April 3rd 2016
Today, one year ago, I brought home the most gentle and sweet creature on the planet. I found him one day by accident as I was casually horse shopping online, like I do regularly like it's a hobby or rather an addiction. I had actually sent an email to his owners about another mare they had listed, but when she contacted me back to inform me the mare had sold she suggested a gelding she had named Chili. I was interested, and she promised to send me photos as soon as they were back in town.
We were driving home from our family's annual Easter holiday gathering when I received the pictures, the first thing that left my mouth was a shocked gasp as I stared at this poor skeleton of a horse in the pictures. I had never before been faced with such obvious cruelty, I was at a loss as to how to respond! My brain raced with thoughts and unanswered questions. Why would they send me pictures like this? Weren't they worried about being reported? Could they not see how poor of condition he was in? Where was he located? How many horses did they have? Maybe the photo was playing tricks and he wasn't that bad. Do I call the authorities right away? Do I go meet these people and see him? Is he even going to make it that long?
After talking with my husband, we decided it was best to go find where this horse was located. Whether or not we would bring him home was still to be determined, but in the very least I had to do something, anything, even if that was just to get the address and call the authorities and rescues. The owners agreed to meet, and I decided to keep my mouth shut in the meantime. All politeness and business.
March 30th 2016
When I first saw "Chili" in person I was so enraged I was speechless, literally. I was shaking, holding back tears... I've never felt such rage before. The pictures didn't/don't even begin to show the whole picture. When I approached him, way back hidden behind trees down a long barely drive-able dirt road, he wouldn't even acknowledge I was present... Under his thick winter coat (that he should have already been shedding) he was severely emaciated, physically neglected, and mentally abused; suffering from strangles, extreme dental pain, physical trauma, and mentally he was completely shut down. I pet him and spoke to him for a quarter of an hour with absolutely no response... he was lifeless... He barely lifted his head when the owner brought out a little food... enough for a hamster and some hay that was probably more straw than anything. They were continuing to work him, and even charged people to ride him, in this condition... all the while completely, and arguably intentionally, ignorant to their cruelty. They used cute words about how gentle and perfect he was, talking about these fancy sliding stops that he could do, and how he used to be an excellent working ranch horse. They talked about riding him down the side of the highway to run errands, and how they just fell in love with him at the horse auction they found him at. They talked about him as if he just needed a little grass then all would be well... when the reality of his situation was so completely beyond just needing a little grass... yet they wouldn't let him go for less than an above premium price.
Unfortunately, he wasn't the only horse living in this hell. There were three other horses right there with him, and apparently at least twenty head of cattle somewhere near by, one horse was in such awful condition I was sure she wasn't going to survive much longer. Maybe a couple weeks if she was lucky. Sadly they either weren't for sale because they "loved them too much and could never let them go", or their price was so high we couldn't afford to take more than one. It was all I could do to manage a price for Chili, but I was determined to find a way to help the others too.
We went back and forth discussing a price for this dying animal and then scheduled the earliest time to pick him up... which was almost a week later due to their "client loyalty"... what a miserable week it was for me, knowing he was going to have to survive just one more week of hell. I just hoped he would still be there waiting for me.
I spent that week prepping his quarantine stall and paddock, talking to vets, contacting local horse rescues, trying to find people willing to buy the other horses (in case my worst fear came true and the authorities wouldn't remove the animals), and and readying myself to nurse this poor creature back to health. I knew it was probable he had major medical conditions, even possibly incurable conditions that might potentially lead to a humane euthanasia depending on the severity... but I knew even that would be better than what he was suffering through. Worst case scenario he would be able to go peacefully with a full belly and a loving touch.
When I finally was able to go pick him up I could barely contain my excitement, my worry, and my overall anxiety over the situation. I knew the poor guy had a couple mile uphill walk to make from the dirt pasture he was kept to where the trailer could safely be parked, I just hoped he would be strong enough to make it all that way, and then make it the half hour ride home. Thankfully, the stout ex roping horse seemed to know exactly what was going on and willingly made the long walk and then jumped right into the trailer without so much as a hesitation. My heart was so happy to see this, I felt like the hardest part of his journey to recovery was over.
