We had to meet the SPCA at a secure location to discuss the strategy of approaching the rescue site. As we wait for law enforcement to secure the location and insure our safety of entering the property my stomach churns and the stress headache begins. A couple tablets of Advil and I walk away from the conversations that are just passing the time away. As I mentally prepare I try to go through the worse case scenario I can imagine. Reports were- starving horses, mares, geldings, babies, and a stallion. Lord, what am I going to do with a crazy stallion? Someone hollers and jerks me away from my thoughts…they’re ready. As we once again pile into our trucks I remind everyone to keep focused and keep their mouths shut and watch for my commands. It is very tempting to tell the owner off when we see the deplorable conditions horses are in. We approach and after we have two geldings loaded we are ordered off the property by the ignorant owner. So we wait just outside the property line while the vet takes notes and pictures of the next two. In the meantime the owner is videoing the process of the horses being removed. We back the next trailer in and try to load a bone showing mare and her lethargic baby. The mare panics and gashes her head on something inside the trailer. I bring the baby up so that she can see it on the other side of the panel and she calms down. The owner is trying to film the incident and I shut the door and tell my driver to go. Next is the stallion…as I wait in anxious anticipation to see what is going to happen next I see this gorgeous, but weak and belittled stallion walking quietly beside my handler. He loads without worry…too weak to fight or care. Only two more to go. Everyone is loaded, we have our paperwork…and we are on the way home to care for hurting horses. The headache has diminished and now feelings of disgust have entered as we discuss what we have just witnessed.
The next 24 hours brings veterinary and farrier care. The two geldings were okay, one has an injured shoulder, the other one appears to not to have been hit by the vehicle….yeah, I said vehicle…this owner decided to run into them all with a vehicle! The mare is very weak, emaciated, not surprising since there wasn’t anything but weeds to eat, she was nursing a foal and was pregnant. Triple whammy I would say! Not sure if she was hit, but she is loaded with scars and has a v shape gouge in her hoof….how on earth did that happen? The nursing baby had a 50/50 chance of survival. The vet suspected she would have been dead in 48 hours if we had not rescued her! We help her walk. We show her the water bucket, try to see if she knows what grain is, we even pick grass and encourage her to nibble on it. She is cute but so skinny you can see every rib and hip bone. Mom is very protective even in her weakened state, but we show both mercy and grace. The stallion…he is so weak he is easy to handle. Has lice, overgrown hooves, leg laceration, and a pretty sore hip. Guess who got hit! Everyone gets vaccinated, de-wormed, and gets a Coggins test done. They are in quarantine till results come back. Their nutritional diet is discussed and a plan is set. As I document everything that we do the realization of how close these guys were to death hits and then my disgust grows. As I tenderly and carefully handle these abused horses I see their beauty within…I also see the fear and pain. We have difficult cases ahead of us now…we not only have to help them recover from their physical injuries, but we have to work on the mental and emotional abuse they suffered. That’s were the danger can lie. We name everyone…we are not usually given their names. I name the mare Greta and the stallion Buddy. The kids name the others. Since these two are the most difficult I do not allow anyone else to handle them in fear that they may get hurt. A strict rule at Meadowgate. The following months prove to be very challenging and I find myself in some very tight and dangerous positions in order to help them. As they have become stronger through our care they are more and more difficult to handle. Greta is gaining weight and does not want to be touched at all. I carefully maneuver around her and the baby. The baby named Nikki loves the attention and has grown used to being handled and touched everywhere and is starting to act like a healthy foal should…but she has a ways to go.
The time has come to trim Greta’s hooves. It requires sedation. I work with her ahead of time and sneak a lead line on her…the farrier and vet have arrived and she knows something is up. She goes into survival mode. As we dangerously sedate her she is fighting it with everything she has. We get one foot done and we need more sedation. The other front is done and we are holding our breath. I have asked our farrier to put their life on the line also. More sedation…one back foot is done. The baby is near, but Greta feels she must fight to protect and survive. My arms and hands are ready to give in from struggling to hold her, but we have one more foot to go…the worse foot and the worse side to work on. A little more sedation is needed. I can’t believe she is not passed out on the ground by now! Some struggling, but the sedation takes affect and we are able to complete our mission. Imagine how we all feel now…it has taken an hour and half to trim four feet! As we all are physically drained and mentally exhausted we sit down and take a break. I vowed not to put her through this again while she was pregnant, but it was something we had to do to help her no matter how costly!
