Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Rescues: A Three Year Saga

Mare on the left. Filly with filthy, long catch rope on the right.

These are my two new rescue horses, pictured here at their previous, awful home. The story of how I got them out of there actually begins years ago. Gather around, readers, and let me tell you a  tale of neglect...

Once upon a time, there was a dairy farm owned by two brothers. It was a rundown, worn-out, filthy dairy farm just barely held together by spit and baling twine. (And I mean that literally-- this is part of the horse pasture fence, held together by orange baling twine.)

The two brothers hired Mexican immigrants to work for them on this dairy farm, renting them housing and even a bit of pasture if the men wanted to keep livestock. One of these men got horses. Another decided to raise sheep. To guard those sheep, they brought in two young llamas.

The Mexicans eventually moved on, taking the sheep but abandoning the horses and the llamas. Months passed, then years. One llama disappeared, either dying of neglect or wandering off through the broken, nearly non-existent fences. The other llama survived and stayed near the farm, but as he grew, the halter he wore cut through his face. Eventually, part of his nose rotted off, leaving him with a projecting lump of proud flesh.

 Another Mexican immigrant named Amos Barradas eventually arrived to work on the farm, and claimed the two horses for his own. One was a mare, the other was her colt. Amos used these horses in backyard races, where they were beaten and injected with "vitamin shots" in order to "make them go faster." (These are Amos's words, which I got out of him later.) Inevitably, the stallion bred his own mother. And that's about when I stumbled on the scene.

In the late fall of 2011, I drove past this sad farm and noticed the two very thin horses, eating what was left of the dying grass. The mare also had a rotting pile of straw that had been dumped on the ground for her to eat. The stallion was trapped in a weird, ramshackle, open-sided wooden structure. A blue tarp, nailed casually on top of this crude frame, flapped in the wind. The mare was obviously heavily pregnant, but her projecting spine, sharply defined shoulder blade, and the deep grooves between the tops of her ribs also showed that she was starving. The stallion had no water. The mare had access to a pathetic trickle of water in a drainage ditch.

I took pictures, including the one above, and sent them everywhere. I called the local sheriff, animal control, anyone I could think of. I urged others to do the same, and they did. Not much happened. The cops told me Amos Barradas was providing "food" in the form of straw and moldy hay, and "water" in the form of the ditch for the mare, and a bucket of water for the stallion "every day" (according to Amos). The cops said that the law required no more.

Well I knew bullshit when I heard it, but I got busy with one thing or another. Unforgivably, to my great shame, I didn't return to the farm until the middle of winter.

Meanwhile, the llama continued to roam the farm. He had never been fed or watered, never shorn, never touched. He ate snow in winter, and what alfalfa he could find in the hay field. He had no shelter. In the summer, he had baked under a six inch thick armor of matted wool and burdock.

I believe that sometimes God, or fate, or something sends you reminders. My reminder came in January, in the form of a very annoying lady. The story of her craziness and her part in this story is best left in my archives (it's there if you want to read it). Suffice it to say, I was reminded to get my butt out there and help.

Amos did not want to sell his poor horses, but he had no claim on the llama. I talked to the dairy farm owners, who did not care a bit about the llama wandering their land, but were willing to cooperate a little just to see him gone. And so at the end of January, several wonderful volunteers and a very helpful vet with a blow dart gun and tranq darts helped me get the llama home. (All of this is in my blog's archives, with lots of pictures.)

The llama eventually had to be tranquilized again so I could cut all of his burdock mats off. He got vaccinated, got his feet trimmed, and got a name: Nash. The vet said his nose would never heal, but he would be OK. Nash eventually found a wonderful home at a llama sanctuary, where, for the first time in years, he could be with his own kind again.

After that, it was time to work on the horses again. During winter, Amos kept the mare and stallion in tiny, filthy outdoor "stalls" made of miscellaneous junk, and fed them when he felt like it. He had no heated stock tank for them, and so he brought them water in buckets when he felt like it. Worst of all, he absolutely did not want to sell them, his "valuable racehorses," and his bosses the dairy farmers did not care about what was happening. Neither, apparently, did the cops. All I could do was maintain contact with this hateful, ignorant man and try to cajole him to do better.

