In November 2011 we received a phone call from a woman whose mother lives in our county. The homeowner's daughter explained that there were three abandoned horses on the property and they had been hanging around all summer. With the drought and lack of grass the horses were struggling. They were losing weight and she didn't know what to do about them. In our area, horses without owners that are in the Ouachita National Forest are living in no man's land in a state of limbo. The homeowner and her daughter which lives out of town felt sorry for the horses and starting buying hay for them. They allowed them to eat whatever was left of their vegetable garden but knew that they could not stay there.
On a Sunday afternoon we joined forces with another area rescue that had agreed to take in one of these lost souls. We had managed to locate a local family that offered a home to the other two. The woman helping the horses had NO horse experience but she said the horse were friendly. She had been able to halter the bay gelding and lead him into their garden area, while the other two followed. When we along with the other rescuers arrived we saw that the enclosure was less than ideal to contain horses. The area was fenced small post connected to a strand of electric wire. The area where we had to park was some distance from the horses. They already had a halter on the gelding when we entered the pen. It was decided that the people from the other rescue would take the only mare in the group.. She was haltered and lead out of the pen. She loaded into the trailer easily. When we returned to the pen, we attempted and failed to get our hands on the youngest of the group a young roan stud colt. We knew when we lead the bay gelding out of the enclosure that would stress the young roan. It did and he escaped over the fence. With one running loose, this spooked the bay gelding who up to this point had been very hesistate but cooperative for the most part. When the bay gelding escaped, wearing a halter and dragging a lead rope, he and the little roan took off up and over the hill and out of sight. He was very distrustful of us and would not allow any of us to even approach him. The lady that had been feeding them hay was the only one with a chance of getting near him. After much time had passed she appeared at the top of the hill leading the bay gelding with the little roan following along. She said she wanted to try one more time to get the bay down the hill and into the horse trailer. All of us, watched her and were convinced that it would be impossible for her to load the bay. Much to our amazement, she walked the gelding into the trailer without incident.
Now we turned out attention to the little roan who was very distressed by his friends being inside these metal boxes. He ran and ran and called and called to them. It was obvious that without a proper enclosure we would not be able to catch him. We felt terrible about leaving him behind but daylight was fading and we had a 50+ mile drive back home. We discussed bringing panels and setting up a corral, where they could start feeding him. Once inside the corral they could lock the door and trap him until we could return for him. As we drove away, he followed by running through the connecting forest land. No telling how long these three had been living as a family unit. No telling how long they'd been fending for themselves. No telling how many places they'd been chased out of by dogs, four-wheelers or gun shots.
On the drive through the mountains on the way back home, we felt like failures because we were unable to even get near the little roan. It was sad to think of him suffering the worst punishment a horse can receive......being banished from the herd and having to endure what every horse dreads.......being alone. As we discussed plans to return for the little roan, we saw "our lives flash before our eyes" when a giant buck darted out of the forest onto the highway. He'd been running up the side of the mountain and just so happened to jump right into our path. We were climbing up the steep incline and MyHoney took his foot off of the accelerator. That brief moment gave the deer just enough time to get past the brush-guard on the front of our one ton dually crew cab pickup. He was so close to impact, we knew it was miraculous that he was able to cross the highway without ending up crashing through our windshield. He had been spared. We had been spared. We were incredibly grateful.
As we descended from the mountain top, we were shocked to find a multi-agency road block. We have no idea who or what they were looking for but it was very unusual to have so many law enforcement official shut down an intersection way back in the boondocks. We handed over all the required paperwork and answered all their questions about who we were, where we had been and where we were going. It was going to make up later than we already were but we had nothing to do but wait until we were given clearance to go on about our business. Everything was in order, they informed us except that our truck tag had expired, so we got a ticket. It was late, sunset had come and gone. By this time, we were way off schedule and couldn't deliver the horse, but we did manage to avoid a truck/deer crash, we were detained in a roadblock but a expired tag ticket is not the end of the world, so we were counting our blessings and finally headed back to the ranch.