We babied her through the rest of her pregnancy and it paid off. She delivered an amazingly beautiful filly with perfect confirmation and muscle mass. During this time we tried everything we could think of to gain her trust. Some days were better than others. We weaned her new baby from her when it was time and gave Greta several months to recuperate. Again there were days we could approach her and days it was out of the question. She was beginning to show visible signs of pain from her injuries. The right front foot had apparently been broken at some point in her life and had fused…she could not bend it when she walked. It was painful for her to bear weight on it so trimming was almost impossible. She was not any further along really than she was when she arrived as far as being handled. She had recovered her weight, etc. but I felt the pain was enough to have her re-evaluated. In discussing with the vet her previous injuries and where we were and where we were not I felt it was best to do the best thing for Greta. As a rescue organization our goal is to remove horses from a suffering lifestyle. We did this for Greta, but now she was suffering in a different way. The decision was made to give Greta peace. As the tears slid down my face that day and as I tell this story to you now it made me even more determined to stand in the gap for those that can not stand up for themselves and strive to make a difference. I do not understand abuse. I do not understand why people abuse an animal. I do know that I am here for every horse that can find its way to me. I know that I need your help. I need you to stand up for a creature that can not say, ”I am hurting”, “I am sad”, “ I don’t want to be here, please help me”. Be brave, be willing to take an extra step. Help for them can be just a phone call away. It does not mean that they will be removed from their owners. It may mean that the owners need some educational help and it may be a good “wake-up” call for them to realize that they have a big responsibility as an animal owner. But nothing will be any different if someone does not take that first step. Please be aware of the animals around you and don’t be afraid to “make tears disappear”.
He was a very nice looking bay stallion… at one time. As one of my handlers was leading him away from a life of abuse he quietly walked into the trailer…too weak to fight or resist. He must have been thinking anywhere is better than here! I secured the door and flagged my driver to leave. When I arrived at our quarantine area the handler was walking him around his paddock introducing him to his new home. It was then I noticed the laceration on his leg, and the tenderness of his back hip, due to being hit by a vehicle, on purpose… by his owner. We gave him some hay and water and I gathered the needed medical supplies to see to his leg laceration. He quietly stood as I cleaned his leg and applied our Miracle soap. I gave him a small portion of grain and moved on to the next horse. He needed a rest, anything else could wait. The next day he seemed to be a little more relaxed, but on edge. As I carefully groomed him I discovered he also had lice. After treating him for that I just sat down and watched him. He could be very pretty, but it would take a while to get the ribs to disappear. His mane was long and black, nearly touching his shoulders on both sides. He had some muscle mass. There was lots of hope!
He received his veterinary exam and was vaccinated, dewormed, had a farrier visit and now it was just a matter of time. Over the next few weeks he gained weight and strength, had a beautiful copper shine, and was increasingly more difficult to handle. Now that he had gained physical strength he did not trust any of us and was always prepared to show it. Regardless of what we tried, he continued to completely guard his life. As with any severe abuse, once the physical needs are being met the next step is to work on the emotional and mental trauma the horse has experienced. This is where the real challenge lies. There were many times I put myself into some very dangerous positions that I would not allow anyone else to do, but I did it because “Buddy” needed something. We held his feed bucket and could get close enough to him to rub his neck or touch between his ears, but that was it. Anywhere else he was off like a bullet! I realized that we were going to have to go at his pace and prove ourselves worthy. After several months it was time to geld…we should have taped the event. The vet will never forget the day, neither will the farrier! As I put a lead line on him everyone else was busy getting ready to perform the procedure. Well, I could not hold him once he realized something was going to happen. He was off and running. Our farrier managed to get the rope and hung on as Buddy gave him a wild ride on his knees around the field. I managed to get a couple of other ropes tied to the lead line which gave us quite a bit to work with. I took down part of the fence so that we could secure the rope around something solid…like a tree. As we pulled him in to the tree the vet was able to sedate him. Buddy was out like a light! As the procedure was performed he also received a trim on all fours. Now we had a big horse on the wrong side of the fence under sedation…well now what do we do? Several of us pulled him inside the fence and I repaired the fence just in time for him to come out of the sedation. We have talked often about our wild west day, but it was all done to benefit Buddy and to make his life better.
Our new barn was built and it was time to move everyone to the new facility…everyone except Buddy. Who at this time needed someone more than me to deal with tearing down the brick wall he had built around his life to survive. I contacted someone who in my mind is a “man of miracles”. It took him only 3 hours to catch and load Buddy in the trailer. I was mentally exhausted but Don talked the whole time and explained everything he was doing with Buddy and why. My emotions were mixed as he drove away, but it was for Buddy’s benefit. Buddy proved to be Don’s biggest challenge ever. “That horse actually kept me awake at night trying to figure out how to reach him.” Don told me. Buddy came home to Meadowgate two months later all saddled up and ready to ride. I stood there with my mouth dropped open. I have learned a lot from Don and from Buddy. It was Fall before Buddy actually let his guard down with me. I had to earn his trust and I had to prove myself to him everyday because of someone else’s ignorance and rotteness. We played games. It did not take nearly the amount of time to put a lead line on him as it used to. He let me pet him anywhere. I could go freely in and out of his stall without the panic stricken fear that he used to have. Even had enough trust in our farrier to calmly have his feet done on a regular basis. We had managed to achieve all this by understanding, respecting him and his fears, and showing him love and kindness. We also showed him how to respect us and our space and that it goes hand in hand. I believe he knew that I would not lead or ask him to do anything that would hurt him. He was very intelligent! There were many obstacles to conquer, but it was one day at a time. I didn’t have to abuse him to get him to do something that I asked of him. He learned my hand signals and vocal commands. What an accomplishment! I have learned patience in a way that I did not know I could have. Was I protective of Buddy…you bet! We had been through too much together. Buddy stayed with me at Meadowgate till the day he died. But stories like this, is why Meadowgate exists. We are here to make “tears disappear” anyway that we can. By now you should understand that they do have feelings…many feelings. They are very much in tune with what is going on around them, and will often exhibit personalities like their owner. In Buddy’s case there was so much fear and lack of trust, but time really can heal. And that time must be quality time, with respect, love, and earned trust. So do not feel that the horses in your neighborhood have no hope…that they are too far gone…or whatever. If you see abuse and neglect, or suspect it…have a heart and do something. Help for them is only a phone call away. Please call your local SPCA or Meadowgate or both! Don’t let there be a Buddy in your neighborhood!
