Second chance for 33 neglected pasture pets
A herd of healthy horses traipses through a snowy pasture, while just down the road pleasantly plump little goats huddle in their barn and munch away on hay, watching the white powder collect outside. These are familiar sights this time of year at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary’s Horse Haven. But for many of the hooved inhabitants, this is the first winter they’ve been able to enjoy those peaceful moments without worrying about where to stay warm or when their next meal will be.
A call for help
It was a quiet day at the end of summer when Jen Reid, manager of Horse Haven, received a call for help from a nearby sheriff’s office. The animal control officer had discovered a pasture full of long-neglected horses and other animals — many little more than skin and bone — and had been working on the case for the past year to get approval to move them. The approval had finally come through. That meant all those animals needed a place to go.
The local pet holding facility was certainly not equipped to handle 20 horses, 10 goats, two donkeys and a sheep. And with no place for them to go, the plan to save them was at a standstill.
[Wild mustang mares and foals make Best Friends their winter rest stop]
But the Sanctuary had everything the nearly three dozen animals would need: plenty of space and shelter for them all, veterinary staff to get them on the road to recovery, trained caregivers ready to care for them, and a veritable mountain of hay in the barn. So the rescue mission was a go.
The sheriff loaded up the animals and met the Best Friends team at a midway point for the handover. With so many hooves clip-clopping from pasture to trailer, to trailer to pasture, it took some time. “It was a full day,” Jen explains. “We had multiple trailers — we had our brand-new big stock trailer and our three-horse trailer. And then I have friends who live nearby who have a huge stock trailer, as well.”
Welcome to Best Friends
Upon reaching the Sanctuary, Jen and the rest of the team were able to get a proper look at the newcomers. Most were malnourished and wary of the humans around them. Two of the horses were in such bad condition that they, tragically, passed away shortly upon arrival, too weak and exhausted to keep going after all they had been through before.
Some individuals were in slightly better physical shape, or more outgoing, but were still skinny and hungry. One goat’s fur was rough and patchy likely from poor nutrition. There were several horses who seemed never to have been handled by a person at all. And then there were the three or four who were clearly at the top of the hierarchy, who had eaten most of what little food the group was given and were in relatively decent shape.
Male and female horses and goats had been kept together before their rescue, and even though they were separated once at Best Friends, there were unexpected (or not-so-unexpected, given the situation) surprises already on the way. Dolly, one of the goats, was the first to give birth at the Sanctuary; she had a healthy little kid whom everyone immediately fell in love with. Veterinary staff then later confirmed that two of the more human-friendly horses were pregnant, while pregnancy suspicions began to grow along with the bellies of several of the more standoffish mares.
[Watch baby goats kid around at Best Friends]
But they were safe now. Those who were scared would have their space, and those who could handle more interaction with people could start training and handling from scratch. They needed to be reintroduced to food slowly and carefully, so their systems could readjust and those who were pregnant could get the extra nutrients they needed.
And with time, those horses, donkeys and goats — along with the single sheep — grew stronger and healthier while the sheriff who had found them safety worked on the case to make it permanent.
Bright futures ahead
With space to breathe and food in their stomachs, life was already starting to look up for the large herd of newcomers. And things only got better when the court case settled. The Sanctuary officially took over their care and began looking for new homes for those who were ready.
Dolly was adopted by a local family just before Christmas, shortly after having her kid, Miley. “They’ve joined a big herd of goats,” Jen says and then laughs, “and will be loved within an inch of their life.”
Two of the older male goats, along with the sheep (wonderfully named Ram a Lam a Ding Dong), were struggling to settle in with the rest of the herd at the Sanctuary. They had lived their whole lives as intact males, and even after they were neutered there was quite a bit of literal head-butting going on. But they got a nice home where they’ll be keeping weeds at bay by eating them on 10 acres of municipal land in a neighboring town.
Then, a longtime visitor and volunteer, Jessie, mentioned that she was thinking of adopting a pony. And Ann Hepworth, Best Friends senior equine trainer, knew just whom to introduce her to. “Apple Jack was a super nice, lovely, sweet little pony,” says Jen. “So it worked out really, really well. Her little girls are already riding her around, and it sounds like it’s going really great. Even though she didn’t have a ton of training, that’s what Jessie does, and her girls are both excellent riders.”
The lives of all these animals have fully turned around in the five months since they arrived at the Sanctuary. They’ve put on weight, their bellies are full, and they have the energy to run and play.
Jonathan Dewey, the goat whose coat had been so patchy when he arrived, is sporting some impressive facial hair now. Many of the shyer horses are warming up to their new human friends, while those who need more time and space are content to enjoy their pasture and regular healthy heaps of hay.
And while there’s still a lot more work to be done (and close eyes to be kept on the mommas-to-be), this barnyard bunch finally has a bright future ahead of them.
This article was originally published in the May/June 2023 issue of Best Friends magazine. Want more good news? Become a member and get stories like this six times a year.
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Curly-coated horse gets a personal trainer