After nearly starving to death, a Welsh Pony stallion is brought back to health by a dedicated horse-keeper and a caring veterinarian.
Susan Fanelli hadn’t seen Pete (not his real name) in 15 years when she got the call that he was in trouble. The Welsh Pony stallion was one of 47 neglected horses seized by authorities in South Carolina last spring. He was 19 years old and nearly starved to death.
“A friend who knew I had a connection to him called and told me that there was going to be a seizure by the local law enforcement authorities,” says Fanelli, who had worked with Pete early in his training. “I made some calls to folks I know and they were able to coordinate getting me photographs.” What she saw in those images broke her heart.
“He was a [Body Condition Score] 1,” she says. “If you’ve never seen or felt a horse in that condition, it’s indescribable. I’ve worked with the Virginia Horse Council Foundation Task Force for Equine Welfare, so I’m pretty familiar with how extreme this type of weight loss is. These horses aren’t just thin---you can actually feel the processes at the top of their vertebrae; you can feel individual bones in their necks. These horses have just about given up on life. It’s amazing they are still able to stand.”
The local authorities who took possession of Pete began a slow feeding program until Fanelli could arrange to go get him.
“He was put on free-choice hay immediately,” says Fanelli. “It was the local Bermuda Grass hay. Alfalfa is great, but it’s not available here.” After a few days on free-choice hay, Pete was given small amounts of senior feed by his caretakers---just a few handfuls throughout the day at first, building up to three pounds spread over four meals.
It was nearly a month before Fanelli was able to drive south to get Pete and by that time he had gained enough weight to be at a BCS 2. But his condition was still shocking. “I wanted to cry and throw up when I saw him,” she says.
Fanelli got Pete settled in at her Stafford, Virginia property, and immediately called her veterinarian Melinda Freckleton, DVM, of Firestar Veterinary Services, for help. “This was the first refeeding case I’d ever handled on my own and I knew I’d need her guidance,” says Fanelli. When Freckleton
WELL FED: Together, Susan Fanelli and her veterinarian devised a refeeding plan for Pete that called for free-choice hay and incrementally but steadily increased the amount of senior feed. examined the stallion she found him to be emaciated but otherwise healthy.
Together, the two women devised a refeeding plan that continued with free-choice hay and incrementally but steadily increased the amount of senior feed. “He had dental work done shortly after he came home, but he still has a bit of a wave mouth that makes chewing hay difficult,” says Fanelli. “So we put him on a complete senior feed to compensate and ended up having to feed him quite a bit. We had him up to 12 pounds of concentrates a day ---divided into four feedings---within the next month,” says Fanelli. Pete was also given a vitamin and mineral supplement, 5000 IU of vitamin E per day and a probiotic. Soon, a spark appeared back in her old friend’s eyes.
“I was amazed with how quickly things turned around and he perked up,” she says. “I’d say it was only a matter of weeks before I walked into the barn one day and noticed how good he was looking. I thought it might be months and months, particularly given his age, but it wasn’t. Maybe it’s because he’s a pony or maybe we are just very fortunate.”
Fanelli says she noticed Pete filling out along his neck first, then along his back, with his hips being the last area to fill out. When he was seized in the late winter his coat had been infested
with lice, necessitating a full body clip. “We kept him blanketed until nearly May,” says Fanelli. “By then his health had improved to the point he was able to grow a normal coat. When it came in, he was a completely different color and looked like a new horse.”
By early summer, Pete was at a BCS of 4 and Fanelli began to scale back his diet. “I didn’t want him to gain weight too fast, so I began feeding him smaller and then fewer meals,” she says. “I don’t have great grass on my property ---and that’s a good thing when you’re keeping ponies---so he continued to have access to as much hay as he wanted to eat.”
Fanelli took pictures of Pete every Friday to track his progress, shooting from the same angles each day to make easy comparisons. “Friends who didn’t see him daily noticed improvements quicker than I did, which was one of the reasons I wanted the photos. It made it easier to look back and see how far he’d come.”
Potential pitfalls never occurred, says Fanelli, as the pony continued to gain weight and feel good. “As he got stronger, he started playing with his herdmates and acting like a horse again. He’s intact, but has always been very well mannered with us. Even as his health returned, he continued to be a gentleman, and at the age of 19 we aren’t going to put him through gelding.”
By early winter, Pete had a BCS of 5.5 to 6 and Fanelli began to worry he was gaining too much weight. “He actually looked a little chubby, so we gradually cut his grain back to only half a pound once a day, along with the free-choice grass hay, a vitamin and mineral supplement and a vitamin E supplement. He’s been maintained on that and is back down to a solid 5 now, which I think is perfect for him.”
A year after getting the call about her old friend, Fanelli says she’s amazed at how well he’s done. “The only lingering effect is something called fecal water syndrome,” she says. “His manure is formed, but there’s a lot of excess liquid along with it. I’ve since learned that’s not uncommon in horses who have recovered from starvation. It’s annoying and messy, but he’s otherwise happy and healthy. He’s a pasture pet now---just a dude hanging out at my farm. He’s a trouble maker who makes people smile. I’m so happy to have him here.”