From sick­ness to health

EQUUS - - Equus - By Bob­bie Jo Lieber­man

Res­cu­ing a horse is a flight into the un­known. But in sav­ing my lit­tle colt that read

Like most of my Face­book­book friends, I re­ceive up­dates on my news feed from var­i­ous res­cues around fea­tur­ing horses of ev­ery breed and de­scrip­tion--mules, don­keys and minia­ture horses---all caught up in the slaugh­ter pipe­line with only a lim­ited time to be saved.

How these un­lucky an­i­mals got there is an­other story (see “The Eco­nomics of Kill Pens,” page 40), and it is es­ti­mated that more than 130,000 horses a year find them­selves on a truck with a one-way ticket to a slaugh­ter­house in Mex­ico or Canada.

Early in 2016, word went out that a large num­ber of Mis­souri Fox Trot­ter wean­lings had been brought to a kill pen in Bas­trop, Louisiana.

My heart went out to these young­sters who had been liv­ing, ac­cord­ing to re­ports, in semi-feral con­di­tions on a large farm some­where in the Mid­west. Their dams had been shipped di­rectly to slaugh­ter, and the ba­bies were left at the kill pen, where they could be "bailed out" for $300 apiece.

Equine Nu­tri­tion­ist, en­durance rider and ed­u­ca­tor Su­san Gar­ling­house, DVM of Cal­i­for­nia had just bailed out a chest­nut wean­ling colt and drew my at­ten­tion to tag #1660. She dis­cerned po­ten­tial be­neath the ragged coat and spindly frame. I've known "Dr. G" for many years through our mu­tual pas­sion for the sport of en­durance rid­ing. Like other com­mit­ted eques­tri­ans, en­durance rid­ers have taken the un­wanted mus­tangs to Ara­bian show ring re­flects to Stan­dard­breds off the track, many suc­cess­ful dis­tance horses emerged from the ranks of the dis­carded.

My love for en­durance and ground­ing in equine health were nur­tured by my long as­so­ci­a­tion with EQUUS Med­i­cal Edi­tor Emer­i­tus Matthew Mackay, DVM who is also a mem­ber of the Amer­i­can En­durance Ride Con­fer­ence (AERC) Hall of Fame. Dur­ing the years I served as a se­nior edi­tor for the mag­a­zine, Mackay-Smith men­tored me on his fa­vorite sport. To­day, af­ter hav­ing rid­den more thatn 5,000 miles in AERC events, my love of the sport still burns brightly. But my hus­band, Kenny We­ber, and I have found a new call­ing: help­ing horses re­gain their health. We are cur­rently re­ha­bil­i­tat­ing horses with con­di­tions as di­verse as joint disor­ders, res­pi­ra­tory

is­sues and EPM .

Kenny and I live on a 200-acre ranch near the Hill Coun­try of Texas with our 10 horses. We had never “of­fi­cially” res­cued a horse be­fore, al­though we have a few who “be­came” res­cues by virtue of our not want­ing to send them into harm’s way. But when word of this group of Fox Trot­ter young­sters be­gan draw­ing at­ten­tion, we de­cided to make room for one more in our pas­ture.

So, on the ba­sis of that murky video, I im­pul­sively sent in the funds and spoke up for #1660, a dark bay colt with a frosted mane and tail.


Even af­ter I had taken the plunge, I was still sweat­ing it out. What if the colt had al­ready been shipped? He was still on the list of avail­able horses, but he wouldn’t be for long, and some­times there were mix-ups. I wouldn’t re­lax un­til he was safely out of the kill pen. Once the funds were ac­knowl­edged and he was tagged “SAFE,” I be­gan to search for a quar­an­tine fa­cil­ity.

Gar­ling­house rec­om­mended An­gela Parham of Spirit Run Equine Res­cue in Gilmer, Texas, where she had just shipped her own res­cue. “An­gela deals with Bas­trop all the time and knows the pro­to­cols and how to deal with them,” she told me. The res­cue process can be daunt­ing for new­com­ers such as my hus­band and I, liv­ing more than 500 miles away from the kill lot. In ad­di­tion, we had no prac­ti­cal way to isolate the young­ster, with 10 other horses on the ranch.

Parham and I quickly con­nected and set up a plan. First, the colt would be trans­ported to her ranch in east­ern Texas and eval­u­ated by her ve­teri­nar­ian. PayPal and credit cards were quickly en­listed. It would cost $17 per day to keep him in quar­an­tine, plus med­i­cal ex­penses.

When the ar­range­ments were set for my new colt’s ini­tial care, I started to breathe eas­ier. And I felt even more con­fi­dent about the sit­u­a­tion as I came to learn more about Parham. In short, she is a tremen­dous ad­vo­cate for horses. “There is noth­ing like the heart of a horse” is one of her mantras. “And if you give them your heart, they will fight. I tell ev­ery sin­gle horse who shows up here two things: Life is bet­ter to­day. And if you’ll fight, I’ll fight.”