Finally, in the spring of 2012, the filly was born. Amos did not understand the need for worming, vaccinations, or dental care for horses, but even he thought it was probably a bad idea for the stallion to re-breed his mother...and it would be worse if he bred his own daughter-sister. So his solution was to tie the stallion to a rotting shed 24/7, away from the mare and filly. (The cops still didn't care.)

This situation might have continued indefinitely, had the stallion not had the good sense to try to escape. He did so constantly. During one random drive-by check, I was surprised (but not very surprised) to suddenly find him running alongside my car. He then headed straight for the mare and filly across the road, and it was a miracle that I did not run into him. Amos caught him that time, but after an even more hairy escape in which the stallion gashed his shoulder, Amos finally decided to sell. I do not normally like buying horses from their neglectful owners. However, the price was low enough, I was fairly sure Amos would not be using the money to buy another animal, and I just could not leave the stallion tied to the barn any longer. With backup from friends and family, I got him to Saint Francis Horse Rescue, where he was gelded, rehabilitated, and adopted out to a wonderful family. His name is now "Diego," and he is a sweetheart.

...And then there were two left on the dairy farm...

One mare, one filly, no real care. In the summer, they were OK-- they at least had pasture and the drainage ditch. In the winter, they were crammed into a 15X7 pen made out of broken gates, fence panels and wire. A cracked, low-ceilinged calf hut was their only shelter. Amos continued to feed and water them only when he felt like it. Despite my efforts, with both Amos and with the cops, this situation went on and on and on. More than once I found them shivering, without food or water, and more than once I dropped off hay at the side of the road or snuck it into their pen.


 Finally, FINALLY Amos called me this winter and said he was ready to part with them. I won't bore you with the details of the negotiations that went on, but I will tell you they were tense, prolonged, and occasionally loud. With the incredible support of Mary of Saint Francis Horse Rescue, I finally got 'em home.

So here they are, safe at last! It was worth the all the previous three years of work just to see that filly dance and trot and buck with joy, so happy to have room to run. I am flabbergasted at how much they are eating and drinking. In the first 24 hours, they demolished four bales of hay. They drank 3 gallon gulps of water at a time and then slurped and splashed it everywhere, enjoying the strange and wonderful abundance. I've been very cautious with the grain, so as not to colic them, but they positively crave it.

The vet visited them the day after they arrived. Although they were not handleable enough to vaccinate safely, she pronounced their hearts and lungs healthy. Fecal tests are in progress to check for parasites. The vet also said that the mare's bad eye would not require any treatment, although it would never get better either.

The eye had been scratched at some point and never treated. The end result was that the eye healed itself as well as it could (not very well), leaving the mare partially blind on her left side. The vet says it was most likely the burdock covering her that caused the scratch. Neglect on top of neglect.

The vet says that the filly seems to have suffered no ill effects from the inbreeding. That's her above, in the red halter (which I very quickly replaced with a decent one). She's adorable, curious and coping pretty well, considering the fact that she's experiencing tons of things that are 100% new to her. She likes grain, but doesn't know how to eat it from your hand. She has no idea what apples or carrots are, and won't eat them. She won't eat from the manger, because she is frightened of the roof above it. Trying to lead her is like trying to fly an eight hundred pound kite in high winds. The best news is that although she's ribby underneath her winter coat, she's in decent shape overall.

The mare is probably in her early teens, although that estimate may change when we can get a better look at her teeth. You can feel all her ribs, and her back bone is too prominent underneath her fluff. She's had a hard life, and it shows. There are some big scars on her legs. Her hooves are not too long but are weird, as if they've been trimmed by someone with no knowledge. She is generally wary and quite protective of her filly, and is quick to pin her ears if she feels threatened. After spending several hours with her, she finally relaxed with me, even pressing her head into my hand for more petting. However, she was very defensive with the vet, even aiming a very nasty kick when we tried a quick needle poke. I suspect she will always be wary of new people-- and who can blame her, after what she's been through? According to Amos, she was broke to ride at some point (for those Mexican horse races) but I suspect her previous "training" is going to make things harder, not easier. Time will tell.

