From my vantage point at the gate I could figure out what the order of operations was. The deputies were out on an ATV with buckets of grain trying to lure the horses closer to the barnyard. The night before, round bales had been unrolled out in the fields to get everyone some hay. Unfortunately, starving horses don't want to leave their new food source, but the lure of grain was working for some.
I wondered if some of them had ever had grain in their lives.
We let another group of horses through the gate and everyone was dispatched with halters to catch them and do some sorting. Yellow tags in the mane were pretty critical, green tags were in a bit better condition, black tags were the ones she wanted to keep.
I remembered what my Vet said. That a little over a year ago, all of these horses had been in fine shape, well fed and cared for. It actually WAS a rescue. I glanced at the fence to find her face, Anne is her name. She looked anxiety filled as she spoke to a man oddly dressed in khakis and a sport coat. His loafers surely soiled by the cow manure mud we were all standing in.
I understood her desire to start a rescue, her desire to save them all. Many horse lovers will express a desire to rescue horses from auctions and slaughter trucks and retire old ones to green pastures and give unsound ones a place to softly land. But NO ONE can adequately care for 100+ horses. I work on a farm with 34 horses. We have FIVE full time people just for the 35 on our farm and still sometimes need part time help. The difference in Anne, and the average horse person, is the ability to reason between adequate care, and a hoarding situation. Somewhere, at some point, her good intentions turned off. She made the wrong decisions over and over. Her obsession with aquiring animals outweighed her ability to reason that she couldn't care for them. She fired her staff or they quit when their paychecks bounced. She had personal issues. Some perfect storm of events blackened her soul and she became able to watch them wither away, with no way to cry for help. Our system failed them. Our community failed them. We all failed them.
Suddenly a black and white pony with pretty extreme kyphosis appeared over the hill and ambled up to the gate. Someone caught him and I was asked to help Maya load some mini donkeys into a trailer. We went in to a barn with temporary stalls inside. You could feel death. You could smell it. I shivered.
After loading the mini donkeys I went back to help catch more horses. I saw the pony again being walked out of the gate towards a trailer. I tried not to be disappointed. I had no idea why I wanted him, but I did.
Moments later someone walked him back in. An man was holding him over in the corner while the draft horse rescue people were having a hell of a time trying to catch about an 18 hand not halter broke youngster that clearly wanted no part in being caught. There was a lasso around his neck and some questionable catching tactics going on. I didn't dare approach the pony for fear of being tripped or trampled by the cowgirl horse whisperer gone wrong holding the end of that rope, which was about as effective as me holding the end of a rope attached to the back of a moving car.
Later, I got to the pony and asked the man, "are you taking this pony?" He said no. I promptly grabbed his lead rope and gave him my empty one. I have no idea why. The pony walked quietly with me over to the corner where my friend quickly asked what I was doing with a one eyed tiny pony with a back deformity. "I love him" was my response. Always a pragmatist, she rolled her eyes at me. I wasn't personally taking a horse anyway, I was just grabbing some to send to my friends who had foster stalls available. I had to send the pony though. I wanted to know where he was. He leaned his little head on me and I scratched his forehead. He stood stock still.
The man with the sportcoat was approaching me, between enjoying watching him walk gingerly in his nice shoes through cow feces and thinking, "Oh shit, why is he coming over here?" I steeled myself for some sort of forced conversation. Did he know I posted some really graphic pics on NBC29 FB? I knew he was on her side. I didn't like him already.
He introduced himself to me with a gentle voice and shook my hand. He said, "do you want that pony?" Again, with absolutely no hesitation I said, "I love him and I will give him a forever home". He said, "Anne has been watching and she wants you to have him."
I thought to myself, "Well good because I'm taking him out of here anyway", but with my wits about me and remembering the delicacy of all this, I said, "tell her thank you". He left and returned a while later to talk about the minis and how he might want some of them. I didn't like him again, knowing that the minis had been loaded onto the trailer the night before, and she made them take them off. I decided it was probably his fault.
Horses were coming in left and right and I was waiting on my transport trailer to arrive to load the pony an another one. Then all of the sudden, it happened again. A frighteningly emaciated dark bay came over the hill. My friend Kate was out catching horses and I yelled to her, "Catch that dark bay and flip his lip up!" His silhouette was that of a skeleton, but it was a Thoroughbred skeleton. If theres a shape I know, its the shape of a TB. Kate caught him and just responded "yep" after flipping his lip. As she approached with him, he only looked worse. His hide covered bones were not cushioned by layers of fat, or even muscle. There was just nothing. His entire body was covered in dermatitis. Rain rot, a bacterial infection that is hard and time consuming to cure when this widespread. But his face was kind and his eye was soft and knowing. He joined me and the pony and I realized he looked just like the first OTTB I ever loved, a school horse called Danny Boy. A fitting name for such a guy as this. I whispered to him, "you are safe". My vet arrived back on site to look over the ones that I was sending to my friend Lili to foster. I knew if anyone could provide the care he needed, Lili could. I couldn't do it myself at the moment and so I sent him to one of the most conscientious and caring horsewomen I know. He would be safe with her.
My vet tried to gently but clearly tell me what I had feared about Danny Boy. He was aged and his body score was barely a 1, if even that. His body had eaten all the skeletal muscle.... He went on. I appreciated his realism but was already prepared to give this guy ALL the love and care he needed until his end, however soon that may have to be. If he was going to die, he was going to do it on one of the most beautiful farms in Albermarle and until then, his dignity would be preserved and he would be given the retirement he deserved from the very beginning.
The pony literally jumped onto that green stock trailer, and even though well over 17 hands, the OTTB lowered his head and stepped on like he did it every day. I prayed the OTTB would still be standing when we arrived. Not only was he standing, but he backed off with the most perfect of footwork, walked into his new stall, full of soft fresh shavings, two full water buckets, a flake of hay, looked around, stretched out and peed- just like any horse that loves a pile of fresh shavings does. I smiled, he knew he was home and set about steadily munching his hay.
Part 3 coming soon.