Stella arrived yesterday at Square Peg Ranch in a gold colored trailer.
The barn was buzzing with activity. Dr. Kari DeLeeuw was treating Super Bob the Wonder Pony with acupuncture, there was a lesson going on and two hardy volunteers were tacking up to take a couple horses out for some exercise. Greg was awaiting the farrier with his list in hand of horses needing services.
In rolls Georgie and Jenny Hartman, stalwart hauling volunteers for the nearly famous Joe Shelton of Thoroughbred Friends. Joe had left me a phone message telling me that he’s sending a lame but cute paint gelding that was a lesson horse and also a very hungry black mare who he thought was “a sweetie.”
The gelding unloaded and indeed has very sore feet. Dr. DeLeeuw grabbed her hoof testers and went right to work advising and appraising how we might make this adorable gelding more comfortable. The kids have named him LeRoy and he has settled in like a champ. More on LeRoy this week.
Then she emerged from the trailer. Those eyes. With her pitiful, gaunt haunches poking through cracked and scarred skin, her tail eaten by other starving horses, her legs caked with filth. Her withers protruded from her shoulders like a shark’s dorsal fin, her hooves strangely, are recently trimmed. She looked around, curious, confused and, as Joe put it “hungry.”
I was holding LeRoy for the vet and so I instructed the kids to put her in the empty stall where there was already 12 pounds of feed waiting for her. I turned my attention back to the sore gelding and tried to block her out of my mind. “She’s eating.” I reminded myself “And that’s the best thing we can do for her right now.” I sighed and turned my attention back to the vet and to the sweet people who needed to use the bathroom after a long drive. Later I gave them a tour of the farm, introduced them to the horses, the goats and the dogs. They hugged me when they left and I found myself making an excuse to go to my office.
Once in my office, I tried to make myself busy. I returned a call and several emails. I didn’t want to go outside and see that mare. I wasn’t ready. The kids soon found me and had questions about the new horses. They had brushed the gelding and discussed who might ride him first after he gets new shoes. “Whadda we gonna do about that poor skinny mare?” They wanted to know. “Did you see the scars on her legs and the whip marks on her side?” “How old do you think she is?”
Important questions that need to be answered. I took a deep breath and we all went to the barn together. There she was, head down in her feeder munching away. But not with the satisfying munching of a healthy horse, it was a desperate munching, always looking side to side to see who or what might take her away from food at any moment. The scars on her back and hips showed that she had fought for food a lot.
I went in her stall and she looked at me briefly and went back to eating. She didn’t seem to mind me touching her sides or running my hands down her legs to feel the scars from the lasso. Her legs looked pretty clean, and a step back to see the whole picture showed me a somewhat nicely built, fairly young mare. I pushed away the urge to look in her mouth to see her teeth or to look for a tattoo that might give us some clue as to who she is, how old she is and what her story may be. No, today is just about eating and resting. Tomorrow we will take her temperature, look for a racing tattoo and complete an intake sheet to chart her progress at the ranch.
I had the girls turn her out in the arena. I knew that Joe had been feeding this mare for the last ten days or so and I explained to the girls that the initial period of worrying about founder and colic had already been taken care of by Joe. When a horse has been severely starved, the first days of feeding have to be careful and measured out over time. A starving horse will eat like crazy and his gut often times is not ready for the rich food and the results can be disastrous or worse. But this mare, as long as we took her out for short walks several times a day, could eat to her heart’s content, the hay pellets that we feed at the ranch. I should tell you now that this mare was rescued from a string of horses used in a rodeo event called “horse tripping.” I won’t post videos of the event here. If you are curious, you can search the internet and find it yourself. I can’t view another clip of the “sport.” It seems that the stock contractor had also run onto hard times and there was not enough money to feed the animals that he used.
While the kids turned her out and took photos and brushed her, I was overwhelmed with sadness. Tears welled up in my eyes as I watched the mare search the perimeter of the arena for something to eat. She trotted around (amazingly sound) and nickered a few times. I know in my heart that the world has many problems, but something knocked by breath out to see this animal who was bred by someone with dreams of a great race horse who had been thrown away, abused, chased, tripped and starved and was ultimately headed for death by slaughter if starvation hadn’t claimed her first. She had no voice in her fate, no vote. If it weren’t for Joe Shelton rescuing 31 of these animals, she would be a carcass right now. Senseless cruelty.
And then she saw the girls with the halter at the gate and she went to them trusting that they would be kind. That kind of trust, in the face of what this mare had been through took all the air out of my body.
Horses have so much to teach us.
Stella’s road back to health will be long. But if she is strong enough to trust us, we have to do all we can.
And now I have to ask you for money. Because she will need feed, dental, farrier and veterinary care. We have no guarantees of what she will be able to be as a school or a saddle horse – but she needs our help.
Some of you have already joined in. Last night, before I even asked, we received $100 towards her feed from Mary Burns and Chris Wilson. If you are a shopper, there are three days left on our on-line auction – lots of great deals on neat items. Or you can donate here.
I promise to keep you updated on her progress.