April 13th, 2011 by Doll Stanley
The plight of horses is worsening. Some blame the economy; others say banning horse slaughter in the U.S. meant “owners” who couldn’t sell their horses let them starve. I say it’s both selfishness and ignorance. Horses are being overbred just like other companion animals. Those who think they can make a buck breed and then find out there are no buyers, at least at the prices they want, and they don’t want to feed what they can’t make money off of and certainly don’t want to give away what they might someday sell. The glut of horses means you can buy a horse for $50, or get one from someone who wants to “unload.” It’s cool to have a horse and to tell folks you have a horse. Horses are like “trophy brides”: they express status, and, of course, there are some who actually think they’ll ride. The question is how many of these people are caught up in a whim with no thought of how to actually care for horses.
Three weeks ago, I traveled to Tallahatchie County, Mississippi, to look at three horses, two on one property, and another nearby. The mailbox to one of the properties was open so I couldn’t see the house number. As the numbers weren’t in a cohesive sequence, I’d passed the property by a mile and spotted two other horses at residences along the road. The majestic but thin black horse was chained in the back yard, without water. A neighbor had three horses, one who looked pretty good, one a bit slight, and one clearly needing attention. I left cards as no one was home, took pictures and video, and headed back to where I’d spotted emaciated pit bulls.
From the western direction I could now see a horse behind the mobile home. A young man was working on a truck in the yard and I got out and spoke with him. He was working on the resident’s truck, who was at work. I gave him my card, told him the dogs seriously need to gain weight, and to ask the man to call me. I told him I wasn’t going to take pictures as I entered the property to speak with him and that I’d take the matter up with the resident. At that point I could see the horse was tethered to a stake that was in the center of a pile of debris, metal, junk, you name it. The horse couldn’t raise his head and he was severely malnourished. No water. The young man untangled him and untied the tether and moved the horse under a tree to which he tethered the horse. He got the horse some water and I thanked him, but told him the condition of the horse was grave and asked that he make certain the man understood to call me.
By the time I’d gone to look at the other two horses I’d heard about, I found nine horses in substandard to horrific conditions. The deputy I normally request aid from was in court but when I reached the sheriff’s office my deputy friend was there. He and another deputy listened to me relay the plight of the horse, and my friend jotted down the addresses of the horses and said he’d checked on a couple of them before. He also said he’d catch up with the “owners,” clearly not guardians of the horses, and advise them that IDA would be gaining custody if they didn’t care for them. A naïve stance at best. How do you just tell someone to do what he clearly doesn’t know how to do, or care enough to do? There are some animals a person can be given time to make provisions for, but not a delicate horse who’s already at the brink of no return.
I was just sick, but I knew the kindly deputy saw things his way and would have to see for himself. My urging immediate action was of no avail.
The deputy told me he’d tell the people I’d be back in two to three weeks. I was, and three of the nine horses had disappeared—the horribly pitiful horse among them. A woman in the yard said the “owner” had come to get him. I told her the man to whom I spoke who was in the yard said her husband was the “owner.” Finding the horse may be impossible, but the dogs are there, and I gave her advice on their care and two weeks to improve their condition.
The majestic black horse was in pasture now, and I had the blessing of giving his guardian a ride to pick up a lawn mower part down the road. We talked about his horse, and he assured me that he loved him and wouldn’t chain him anymore. He said he did it to let the horse eat some of the grass he’d been unable to cut without the mower part. We parted friends, and I told him I’d keep him to his word and check back.
I will be following up with my deputy to see what he can learn as to the disappearance of the three horses and ask for his aid in pressuring seizure or compliance on the other horses.
Yesterday I went on my own to see about a horse reported to be starving. The caller said two other horses had already died in the small pasture. This horse was also in Tallahatchie County. I found the horse and she was thin. A quick stop at a neighboring residence, and I learned the uncle of the man failing the horse lived just across the road.