Eventually, after they are rehabilitated, these ladies will be up for adoption. For now though, they need TLC, which they are getting, and NAMES!

I have been told that I'm not very good at naming, so I'd love your input. What do you think of the name Ruffian (or Ruffi for short) for the filly? Ruffian was, of course, a famous racing mare who was also a dark bay. But maybe it isn't funny to reference her family's past as Mexican backyard racehorses.

How about the name Riven, for the mare? Something that is riven has been split apart. I think that describes how her eye looks (it's actually pretty cool, and I'll try to get pictures soon). I also think that it might describe her split life. In her past was neglect and abuse. In her future lies love and abundance. But I dunno, does it sound weird, or too negative?

Post your name suggestions in the comments below, or on the north horse Facebook page!
I will keep you updated on their progress, and posting lots more pictures.

I'd like to end by saying THANK YOU to a few people who helped tremendously in cleaning up this mess of neglect:

  • To Becky, who always volunteers to do things in the worst weather, and never complains.
  • To Erin, long-time supporter of this blog and of all animal rescues (even spur-of-the-moment llama rescues).
  • To Dr. Edders, for his skill with a blow dark gun and total patience.
  • To my readers, who have cheered me on and inspired me with their own rescues.
  • To my family and my husband, who support all my rescue projects.
  • To Lodi Vet, for all that they do.
  • To Mary, you especially, for all of your help and support, in many ways over many days.

Thank you all.


  1. Good work. I know there are a lot of people who think that what happens to individual horses doesn't matter, because it doesn't make a difference for thousands more and most of these individuals won't ever be worth anything. But it's all the difference in the world for that animal, and, if you can't care about one, you don't really care about the thousands.

  2. I like Ruff for the feisty philly. Maybe Ready for the mare? Ready to get out, get better, get on with a good life. No matter either way, thanks for not givong up!

  3. Thank you so much for being patient and persistent in getting those two out of there. Since I read about the stallion, I wondered about the two remaining horses. I suspected those were the two you referred to in your recent previous post. It is so heartwarming to hear they are safe and cared for. I was in a situation recently with several neglected horses, monitoring it and biding my time to try and get them out of their situation. As of now, two are out of there, not by my doing, but there are still two left. Reading your story inspires me to keep hoping. Thanks so much on behalf of those two horses.

  4. Way to go! Glad they're finally safe and cared for. I like Riven for the mare quite a lot

  5. You never gave up on them knowing full well this was going to be one heck of a project both getting them out of there and then the rehab. I don't believe they had much longer to go considering this winter. Great save and this is an amazing rescue to say the least. They are safe and happy and in very good hands! ;)

  6. I would avoid Ruffian for the filly, just because I knew a rescue filly names "Ruckus" who had a tough time finding someone to take a chance on a young greenie with a "wild" name, even though she was a laid-back sweetie who just needed more miles. Then they changed her name to "Princess Gumdrops", and she finally found a new home. I think her name is Farrah, now, so all's well that ends well I guess.
    That said, I do really like Ruffian. Maybe "Ruffnut", if you love How To Train Your Dragon as much as I do.

  7. Thank you. I hope to some day meet you in person and say thank you again. It's another example of the vigilance we all need to have. It's easier to turn our heads and ignore, pretending all is ok. So good for you not to do that. We all need to learn how to do this, so thank you for posting these details. Names? I'm fond of the sothern sweethearts like Mary Sue or Rosey Jo. Like Seabrooks above said, they make them sound sweeter and have a more Awe factor.

  8. ...Agree! I say Chocolate Gumdrop and Candy Kiss because after all it is Valentine's Day!!!