The fight to save #1660 was about to be­gin. But first, he needed a name.


Af­ter a few trial runs with other names that just didn’t stick, I de­cided to call the colt Far­ley. The name partly came from mem­ory. One of my child­hood he­roes was Wal­ter Far­ley, au­thor of the Black Stallion books. Mainly, I just liked the sound of it.

By the time he ar­rived at Spirit Run, Far­ley was thin, weak and ob­vi­ously sick, with snot pour­ing from his nos­trils. “I re­mem­ber that frail, frag­ile, wob­bly, poor bro­ken baby com­ing off of the trailer with guarded steps,” said Parham. “I was wor­ried about him, but there was much life in his eyes. I could see a beau­ti­ful young man there be­fore me, a di­a­mond in the rough.”

The road to heal­ing would not be easy. Far­ley was di­ag­nosed with both stran­gles and ship­ping fever and was run­ning a high fever. Be­sides mal­nu­tri­tion, he al­most cer­tainly was rid­dled with par­a­sites. To pro­tect other horses on the prop­erty, he was iso­lated in a 40- by 30-foot pen with an at­tached shed, just 100 yards from Parham’s house. His coat was thick and mat­ted and beg­ging for a bath, but it would take weeks to even get close enough to touch him. We were also in for a sur­prise---Far­ley was about the size of a year­ling, but the lo­cal ve­teri­nar­ian de­ter­mined that MR. PER­SON­AL­ITY: De­spite his rocky start in life, Far­ley did not lose his friendly de­meanor.

he was ac­tu­ally about 3 years old.

The road to re­cov­ery would be long, with no short­cuts---an­tibi­otics could have been po­ten­tially fa­tal by driv­ing the in­fec­tion deeper and caus­ing bas­tard stran­gles. “If they’re eat­ing, drink­ing and in­ter­ested enough to whinny, I gen­er­ally don’t start them

TRANS­FOR­MA­TION: At the res­cue ( op­po­site), Far­ley re­cov­ered from ship­ping fever and stran­gles. By the time he ar­rived at his new owner’s Texas ranch ( left) he was be­gin­ning to bloom.

on an­tibi­otics,” Gar­ling­house told me. “Sup­port­ive care is a big part of it. It’s in his fa­vor that he is a lit­tle older, not a wean­ling---there’s a de­cent chance that he has been ex­posed to stran­gles be­fore, even if he didn’t de­velop clin­i­cal dis­ease, so his im­mune sys­tem is bet­ter able to fight it. Hang in there.”

At least four other Fox Trot­ter ba­bies from Far­ley’s group did not sur­vive. Many were too weak to en­dure long trailer trips, and some had been in­jured.

Many times I, too, feared Far­ley would not make it. His fever per­sisted, and the pho­tos Parham sent daily were of­ten heart­break­ing. But slowly, day by day, he got a lit­tle bet­ter. Each sooth­ing word from Parham, each gen­tle touch, each care­fully mea­sured scoop of feed seemed ul­ti­mately to work magic on the lit­tle colt. I be­lieve she saved Far­ley’s life with her ex­pe­ri­ence, ded­i­ca­tion and never-say-die at­ti­tude.

On February 16, Parham re­ported, “Af­ter to­day’s dose of Banamine, his fever fell from 103 to 101.5 F. Pray­ing he is on the mend. And his stran­gles ab­scesses have burst. He is eat­ing al­falfa and sweet feed and whin­ny­ing to the other horses.” His fever did not spike again, and the ab­scesses be­gan to re­cede.

An­gela told me then that Far­ley is an old soul with “many sto­ries to tell,” and she be­lieved he would pull through.


Ev­ery res­cued horse presents a unique nu­tri­tional chal­lenge, but Parham starts with a base feed of a 12 per­cent pro­tein pel­let and to that adds an all-around vi­ta­min and min­eral sup­ple­ment for­mu­lated to sup­port hoof and di­ges­tive health. “You can throw food at them,” An­gela says, “but un­less they are di­gest­ing it, it just goes out the other end.” She likens an ema­ci­ated horse to a “bal­loon try­ing to stretch out,” not­ing that, “If you try to fill it up too fast, it will pop. You don’t want to starve them, but you also don’t want to shock the sys­tem.” She be­gins each horse with a sin­gle scoop of feed twice daily, plus the sup­ple­ments, and builds slowly.

She closely mon­i­tors their wa­ter in­take and their stool. “Their poop will tell you ev­ery­thing.” Loose stools or di­ar­rhea are a sig­nal to cut back on con­cen­trates and go back to grass hay only. “You have to give their body a chance to ad­just to the dis­tri­bu­tion of that much food.” She in­creases a horse’s feed by only small amounts each day: “We want to love our horses through the feed

bucket, but [giv­ing them too much feed too soon] is the worst thing you can do,” she says.

Par­a­sites are an­other huge con­cern with res­cues. Parham typ­i­cally does fe­cal test­ing on each new ar­rival. Far­ley, not sur­pris­ingly, had lots of par­a­sites on board, so he re­ceived a dou­ble dose of fen­ben­da­zole daily for four days.