April 6th 2016
The next couple weeks and months looked a lot like Chili, renamed Cash, eating, and me doing everything possible to make sure he was as comfortable and happy as could be. He was kept in quarantine due to his unknown history and positive strangles test, but he was cared for nearly around the clock during his first couple weeks. With any neglected animal it's always the most touch-n-go in the beginning, you never know what you're in for or how the animal will respond to care. I didn't know this horse in the least, and had no real known history for him. Thankfully though, his body responded exceptionally well and his mind also began to heal.
In the meantime, as soon as I had "Chili" in my custody, I set to work contacting all the local authorities and horse rescues about the other horses. I took picture after picture, GPS tracked the exact path of the dirt road, pinned their location on satellite images, and did absolutely everything within my power to convince someone, anyone, to help. However, much to my incredible frustration and sadness the authorities would do nothing to help. I have no idea what happened to those three other horses, my disappointment in our justice system in regards to animal cruelty is indescribable. I recognize that animal cruelty is legally a tricky road, but it really shouldn't be. And really, humans should have the decency to at least not own animals they can not care for.
April 13th 2016
Over the following year Cash gradually packed on weight again, he recovered from strangles, and was learning to enjoy life again. As soon as he was strong enough we set to work on his teeth, which were absolutely a mess, it took two floats and multiple tooth extractions to repair the damage done. Towards the end of this past year we finally were able to have his "whole" body looked at and worked on by an osteopath. The trauma this horse had suffered in his past became all the more apparent during assessment, leaving me even more dumbfounded by the blatant cruelty and ignorance his old homes displayed towards him. Two previously broken ribs, dislocation and remodeling of the jaw, fusing in the spine, fusing in the atlas junction, remodeling and fusing in the TMJ, and so much more, leading us to believe he suffered a very traumatic flip over/fall during his past life as a (probable) roping horse, before being sent to auction and then to the owners I bought him from.
Despite all of this long suffering pain, Cash had been and continues to be an absolute saint. He will do whatever is asked of him, and do it to the best of his abilities. I'm pretty sure he wouldn't even hurt a fly, and he's the absolute favorite of all my students. He's since been nick named "Saint Cash" and it's perfect for him.
May 16th 2016
Every day Cash improves and his attitude towards life improves. He's gone from non-responsive to absolutely engaged and eager. He's pleasant, relaxed, and full of life. The horse of everyone's dreams. It's just unfortunate that nobody cared to give back what he so willingly gave. Instead he was taken advantage of and thrown away.. for money.. for convenience.
August 1st 2016
I remind myself often, when I think about those horses I wasn't able to save, of the starfish story. It's a story about making an impact on other's lives and about how you may not be able to save everyone, but you can make a difference to someone. I may not have been able to save them all, but I did rescue Cash. I made a difference in his life, and in return he's changed my life forever. It's only been a year since Cash has been home, but it feels like he's always been here.
Once upon a time, there was an old man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. He had a habit of walking on the beach every morning before he began his work. Early one morning, he was walking along the shore after a big storm had passed and found the vast beach littered with starfish as far as the eye could see, stretching in both directions.
Off in the distance, the old man noticed a small boy approaching. As the boy walked, he paused every so often and as he grew closer, the man could see that he was occasionally bending down to pick up an object and throw it into the sea. The boy came closer still and the man called out, “Good morning! May I ask what it is that you are doing?”
The young boy paused, looked up, and replied “Throwing starfish into the ocean. The tide has washed them up onto the beach and they can’t return to the sea by themselves,” the youth replied. “When the sun gets high, they will die, unless I throw them back into the water.”
The old man replied, “But there must be tens of thousands of starfish on this beach. I’m afraid you won’t really be able to make much of a difference.”
The boy bent down, picked up yet another starfish and threw it as far as he could into the ocean. Then he turned, smiled and said, “It made a difference to that one!”
adapted from The Star Thrower, by Loren Eiseley (1907 – 1977)
March 27th 2017