By Tracy Ambrico
It began with an exchange of emails. A woman in town had a pony she wanted to re-home.
Whenever we hear of a “free” horse, I get a bit of a chill down my spine. First, the word free, offered to describe a horse, is mythical at best, and mendacious at worst. They may come live with you without a purchase price, but like every other member of your family, from children to pets to the birds that frequent the feeder in the yard, they require maintenance.
Maintenance includes money, time and emotional investment. Every living thing with whom we share our lives will require some balance of those three things. Horses are no exception.
The lady with the pony told us his name was Starlight and said he was very pretty. She said she bought him for her daughter, who was no longer interested in him. He was living alone in the pasture behind her house. Alexis and I made an appointment to meet him.
As with most things, we began with optimism (in spite of our fears) and a plan to find Starlight a home. We aren’t a rescue organization by design, but we also can’t ignore a horse in need. Something was telling us Starlight needed help.
People love horses.
People love horses. There is something magical about the connection we form with one another. We don’t need to be riders, competitors or experienced horsemen and women to be drawn to them. Their ability to communicate with us, using an ancient, unspoken language we’ve all but forgotten, offers a relationship built on something greater than words alone can describe.
The emotional bond, that lifelong passion for horses, is the foundation of MyBarnHelp. We exist to nurture the human/horse connection and share the wonder of these animals with everyone who feels the attraction, whether they want to ride, own, spectate or simply be around them and feel their magic. Our “why” is love.
As much as people love horses, too often, through naïveté, misunderstanding, bad information and/or unethical horse traders/businesses, they fail to give them proper care. Sometimes, otherwise kind people cause horses to suffer unintentionally.
It happens because they don’t understand how to care for them. They take the easy advice. They trust the wrong people. They take short cuts. They try to save money. And other, worse motivations they can rationalize without scrutiny on their private land.
Horses aren’t furniture.
Horses aren’t furniture. They can’t be thrown in storage until you have time for them. They can live in the wild, if they are born wild and have a herd to share the burden of a feral existence. They cannot survive without care in the conditions we create with captivity, even in the nicest neighborhoods. And they don’t thrive without company. They are social creatures.
Due to weather, Alexis and I tried to reschedule our visit with Starlight. His owner told us it couldn’t wait. She said he didn’t want to get up and she needed to do something today. This response increased our fears. We decided to go see him without delay.
Upon our arrival, we found our way to the barn behind the large ornate house, in a gated, exclusive neighborhood. We could see a wisp of grey as we approached that told us he was on his feet. When we rounded the corner, our hearts stopped.
Starlight was skin and bone.
Starlight was skin and bone. Looking past his beautiful, kind eyes and sweet expression, he was emaciated. There was a lady feeding him something in a bucket, that on further examination, turned out to be dog kibble. Yes, dog kibble. There were some random vegetables on the ground that appeared to come from a packaged salad.
There wasn’t a single strand of hay or forage in the barn. The only feed bags we could see were empty and labeled as deer corn. There was some rotting broccoli in a bucket hanging on the fence. There was a pasture, but it was overgrown with inedible wild flowers and had very little grass, most of which seemed to be eaten.
Even worse, Starlight’s front feet had the characteristic length and curl of advanced laminitis. Laminitis is an inflammation of the sensitive and insensitive layers of the hoof wall that support the horse’s foot. It’s an extremely painful condition with various causes, one of which can be feeding a horse things they aren’t designed to digest.
Starlight was in so much pain, he couldn’t pick up a front foot without nearly toppling over. A quick feel of the pulses near his hooves felt like a hammer strike with every beat of his heart. That he was standing at all was a testament to his courage and strength of will.
He looked at us with a kind eye and expression that said, “Thank you for coming. I need your help.”
There are moments..
There are moments that challenge us to respond rather than react. Moments where we behave tactically instead of emotionally. Starlight’s plight was one of those moments. We were on private property with his owner, at her grace. Our first instinct to call the sheriff could mean, at the very least, an attempt to put starlight on a trailer, and that would further traumatize him with both pain and fear. We couldn’t do it to him.
We convinced his owner to let us call a vet. We also let her know he may need to be put down to ease his suffering. We played along with her telling us how much she loved him and how she wanted to save his life. We controlled the urge to judge or scold her for the pain and loneliness we knew this sweet horse endured in her care. We barely controlled our own tears.
Our vet was the angel we needed (although he may dispute this description). He saw the situation immediately and helped the owner make the right choice for Starlight, who had no chance for recovery. Without intervention, Starlight was likely to die a slow, extremely painful death alone and scared in the field, with only vultures and predators for company.
We eased his pain with medication and walked him, pain free for the first time in a long time, to a place where he could enjoy a good graze for a little while before we said good bye. Then we eased him gently to his final rest.
We cried. And we told him how much he was loved. And we set him free to run and buck and play again with all of the horses in heaven.
And that was how we saved Starlight. We only knew him for a few hours, but he will forever light our way.
Starlight, star bright, first star I see tonight,
I wish I may, I wish I might
Have the wish I wish tonight.
Farewell friend. I wish we’d met sooner.