When we arrived. we backed the trailer to the round pen and unloaded the bay gelding. We filled the trough with water and feed him some hay. He was fine. He was perfectly content. Our plan was to reload him in the morning and deliver him to his new home. The next morning he was fine. During breakfast time he fine until the llamas came in from the pasture and approached the barnyard. The gelding was terrified of them and went nuts. He jumped and snorted, which we expected. What we did not expect is that he would be so afraid of the llamas that he would turn, spin and take a running jump at the round pen panels that are six feet tall. He escaped the round pen and ran from place to place. We waited to see if he would calm down......he did not. If we approached him, even at a distance, he bolted and threatened to jump other fences as well. This routine morning was turning more chaotic by the moment. It was potentially disasterous if he were to get into the Blind Horse Habitat. Just him being loose and running around was getting all the other horses spooked. We decided to leave him alone and let him calm down. He wasn't calming down but he was riling up all the others. We called the woman that had befriended him to see if she'd already left town or not. She was on her way out but agreed to come by to see if she could catch him. She spent a few hours with him and he did calm down but would not cooperate with the plan of catching him. He was not going to allow humans to confine him again so he escaped off of our property. Fortunately there are 17,000 acres of land that surround us, so he disappeared not to be seen again for a few days. We knew he would eventually come back and he did.
A few days later, when he returned we started feeding him over the fence. At first he would not eat until we'd go away. Over the course time he would wait for us at feeding time and allow us to throw his hay over the fence and he'd eat as long as we didn't approach him. Our plan at this point was to earn his trust and recapture him. We had decided that he was unsuitable for the family that had agreed to adopt him. They needed a horse what was more manageable than he is at this point. As time when by he would accept my presence even when I'd cross over the fence to place the feed bowl at his feet. He would keep an eye on me but he no longer ran away from me.
This past Sunday morning, he allowed me to put my hands inches from his face while he was eating. He was relaxed and calm. He acted like he had finally accepted my presence and even was beginning to enjoy the company. Things were finally starting to look up with this horse, that was living in limbo on the parameters of our property. We'd named him Rowdy Yates, after Clint Eastwood's character in the old western TV series Rawhide. That was on Sunday 1-1-2012. By Monday morning, everything changed and not for the better.
Monday morning Rowdy Yates was not standing in his usual spot waiting to be served breakfast. Much to our surprise, we had had a break-in. He had found a weak spot in the parameter fence which was barely even noticeable due to the overgrown trees and brush along the fenceline. When he was spotted eating hay in the pasture, for a moment we thought this might be a good thing. That thought didn't last long when his attention was directed to Cheyenne (half Paint/half Mustang mare). It was obvious by her behavior that she's in heat. Rowdy, who we thought was a gelding, responded to her as a stallion. When he attempted to mount her, we went to separate them. By this time the rest of the herd was getting spooked by this intruder. The mares that weren't in heat either tried to run him off or ignored him all together. Rowdy Yates and Cheyenne were mesmerized by each other and neither one was interested in paying any heed to our directions. In the end, we separated them from the main herd and got them inside the barnyard. We set up panels behind the barn and backed the horse trailer in to block their escape. We were able to drive them into our trap. Cheyenne bolted and made a left hand turn. Rowdy rushed straight up into the horse trailer. Now what.......we thought ? With the $75 in diesel, a $211 ticket and 3 ruined corral panels we're already $500 down on this horse and we haven't really helped him other than fattening him up by feeding him. At this point our options were limited. We do not have another "high-security" lock down unit to place him in. We have one but it is occupied by Luke, another gelding that thinks he is a stallion. We refuse to take him to the auction to end up in the hands of a Kill Buyer to be sent to slaughter. We refuse to dump him back on public land to fend for himself and be at the mercy of anyone that would do him harm. We can not allow him to reek havoc here and endanger other members of the Triple O Herd. As you can see our list of options is getting shorter and shorter.
