College Drive in Concord.