Four big dogs greeted me. One wasn’t sure this stranger should come around, one smothered me in nail-gripping affection, and the other two were content to run beside me. I heard a whistle from the edge of the woods and saw two men approaching. They were imbibing in liquid libation. The men were polite, but the elder man, the uncle to the man I was looking for, clearly would have preferred to meet me under different circumstances. This man didn’t know I was informed that one of the horses who died was his. To be certain he covered himself, he told me he’d told his nephew to care for the horse and had told him he didn’t want to have “nothing” to do with horses anymore. I told him the horse was starving, and he needed to let his nephew know it would be better to speak with me than law enforcement. In less than an hour I got the call.
The younger man started with, “My uncle said I should call you.” I told him his horse was malnourished and I new another horse had just been buried. He said, “I don’t know what’s wrong with that horse.” The conversation was pat, like a script from so many cases. “I’ll tell you what’s wrong with the horse—she’s starving,” I responded. “Well I don’t know what to feed her. Everybody keeps telling me something different to feed,” he said defensively. “Something would have been better than nothing,” I retorted. “Well, what should I do.” “You’ve got two choices. You can grain her twice a day and provide quality hay, or you can surrender her to us. We don’t make any money off the horses we rescue. We care for them until they can be placed with people who will care for them,” I concluded. He already knew there was the threat of arrest. I wanted a “free will” surrender without the implication of threats. “Well then, just come and get her, “ he said. And I did.
This morning I spoke with the Roger and Peggy Brister. Roger keeps our large horse trailer at his home until our pasture entry is widened, and he just put new tires on our double horse trailer. He had a job to do, I had errands I needed to tend to, and as Elizabeth and I finished unloading supplies the Bristers drove up.
When we arrived at the pasture site we had to park on the small side road. The pasture was at the slope of a levy without any space for parking. We parked in front of a hedged yard where four women and a child sat enjoining the day on the porch. I called to the women to tell them we’d be parked for a brief time. We’d just come to remove the horse. I knew they were aware of the horse I spoke of.
Roger and Peggy found the opening in the fence where the wooded area met the back corner of the pasture. The horse was wearing a halter and came right to us. Roger clipped the lead rope on and led the gentle, trusting horse out of the opening. She hit the grass like a midnight raid on chocolate. Roger let her have a moment and then moved her along. She stooped to grab a mouthful of grass as she ground the green blades and swallowed them.
I might as well say I named the horse Glory yesterday. She’s such a glorious testimony to the profound innocence of an animal who has been abused and is still so trusting of us.
Glory climbed right into the back of the trailer and the entire rescue was swift and sweet.
One of the women on the porch raised her voice above the wind and asked if we were bringing the horse back. I pretended not to hear her so I could approach her for a genuine conversation about what was taking place. She repeated her question, and I told her, no, we wouldn’t be bringing the horse back. I went on to say the horse was starving, and we would take her to our sanctuary for care. Before I could say I knew another horse had recently died the women chimed in, each letting me know that two horses had died and it was just terrible. They said how much they wished we could have learned about the horses before they died and went on about how no one should keep an animal he or she isn’t going to care for. We had a moment of camaraderie; each of us expressing our beliefs about caring for animals and answering for not doing so. The occasion would be indelibly marked. These women would tell the story of how the people from the animal place came to save the horse. The fact that law enforcement didn’t come allowed them an atmosphere free from intimidation and leveled the interaction to one of communion with kindred spirits and not law enforcers. I believe word of this event will be more powerful than a news article about just another person who was convicted of something. This was a concrete moment in a community of people who see, listen, and tell.
We arrived home with Glory and, as we pulled into our larger pasture, Everett and Buttercup approached to see who was in the trailer. Within minutes Glory was standing in the midst of horses, people, and our canine grazers, everyone curious to meet her and very excited about a new friend. Elizabeth began to examine her and was shocked when great wads of hair came loose from her back. Glory is thin and has some rain rot issues, but she will prosper and her Glory Days are just beginning.