Appalachian Poverty and Good Intentions: The Mud Ponies

I received a private message asking for help last week for someone with three horses they weren’t able to care for, anymore.

But let me say that “Anymore”, I’ve come to find, is subjective.

Anymore sometimes means. . .care used to be wonderful and still is, but there is a struggle to keep up. It sometimes means care was okay, but it is starting to decline. More often, it means care is sub-par and has always been, and thankfully, somehow, something connects and a person asks for help (too late or barely in time).

That is to be the story of the Mud Ponies from Appalachia.


This stuff is hard for me. It hurts, as I come from poverty. Not because I have been impoverished, but I come from the thickest, deepest portion of abject poverty in the United States. I’ve been with my father and mother when they took to those with nothing. I’ve seen people in the mountains living without a semblance of warmth and care in front of them. I’ve witnessed human want and need at levels many Americans do not believe exists, and I’ve noted an acceptance of “nothingness” that even I struggle to accept as possible here.

If one considers how people can live in this region,  how can it be a wonder how the animals subsist?


So perhaps this is the heart of what I want to say right now. . .if someone is living without basic necessities and has accepted that as a state of normal, how can they possibly understand the depth of suffering those dependent on them may endure?

In fact, if it is all one has ever known generation after generation, they likely may not know anything is amiss. More than that, it is their state of normal, acceptable, right.

Let this digest a bit, please.

Here. . .People go without electricity in winter, without sufficient clothing, without running water, without good food. . .they go without, their children go without, their dogs go without. . .what hope have the horses?

Here they are not learning often enough. . .what possibilities are out there. They have not seen how things can be enough to know to want and search for better.

I remember receiving an angry email once asking I stop harping on the economic conditions here, and I responded, I would. . .once the conditions change, never before.

When people lack the basics we’ve come to believe are needed in developed countries, the beings depending on those to survive, the children and the animals. . . have little to no opportunity or hope or ability.

All that may be left in these cases is chance. . .

That day, these horses did, at least, get that.

A chance.

When we arrived on a tiny, mud covered property last week, I knew we needed to get the horses out, and with much work, we did.

There was no operable gate, so we had to cut some ties and move things to create an opening that wasn’t. . .

There was also no safe way to walk in small lot, even for the horses, let alone us.

There had been four horses, but some days prior, one had become trapped in mud that was belly deep. He froze to death and died there. He could not get up and out of it. It was no wonder, really, once I tried to walk through.

The owner covered him with junk and a tarp, as this is a neighborhood, and while I tried hard to wade through the mud, there was no safe way. It was so much deeper than anything I’d encountered before now.

Because of the mud, when this old mare tried, fearful of the mire, to follow me, she jumped further than the path I hoped she’d follow. She became entangled in metal and sunk. It meant I had to stand on the body of the dead horse for a longtime, wondering what would happen, while I tried to navigate her loose from the muck and trash. I was not much help. I tried.

When I stood there, I felt a lot of hopeless, too, folks. . .ALL of the hopeless, really.  I was overwhelmed at what this moment encompassed. The work we do here is so complex and involved and sad. And I wanted to think. . .and hopeless, but I tried not to, and I tried to not sit down on the dead horse and his sinking herd mate and cry.

Here I was wallowing a very thin, scared, lame mare all over a mud lot knowing I was too late for so much. . .for the person, the horses. . .for almost anything.


But she was able to free herself with encouragement. The next two horses had to come out another way because of the depth of the mud (and listen, I wad through calf deep mud all of the time. . .this was something quite different).  It took some creativity, and once they were free, I was heartbroken to see that two were gruesomely lame. So painful, I hated to have to trailer them any distance. But we had no choice.

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All I could do was make a promise they would not hurt anymore.

It was behind them, and that is all I could think. . .


For Ben and Rachel, mother and son, the only thing would could offer was a peaceful passing, due to extreme lameness and pain that had been on going for, likely, a lifetime, due to poor breeding and neglected feet. We took them immediately to our vet for evaluation and a peaceful end.

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The third survivor, a 6-7 year old mare, we haven’t named, yet, has a future now.

There is always a silver lining.

She didn’t die there, and she would have shortly, if we’d not gone for them.

And she has hope, and in that, I remember. . . we cannot ever feel something is too vast, too overwhelming or hopeless.

Where there is life, there is hope.

Things are tough here, have no doubt, and it hurts . . .often and deeply, but there is always hope and a reason to continue and keep on.

Change comes.


5 thoughts on “Appalachian Poverty and Good Intentions: The Mud Ponies

  1. I’ve never heard of you before reading this, but I have to say you are the first rescue that I will follow and support. Why? Because you didn’t automatically jump to crucifying the human. I, too, have seen abject poverty and the despair and hopelessness that goes with it. Compassion is what is needed, for the people and animals. Thank you for being real, and for helping these horses, and for doing what had to be done for the two, not using them to milk people of their money. I don’t have much, but as I can you will get donations. How does one donate?

    1. I have donated to these people and what they do goes above and way beyond most rescues. I have witnessed sad cases in my lifetime and it is hard to bear. My heart goes out to these horses, at least now they are safe or in a better place. Courageous people.

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