He was large boned, swayback, thin, but still majestic. His old style Morgan breeding could be spotted a mile away. He stepped off the trailer very late at night and walked into our barn worried and unsure. We settled him into his stall. He had fresh hay, and water, but anxiously watched as the rest stepped off the trailer and looked to see who was being placed where in the barn. He whinnied. The others were too tired from the trip to answer back. I stayed for quite a while into the night getting them settled into their new home with us and watched him as he paced. I moved one of the mares closer to him and he calmed. She was a black beauty!
He held his head high and the feathery legs seemed to prance when he had some turn out time the next day. He trotted around his paddock checking out everything and everyone within his sight. Wow! He was beautiful! That thick black mane flew as he picked up some speed. He arched his neck in that regal Morgan style, and lifted his tail as he showed off. Amazing how even so grossly underweight he could move with class! He must have been quite the guy in his day. He was rescued from an abusive lifestyle of beatings from what I was told. How could anyone hurt this guy? His big brown eyes melted you right into them. Over the next few months we got to know each quite well. As he was introduced to a new diet and placed in a hilly paddock to help him redevelop his muscles. I discovered he was nothing but a big ‘ole mush of love. He would place his head on my shoulder as I combed his mane…which took a long time to get through the thickness. As his body slowly started coming back to what it should have been he started to have stomach issues. We nursed him through those times and he was so gentle in his response. He would do what ever you asked of him. His black beauty had been adopted so his pasture pal was now an older mare that was very passive and he seemed to take right to her and look after her. The spring nights turned into hot summer days with flies and he would stand there not really wanting to be sprayed but endured the cool agony of wetness. Silly boy! He put the brakes on completely when it came to the fly mask! Would absolutely have nothing to do with it! Nothing! So we applied the spray around his eyes and face carefully. Good thing his mane and fore mane is long enough to cover his eyes. Then fall came, and with his companion nearby we approached winter. Through that winter a few more stomach aches, we did a lot of walking him around. As the following spring turned into summer he looked great! Still swayback of course, but the muscle was back and he seemed to feel good. So he was placed into a pasture with lush grass and fresh running water. He had a shelter to get in away from the pesky horse flies. Then the black beauty returned. Her new owner was expecting a second child and knew she would not be able to give her what she needed so she asked us to take her back. Good timing, because his current pasture pal was not doing as well as he was. The black beauty’s return was timely and she was placed in the same paddock to fill any void he may have in being alone. They greeted each other as long lost pals and spent the rest of the summer side by side.
Then I started noticing some weight loss. Within three weeks he drastically lost weight and appeared to be very uncomfortable. He had several tests run, many tubes of blood, with results that showed nothing significant, but cancer was the suspicion. His age stopped us from financially getting into a hole that we knew we could not climb out of with positive results. This is the point where frustration of not being able to verbally talk with them occurs. Staying within the realm of reality and not wanting to put him through more significant tests and exams at his age, it was decided to nurse him along as long as he was comfortable. We were able to get him eating again…and drinking…but then he was constantly laying down in pain. As we got him up, and tended to his needs it seemed to be all in vain. This older beautiful boy was starting to give up. He still responded to whatever I asked of him, but those big brown eyes were losing their luster and being replaced by a far away look.
The day came before I knew it. Maybe it was because I didn’t want to admit it.
As I brought him into the barn and placed him in a special turnout pen we have in the barn, I watched as he lay down in agony. He stretched his head out and then lifted it up and looked at me and groaned. These actions were repeated several times. As I talked him through it and tried to soothe him holding his head on my lap, the tears fell like buckets of rain. He was such a good boy and I loved him. The time had come to make that quality of life decision... I could no longer let him suffer. The vet was called and within moments his pain was gone, but so was my buddy. It was heart wrenching.
There is no comfort when the strong bonds of love between you and your animal pal, is cut. Often we tend to hold on to them and they only continue to suffer because we can’t bring ourselves to do what is right. That bond can never be replaced…no matter what anyone says. However, new ones can be established and enrich us even more. We do not have to forget them or even try to. We should take the experiences shared with that one and extend them to others that need us also. No one said equine rescue was going to be an easy thing to do, but the time shared with each one is valued and taken to heart individually.