“No. Way.” I stared at the picture on the screen in utter disbelief. “Seriously?”
A poster on Facebook was seeking any information about her old horse. He had gone missing after he was traded for another horse by the boarding barn where he was being kept. We’ll just say “traded” and leave it at that. She had been searching for him for over two years.
The horse in the photograph was beautiful. He was a big, chestnut Thoroughbred, a show horse in peak condition being ridden by a lovely, poised young woman. But that wasn’t what reached out and smacked me in the head. This gelding had very few markings. Aside from a tiny star, he had only one short sock on his left rear foot, the white area forming a small point in the back. How many big, red Thoroughbreds are there in the world? Tens of thousands? But that foot….
I went down to the barns with my cell phone.
Back in October, we had worked with Animal Control in an adjacent county to take in two horses that had been surrendered to them. Both were malnourished, one so emaciated that we could not save him. His companion was thin, about a Body Condition Score of 3, and he had an acute suspensory injury when he arrived. We called him “Brodie.” We knew nothing about his history, as his Jockey Club tattoo was illegible. He was just another neglected horse who needed our help.
But looking out at me from Brodie’s stall was a big, red Thoroughbred with one small white sock that came to a point in the back. I honestly didn’t know whether to whoop or jump up and down. I think I did both. But we had to be sure.
The mother and daughter arrived on Saturday. They had come equipped with registration papers, racing photos and show pictures. If we still had any doubts about the identity of this horse, they were dispelled immediately by the tears of the daughter, his owner.
She quietly announced, “This is him. This is my boy.”
Brodie’s whole life opened up before us. He had raced (rather badly, and therefore briefly), had ridden cross-country, and had excelled in the show ring. At one point, he had even barrel-raced. He was called “Roso” or “Red” in Italian. He was somebody. He had a solid career and a family who loved him. And Monday morning, after a long, strange trip, he went home to them.
It has always bothered us that our rescued horses have lost their entire histories. Some come in so beat down by their lives that they want nothing more than shelter and safety, and to be left alone. Others still have a strong sense of themselves as individuals. Some take a while to show you who they are, coyly reaching out to you a little at a time. But they are ALL somebody, and my sense is that many of them once had a place they would like to go home to, even after many years.
People frequently seek information on social media about their old horses, their words often tinged with sadness or regret. Some just want to know if they are having good lives, some are fearful for their safety. A few would like to buy them back. Some of these horses were sold or given away, others were lost or stolen. A few are eventually found to be accident victims. But once they are out of your hands, horses can be very difficult to locate. This is especially true if they are solid colors or bays, with few distinguishing markings.
One way to find missing horses is through Stolen Horse International, which is a nonprofit organization originally intended to help locate stolen horses, but which now helps to locate horses that are missing for many reasons. They can be found at: http://www.netposse.com/. Their advice is to use every means available to publicize your horse (which they will help you do), and not to give up.
Finding a lost horse can be difficult and daunting. But two years after he had gone missing, a short Facebook post by a persistent owner paid off, and helped a lost horse find his way back.
Well done, Desha.
Yesterday was a long day.
“He has fallen down in the trailer.” The concerned voice on the phone was that of a local animal control officer who was on her way to White Bird with a surrendered horse. We raced to prepare for his arrival, but we were ill prepared for the horse that arrived. He was in far worse condition than we had anticipated and we sucked in our collective breath.
The gentle, senior gelding was lying in the corner of the trailer. What was once a magnificent Belgian draft horse had been reduced through starvation to a golden hide stretched over an angular frame. We knew immediately that he was a Body Condition 1 and that he was in serious trouble. He tried to right himself in the trailer, but simply could not get his legs underneath him. In his eyes, we saw concern and kindness. And he was clearly exhausted. Only after several attempts were we able to get him out of the trailer and onto the grass outside.
While we considered our options, we thought to offer him a handful of chopped forage. His sudden animation and appetite made us optimistic that he was simply experiencing a weakness that could be remedied, so we resolved to do our best to help him. The veterinarian gave him fluids, dexamethasone, dextrose and banamine. Twice, we thought we were going to lose him. At each point, he rallied and went back to eating the forage. With much effort, we relocated him to the nearby round pen, an area that was grassy and level, and where he could see horses around him in the adjacent field.