Even­tu­ally, his sticky ID tag---#1660 ---peeled off his mane, and a pretty, new green hal­ter went on. Over a pe­riod of weeks, Far­ley learned to be led, to tie, to al­low his feet to be picked up. But the big­gest les­son was that hu­mans may not be so bad af­ter all. For the first time in his young life, he knew love.


We met Parham and Far­ley for the first time at Spirit Run on our way home from an en­durance ride in Mount Pleas­ant, Texas, in early April.

Parham is a whirl­wind of a woman with an in­tu­itive sense of each horse’s needs, nur­tur­ing his sur­vival on ev­ery level. She knows res­cued horses need more than or­di­nary care---“They need to be treated like roy­alty,” she says. She de­scribed Far­ley as a “sweet, kind soul.”

As we ap­proached his pad­dock, the young­ster was bound­ing around and full of him­self. Yes, his shaggy coat was still mat­ted and he was still ribby, but he was clearly on the up­swing. And he was su­per friendly, boldly ap­proach­ing us for nuz­zles and scratches.

We also met a num­ber of other horses in Parham’s care, in­clud­ing a Thor­ough­bred geld­ing off the track in Louisiana who had been dis­carded be­cause of a bone chip. “Swazi” had just had his surgery, and I helped An­gela by hold­ing him while she changed his ban­dage. A teenage girl has since adopted him. We also met a charm­ing chest­nut

Paso Fino mare named Carmelita. And there were two Ten­nessee Walker mares, heavy in foal.

Watch­ing Parham in­ter­act with each horse was a treat. She tunes in to each in­di­vid­ual at an emo­tional level that is rare in any realm. Once she gets young­sters past their ini­tial phys­i­cal chal­lenges and hard­ships (and rec­og­niz­ing they still have a long way to go), she in­creas­ingly fo­cuses on their be­hav­ioral devel­op­ment. She al­lows each horse to ap­proach the hu­man at his or her own pace, and this process can take some time.

Far­ley dis­played good horse-hu­man so­cial skills early on, but his horse-to­horse ed­u­ca­tion pro­ceeded more cau­tiously. “He did not ac­cli­mate well to be­ing in a herd en­vi­ron­ment,” Parham re­called. “He was fear­ful of the other horses and wanted to be with me.” She re­called the first time she turned him out with an­other horse, a quiet geld­ing named Teddy. Far­ley ran and hid be­hind a ma­nure pile in the far cor­ner of the field.

When he hadn’t budged by morn­ing, she took him out of the field and moved him to a smaller pad­dock “where he could see the other horses and com­mu­ni­cate but still had safe bound­aries to help him set­tle into be­ing with other horses. He had been let down by ev­ery­one, his herd was gone, hu­mans were aw­ful to him, and then there was me--and I took care of him. I think his de­pen­dence on me kept him from be­com­ing part of the herd at first. Once I moved him and started spend­ing time with him and the other horses next to him, he was good with it. But that first day was pretty scary.”

Parham sees it ev­ery day in her work with res­cues: “The men­tal side of re­cov­ery can be just as big of a chal­lenge as any.”

Far­ley came home to our ranch on May 14---healthy, much big­ger, shiny and bold (and for­tu­nately, gelded be­fore he ar­rived).

He has blos­somed into a goofy clown and an acro­bat! Af­ter a cou­ple of months in his own pad­dock, he is now fully in­te­grated with the herd and knows how to keep him­self safe. Our 4-year-old palomino Ten­nessee Walk­ing Horse filly Athena is head-over-heels in love with him, and he is also the cho­sen com­pan­ion of our herd’s al­pha mare, Excalibur An­nakate.

Far­ley picks up his feet nicely for trim­ming, and he has dis­cov­ered how won­der­ful a bath can be. He’s been in­tro­duced to the agility plat­form and pedestals in our arena and has proven a wor­thy stu­dent. From a rough-coated, shaggy, ribby lit­tle res­cue with noth­ing much go­ing for him but heart and a will to live, he has blos­somed into an ath­letic, smart sur­vivor with po­ten­tial for suc­cess in many dis­ci­plines.

Best of all? Far­ley has the sweet­est, kind­est dis­po­si­tion. He still loves to smooch and nuz­zle and never misses a chance to score a cookie. We are look­ing for­ward to watch­ing him grow into the lovely horse he was meant to be.

RESPITE: Far­ley’s first stop af­ter the kill pen was Spirit Run Equine Res­cue in Gilmer, Texas, which is op­er­ated by An­gela Parham.

LIB­ERTY: LIB­ERTY: Far­ley Far­ley en­joys en­joys turnout turnout at at his his new new Texas Texas home home for for the the first first time. time.

NEW AGE: Al­though Far­ley was about the size of a year­ling when he was res­cued, a lo­cal ve­teri­nar­ian de­ter­mined he was ac­tu­ally about 3 years old.

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