We decided to call one of our vets and ask if we could put him at the clinic and see what options we could come up with once he was in a secure environment. Luckily we have some good vets that try to assist us in our mission to help horses. We delivered him and unloaded him in a chute and herded him into a heavy duty pipe stall. He is demeanor was of a horse severly distressed and seeking a way to avoid contact with humans. The vet said they'd evaluate him the following day to check if indeed he is a stallion or a gelding. Under extra heavy sedation our vet and his assistants crowded him into an alley way up lagainst a solid wall with a heavy duty solid steel door. They said he calmed down enough to touch his face, halter him and draw his blood. However when the vet attempted to do a physical exam and feel for the presence of testiciles, Rowdy was less than cooperative but trapped he had no choice but to undergo examination. The vet said that testicles were NOT present. They drew blood to do a testosterone test. IF the test shows that he is cryptorchid, a operation to remove undescended testicles would be required to castrate him. IF the test shows that he is not a stallion and has been properly gelded, then that is a whole new ball of wax. Our vet said to keep our vet bill down, we could avoid paying board at the clinic by going to take care of him every day. This means we drive 50 miles round trip daily to give him hay, feed and water, as well haul our own hay and feed to the clinic and muck out the stall where he will be living for one week while the results of the test are being finalized. In case you aren't aware of our staffing situation here at the Triple O, we have no paid staff, we have two volunteers.....MyHoney and I.....that's it.....just us. Sooooo, now we have to take care of the herd in the main pasture, the horses in the main barnyard, the horses in the Blind Horse Habitat.....then we take the 4-wheeler and 4-wheeler trailer up the hill about a quarter mile and take care of the horses at the North Forty, which is the seven acres loaned to us by our neighbors after that one of us drives 25 miles to the vet clinc to take care of Rowdy Yates.
Now our dilema isn't that we have to drive to the vet clinic for a week to take care of a needy horse, our dilima is that we will soon be forced into making some difficult decisions that will determine if Rowdy Yates will live or die. From the beginning the vet inquired if we were aware of how few options may be available. We told him we were painfully aware of the facts. The best case scenario is that he was a full stallion, could be gelded and return to the ranch to be tamed over a course of time that would be required to gain his trust to make him manageable enough to work with. Next is the possiblitiy that he is crytorchid, which, as our vet said....will make him expensive, since he would require surgery. He discussed the option of euthanasia with us and we said that we would not take the decision lightly.due to the fact that he is as far as we know 100% sound of body and mind. He is a young horse around 4 years old. To choose euthanasia for a old, lame sick horse is not easy for a young, healthy horse would be even harder. We have until Tuesday or Wednesay, when the test results come in to figure out what will have to do about Rowdy. We can not in good conscience pawn him off on someone as a horse that is easily handled. In the wrong hands, a horse like Rowdy will end up getting hurt or hurting someone else. He is NOT mean. He is NOT crazy. He is just scared of people. Obviously, we can not have him here in contact with mares. We do not have sufficient cross fencing to be ale for him to live separately. At this point, other than finding him a suitable home that could and would accomodate his issues, we are running out of good options that can be attained by next week.
From the moment we got involved in his saga, we became responsible for Mr. Rowdy Yates. His fate is now in our hands and we know it. We won't send him to slaughter and we won't dump him in the national forest and the only viable option we can see at this point is to purchase heavy duty corral panels which are very expensive. With our very limited resources it would be difficult to spend a $1,000 to purchase the panels to make him a lockdown unit, especially between now and Tuesday. At this point we will already have a couple hundred dollars in vet bills for the testosterone test, Coggins test and expense for sedating him for examination. If we were to take that option we could set up a pen that he couldn't escape from while we work on earning his trust. Then once he's overcome his fear of humans he will be salvagable. With my own eyes, I saw a woman, that had no horse handling experience, catch, halther, lead and load this horse by just being patient and calm with him. He is not crazy nor mean. Now depending on his hormonal issues, he may only be able to be placed into a home that has only geldings, that is yet to be determined. We believe he could make someone a fine horse one day and hope that we are able to figure our a way for him to have a long and happy life. If we're between a rock and a hard spot, it is because we try very hard to do everything possible to make sure needy horses get their second chance. In horse rescue you never know what will happen next and things happen that no one could predict. And if we are forced to decide that Rowdy's life will be ended via euthanasia, it will be only after all other avenues are explored and all other options have been exhausted. Like they say......no good deed goes unpunished and our punishment is that we may end up having to bear witness to the death of a young healthy horse that was just another victim of human irresponsibility.