He could not stand up on his own, despite trying hard to do so. Still, we could see that he was a fighter. We thought that if we could get him to his feet, he might be able to stay there. So, for the first time in our history, I called upon the Little Fork Volunteer Technical Large Animal Rescue Team, a specialized team of emergency responders in Rixeyville who have the unusual specialty of handling large animals that need to be lifted or removed from dangerous situations. They responded quickly and assured me that they were on the way. But they were hours away.
So, we waited. We fed the big guy handfuls of forage, then added to that, senior mash. He was thrilled with the latter. He would eat enthusiastically, then drop off for a power nap in between snacks. Sometimes, he would try to rise, then would settle back down. We rubbed his face and talked to him. It got dark. Our cat made herself comfortable in the hollow next to his legs. We bought pizza. We fed him more forage, and we worried.
When the flashing lights in the driveway announced the arrival of Little Fork, we waved them down to the barn complex. These folks were soon followed by a group of responders from the Burkeville Volunteer Fire Department, who had also come out in the dark on a Friday night to lend extra hands.
Little Fork was astounding to watch. They are consummate professionals, following incident command structure to the letter, setting up their staging area, and providing protective helmets to volunteers. They repositioned the horse, and then gently outfitted him in a sling that could lift him to his feet, assisted by Tom and his tractor.
We encouraged, we shouted, and we bribed him with food. But after two sustained efforts and two hours, we realized that his back legs were simply failing and that our best efforts would not give him what we so desperately wished for: a miracle.
If good faith, prayers and wishes could have given this horse wings, he’d have flown high above our heads and out across the fields. If we had found him two weeks earlier, he may have had the strength to keep himself upright in the trailer. If his owner had fed him, he would never have needed help. If, if, if.
But there we were, a group of volunteers in a round pen at midnight, standing over a gentle, weary horse who was so appreciative of our efforts, and exhausted beyond all description. We made the call, as we have so many times before. We cried, and then we thanked the people who had selflessly given up their evenings to come out to help.
As rescuers, we like to write about our successes. We share pictures of the horses who blossom under our care and talk about the numbers of horses saved. That is how we stay sane. The horses who do not survive their former neglect and abuse remain in our hearts, but not in our publications. They slip quietly away, in veterinary-assisted anonymity. Just for today, I wanted that not to be the case.
We will not forget this big, gentle horse who caused us to try so hard, if only to match his own fighting spirit. Nor will we forget the extraordinary outpouring of support from our volunteers, our community, the Animal Control officer who tried to save him and the compassionate experts at Little Fork. We are deeply grateful for your kindness.
A constant feature of the rescue since we came to Southside, Virginia has been our blind mare Pebbles. A great favorite with volunteers and visitors alike, she, and her companion Belle, have helped to educate people about blind horses.
Pebbles’ story was one of the saddest we had ever heard. Her owner was in the hospital, and the owner’s mother was trying to care for Pebbles, just having had heart surgery herself. On top of that, she lacked the resources to care for her and was going without herself in order to provide feed for the mare. By the time she called us, she was desperate for help. Pebbles was profoundly blind, suffering from both uveitis and glaucoma. She was anxious and fearful and we were concerned about her quality of life. But when she met Belle, everything changed and a kind and sensitive mare emerged. – even though that love was not always reciprocated at feeding time!
Pebbles was once the apple of someone’s eye. She was elegant and graceful and we are certain she had been trained and ridden. A gentle soul Pebbles could be handled by even small children. She taught many people that blind horses can enjoy a high quality of life, while contributing to the community around them. At White Bird, she simply enjoyed her retirement with her cranky friend, Belle. This past few days, her appetite had not been good, though a veterinary exam did not spot anything obvious. Yesterday, she collapsed without warning and was gone before we knew it. She will be missed by her many friends at the rescues. She was 32.
