Love doesn’t feed anything. “I went without Food so My Horses Could Eat.” A real story in Appalachia of saving people and horses.
So many times, we encounter owners who were irresponsible, cruel and uneducated.
We encounter abuse without a care so often, it is hard to express.
Sometimes, we encounter something entirely different.
This is such a story.
About 3 weeks ago, I received a message on my personal phone (a closely guarded number for obvious reason in this work) from a lady begging for a call back. She said our feed store gave her my number. This isn’t something new.
We are contacted, though not on my personal number, daily, if not sometimes hourly.
But the way she pleaded for her horses’ lives was different, and I called her back quickly. I don’t want to sound cruel. I surely am not. I simply cannot call back each person quickly or at all. We drown in requests for help. We cannot help most, let alone all.
Still something in her voice or tale bade me call, and so I did.
I promised I would visit that coming Monday, but the rescue ended up on another transport near her location a few days sooner, and we stopped by to see the horses.
The small and run down house sat on the side of an active road. The barn was dilapidated; the house was worse. She had apologized many times on the phone for being without nice accommodations and without “enough.” I assured her it was okay and asked she not worry.
Signs were painted all over the barn reading, “Do not touch the horses.” There were beware type signs around the fences falling down around the home.
Initially, no one came to either door. A sign said she would shoot you if you entered. In most places in the USA, folks would have doubted anyone lived on site. Being from one of the poorest counties in the country, I knew better.
I waited until someone peeked through the doors, and then I shouted I was with the horse rescue loudly as cars passed on the road right behind me.
The lady didn’t believe me. She told me how many “disreputable” people had stopped trying to take her horses, and I knew her fear was real. I know this area. I know where free horses go. Finally, I said enough through the door, she believed I was the lady she spoke to the phone.
We went out to the barn, and inside, the horses stood in makeshift type stalls. I’ve seen worse. They weren’t really clean, but the animals had water. Hay and sweet feed could be seen stored in the aisle. She clearly wasn’t able to clean stalls and hadn’t really learned all that would have been ideal about horses in her time with them.
She told us about pulling them from the local, filthy auction owned by a kill buyer ten years or more prior. I knew this sale barn. It was a hell hole until it closed down.
Tears flowed hysterically as she expressed her fear we were truly “bad” people who would abuse these horses or not feed them.
I told her we wouldn’t be able to take them right away. I told her the blind, very thin and oldest mare would be best served by euthanasia. I told her we would try to help. She hugged me. tightly. Her thanks were very real.
Only one 30-40 year old horse was actually very thin. She was blind. She had lived there so long. None looked great, but they mostly were very stable, a few looked entirely ok. One miniature had lived there over 30 years. She was foundered. All came to me, and enjoyed being petted, none hesitated. They looked to people for affection. They certainly were not afraid or fretful.
I thought about how being poor shouldn’t be a crime. . .but how it often is, anyway. I thought about how poverty causes neglect even when one wishes it didn’t.
I left worried. I know what drowning in horses can feel like even with knowledge and resources. Love doesn’t feed anything.
A week passed. She texted me afraid and running low on hay. I told her we were trying but were full in the rescue.
Another week passed. She called begging for help. I told her we were trying and were full. I had posted and sent some emails, but I hadn’t found anyone with space. I promised to keep working on it. A hundred other horses needed help, after all.
The next week, she texted me and asked could we please just humanely put them down. I called her. I was grocery shopping with my little boys, and as I pushed my cart through a store able to feed my animals and my kids, I spoke with her. I said I believed the kindest thing for the oldest mare and probably the extremely aged miniature was what she asked. I told her I would find some way to come this last weekend and some way to take the others.
She cried and thanked me. She told me she had 7 bales of hay left and 2 bags of feed. She told me to take those when we came.
We arrived Saturday. We made an appointment with one of our vets. We pulled in. I knocked. She answered in tears, told me to take the grain and hay, and she said she had to leave and could not stay to see them leave her. She had me promise to put the oldest mare down and promise to never let them suffer or to end up at an auction. We went out onto the hillside and caught each one in two trips.
When our vet arrived Monday, she was so very sad. She told me she knew these horses. She knew the owner. She knew them going back many years. She knew their names. She told me how she often visited and vetted the horses for so long, but as money became short, she could go less. She said she had gone for very little in recent years to help. She explained this elderly lady had ended up letting a man into her life who was an addict who took everything she had and left her in poverty. She knew the lady’s grand-daughter. She said the grand-daughter told her the lady often went without food to feed her horses. I believed it without a doubt.
She agreed after examining the elderly mare, the only decent thing was to give her this ending for a variety of health related reasons. As we walked the aged paint mare to lay her to rest, the vet spoke to the old, blind mare, called her by her name, and she never stopped talking continually of what a sad state of affairs this was. She cared so much about this lady who cared for these animals. Once we helped the old mare across the bridge to peace, the vet sat down on the wet ground as it was getting dark and took out some scissors to cut some of Sierra’s tail. She told us she would take this hair to the owner and let her know she knew her other horses would be okay now, let her know who put her old girl down. . .let her know it was peaceful and decent and right.
I was reminded how the old lady hugged me and sobbed, and I felt lucky and small.
Lucky because this isn’t something I’ve faced personally. I’ve not had to chose between feeding myself, my little boys and my animals.
Small because this is one of so many stories like this where help comes not nearly often enough.
I am glad this time we were here.
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