September of 2012 was when I encountered the worst case of animal neglect I’d ever seen, and after more than a dozen years of rescue, that’s saying something. I had gotten a call from ACO Karen Lombardi explaining they had to do an emergency rescue of a horse less than a mile from our farm, could we help get her, and would I have a stall for her to stay in during her recovery.
I did a quick rearranging of horse housing in my head, answered yes, and then sent my trainer, Ashley, to help. It sounds shallow and small of me, but this one time I didn’t want to see where she came from or what she had endured. This time I wanted someone else to deal with it and bring her back to me so I could handle the rehab part of it without having to shake off the horror of the animal’s circumstances. The Universe laughs a lot at my expense, because 10 minutes later Ashley called and said they couldn’t get the horse out without sedating her and no one there had the ability to do it. Alas . . . I grabbed my medical box and was there in five minutes.
I pulled up alongside the police cars and Ashley’s trailer and followed a path up a hillside through piles of garbage, brush and trees. I’d probably climbed 50 feet before I caught a glimpse of a shed with a collapsed roof, covered in overgrowth. How could there possibly be a horse in there? And yet, there she was . . . a mud-encrusted pony, mane matted to a solid consistency, trapped in a “stall” in the front of the shed that was on the verge of collapsing as the back already had. There was no stall door – just plywood and boards nailed across it. ACO Paul Paul Niedmann was using a crowbar to pry away a section so we could get the horse out. It was obvious she hadn’t been out in a long, long time.
I quickly learned her name was Cheyenne, and she stood in muck and manure more than a foot deep. There was a horse-shaped imprint in the mud to her right side where she apparently would flop down to rest, but other than that, I was sure there was no way she could have moved around in the stall. My suspicions were confirmed when Paul finally wrenched the wall away and I stepped in to give Cheyenne an injection of Ace to calm her down while we tried to extricate her. She shot me a look of terror, but there was nothing she could do – as she tried to lift her front feet, I could see the shockingly overgrown tips of her hooves poking up through the mud, but the rest of her feet couldn’t follow. It was like she was trying to pull flat sections of board up through the muck. . . way too much resistance.
One hoof at a time we slowly led the frightened pony from a prison that, by conservative estimates, she’d stood in for well over a year. Finally free, she tottered on the equivalent of horsey high heels and we began the long process of leading a horse, who had not walked in ages, down a treacherous precipice.
One step at a time, with Karen on one side and me on the other, we held Cheyenne up as we waded through the brush and garbage, praying she didn’t stumble and break a leg. Twenty minutes to the trailer, and then – getting her in, another long ordeal as when she tried to lift her front feet to step in her elf-slipper hooves would catch on the bottom of the trailer. Finally we helped her lift each foot, one at a time, until she was safely inside.
By now, despite the sedative, it had truly dawned on Cheyenne she was being rescued, and when we arrived back at Locket’s Meadow she unloaded quietly.
I asked the barn girls to give her a warm bath in the driveway while I prepared our largest stall with extra deep, clean pine shavings, and she stood quietly while they scrubbed her. Cheyenne’s mane was a total loss and had to be cut off, and as they scrubbed her body, much of her coat came away. The skin on her legs was burned from standing in caustic urine and feces, and much of that hair sloughed off with shampooing. And then . . . we slowly, slowly walked her into the barn and led her to her stall.
I have seen relief on the faces of hundreds of animals when they finally arrive “home,” but the sight of this pony standing in a big, clean stall with fresh hay and water . . . I will remember forever the moment when she realized it was for real, and she drew in a deep breath, sighed, and slowly collapsed down into the shavings, stretched out her limbs, and sighed several more times before allowing herself to fall asleep.
There was so much that happened after this moment. Dozens of sessions with the vet and farrier as they worked to reshape her feet into something she could walk on. Six months waiting for all of the unbearably painful abscesses to grow out. Special shoes to cushion her hooves through the long ordeal. To this day, we don’t know her age; her teeth give no indication as she’d worn them too short chewing on the wood of her stall, trying to break free. The more she chewed down, the more wood they nailed up to keep her contained . . .
Chey and I got to know each other really well through her recovery. Each day, once we got her hooves to a size and shape she could maneuver on, I took her for walks. Short ones, three a day, to the indoor arena where we did laps on the sand, working our way up to longer stretches every few days. Sometimes, when a particularly huge abscess was getting ready to blow open, she wasn’t up to walking, and we would stand in the grass and she would graze in the sunshine.
I thought a lot about how powerful the will to live really is . . .
Today, you would never know what Cheyenne had endured. She is a perfectly normal pony, out eating hay in her paddock and flirting with buddies Captain and Sammy over the fence. She had no training at all when we got her, but today the barn girls ride her just fine. She’s not a lesson pony by any stretch, but she loves knowing she is part of the family and can do some “work.” Each afternoon, I open her gate and she trots down to the barn, all by herself, and puts herself into her stall. She is home.
For so many of our horses, it’s a long, long road home. But we are so grateful for each of those that find their way home to Locket’s Meadow.
Kathleen Schurman and her husband, David, own Locket's Meadow, and animal rescue and sanctuary. They are currently raising funds through Gofundme. Please visit and help if you can, or share the link. Thank you for caring!
More from living