Yesterday afternoon we helped another of our old codgers across the rainbow bridge. Oreo, a Welsh pony, was one of the stalwarts of the rescue and a much loved favorite of young and old alike. We have no real way of knowing how old he was, but when he came to us in March 2007 he was already in his forties. His veterinary records are listed at 50+! His past history is mostly lost, but we know he was rescued at one point from a situation of neglect, and we understand that he was once a carnival pony. We always imagined him as a smart, show pony for some small girl, possibly called “Hercules” or “Lightning”, as he set out on his life’s adventure. Other than a slight “geezerish” attitude, Oreo was a friendly pony and like all our old codgers was a favorite of our volunteers and visitors, with much time spent by them working on his extremely shaggy hair (he had Cushing’s Disease). As usual, at this time of the year, we had just been discussing how to get his coat down to a reasonable length for the summer without destroying yet another set of blades! Then in the afternoon he started to exhibit signs of neurological stress and shortly after collapsed. Apart from requiring his daily Pergolide medication, and a strict diet, which also accommodated his “dentally impaired” status, he was a robust little pony. A great example of his breed. Requiring little more than his regular stall, and the company of his pasture buddy Wendy, he passed the years at White Bird a true inheritor of our tag line “…to live out the remainder of their lives in safety and dignity”. To say that he will be missed is an understatement, but today we know he will be enjoying the company of old White Bird friends and codgers Rodney and Mr.B, his long journey over. Goodbye Oreo, it was a pleasure knowing you, and we will never forget you.
Oreo Enjoys his “Day at the Spa”
Longwood MLK Challenge Volunteers
The Rescue was a grateful recipient of volunteers from Longwood University’s Martin Luther King Jnr Day service challenge. Every year LU run a MLK Celebration week, which this year was January 18-22. During the week the university hosts their the MLK Service Challenge, an opportunity for students to engage in the local community through service. On January 18th, MLK Day, they sent students out across the community to do miniature projects that benefited local agencies. White Bird entertained 10 of these community spirited volunteers, and on a cold, sunny day they ensured that the two new stalls built on the Eagle Scout project were fitted with mats. After hot chocolate, and a break for lunch, they then helped muck-out stalls. Thank you volunteers, and thank you Longwood University for yet another community friendly endeavor.
Thunderbolt and Tina
Whenever we are asked why we take in elder horses, when there are so many younger and “adoptable” horses needing rescuing, we point to Thunderbolt. She came to us in September 2013, along with her friend, Mona. Her owner was no longer able to care for her horses, and her two oldest had no takers, due to their advanced age. Both were in their 30’s. Thunder had been with her owner since she was 2 years old. She had been a capable and beloved trail horse, going on long trail rides in the mountains and giving her owner her best efforts for her entire life. She was a professional, with a work ethic, dignity and character.
Coming to the rescue meant an opportunity to just be a horse again, to graze and hang out with horse friends, and generally enjoy a retirement that had been well deserved. But for circumstances Thunder would have lived out the remainder of her life at the place she knew best, our preferred scenario for any horse that has given its best years in the service of its owner. If not, finding a good rescue facility is next best for a safe destination. We had always hoped that a suitable family would show up for Thunder who, as the photo shows, was still in very good condition in the summer of 2014. But we are also realists and know that caring homes for elder horses are few and far between.
Last fall, Thunder developed arthritis in her hocks that worsened quickly. While previcox and steroid injections kept her comfortable for a while, the colder temperatures ultimately proved too much for her joints and we no longer had a medical option for preserving her quality of life. Thunder has gone on her last long trail ride, free from aches and pains, having done her job well and having been rewarded with two good years in retirement. We will miss her, and we will continue to argue the case for taking in these senior horses simply because they deserve it.
Congratulations to Rob Halliday of Troop 2880 in Richmond on becoming an Eagle Scout! We have had the pleasure of the support of scouts and parents from Troop 2880 for several years, and we were pleased to be selected for Rob’s Eagle Scout project.
Due to a generous donation of stall fronts, and hardware by the Woodwards (thank you!), Rob and his team took on the task of producing a set of emergency/quarantine stalls at one end of our large pole barn. Over three weekends, the scouts, leaders and adult helpers from the troop set about clearing, marking out and constructing one double size stall and one 12×10 stall. These will be kept in reserve for more serious weather conditions, for emergencies where a safe place is required after disasters, for times when a horse must lay up but would benefit from extra room to move around, and for animal control cases.
Views of the stalls are shown below. Well done Rob and Troop 2880! We appreciate your support.
This morning we lost our shining Star. An Arab, he bore his various ailments with the stoicism of an Appaloosa, and his gentle nature made him a favorite of the many volunteers who worked with him. He came to us in 2008 after his owner became too ill to care for him. He was one of the most severely foundered horses we had ever seen, with laminar separation that caused his feet to look like Elmer Fudd shoes. But consistent, competent trimming, medication and a controlled diet left him with few visible signs of his old laminitis. A Cushing’s horse with arthritic joints, we were sure he wouldn’t make it through another winter three years ago. But thanks to the marvel of Previcox, he lasted several more and enjoyed a high quality of life for the remainder of his days. We will miss his cheery whinny in the mornings when we go down to feed the 10-stall horses, but know that he runs free again with the rest of the White Bird horses over the rainbow bridge.
We are pleased to announce that the Sigma Sigma Sigma Sorority Sisters of the Longwood University Chapter have adopted White Bird as their local charity cause! Our relationship with the Sisters goes back over three years, thanks to the enthusiasm and hard work of Emily DeMasi and the energetic young women who have come out to the rescue and volunteered throughout that time. It has always been a pleasure to host Tri-Sigma, and we have appreciated their hard work, which has been performed rain or shine. We are particularly happy to give those Sisters experiencing withdrawal symptoms from being away from their own horses, the opportunity to return smelling of barn, horse and tack. For some, our residents have been their first exposure to horses, rescued or otherwise, and the many issues they face.
Thank you Sisters! We are honored and we look forward to many more years of collaboration in supporting rescued horses.
Below, Saturday’s group of smiling faces, along with Bugle the rooster (Tuna the cat was unavailable for this appearance), after a hard morning’s work spent making the stalls ready for the evening routine. A great job Sisters!
Since 2003, the White Bird Appaloosa Horse Rescue has come to the aid of Appaloosas and other at-risk horses. We rescue them, bring them into the best condition possible, correct any behavioral issues, and then find them caring and permanent homes. But over the last few years, this last service has become increasingly difficult.
Where we once took in a horse or two at a time, the number of animals needing immediate assistance has skyrocketed and we are now being asked to take in groups at a time. Within the last three years, Virginia has seen three large-scale seizures or surrenders that have required extensive resources and the participation of multiple rescues. At the same time, competent, capable homes are diminishing in number. As “Baby Boomers” age, many of the most experienced horse owners are unwilling to take on more horses because they no longer ride, and they may also be facing their own health and financial challenges. Their considerable knowledge is being lost. Meanwhile new horse owners are becoming fewer, as the economic realities of the past decade have discouraged horse ownership. There are also fewer emerging trainers, as this is no longer being seen as a promising career path, despite its critical importance . Given this unfortunate convergence, as the poet Yeats once wrote, “the centre cannot hold.”
So what is the answer? We believe it is two-fold. First, we believe that horse owners must face squarely their responsibility for horses they may have owned for decades. If they surrender older or unsound horses that have no real market value, those horses can go anywhere- from Craigslist, to auctions, to neglectful situations, to slaughter buyers, or to hoarders. That is the point we are making in publishing “Mr. Bowersox,” who served as a real life example of this downward spiral. Unless you have absolutely no other choice, please reconsider this decision. Second, we must address the current shortage of safe havens. To that end, we are reaching out to knowledgeable horse owners and pleading with you to consider opening your barn doors just a little wider, as an act of mercy and compassion. Are you a Boomer who doesn’t ride anymore? Great! There are plenty of older horses who simply need a roof and a meal, and we are betting that you have gained a lot of experience over the years. You may be the very best person to help an older guy finish his life in dignity. Are you a younger person with training skill? Fantastic! The foundation you provide for a deserving youngster will change his life forever. If you think you are up to the job, please contact us at: firstname.lastname@example.org. We would love to hear from you.
It is our goal to provide every single horse with a loving and permanent home. This is what one looks like. Our most sincere congratulations to Michael Rossner and Dr. Caroline Rossner (Southside Veterinary Services) on the newest member of their family, Blitzen (good-looking bay dude on left).