Two Rescue Icelandic Horses; Abuse--Not a Matter of Money or Class
By Janice McDonald
Who would you think takes the best care of their horses? A wealthy person or a relatively poor one? I have recently come to understand that it is not a matter of class or wealth, horse abuse and neglect exists in all social classes.
Through the email list (the IceHorses Email Discussion List) I became acquainted with highly reputable breeders of Icelandic horses within the United States and Canada. When one emailed to ask privately if I would be interested in helping out with a "rescue" I was more than thrilled at the chance to help any abused and neglected animal, especially an Icelandic horse.
The breeder thought since I was in Florida I was perhaps nearby. She did not know it was a six hour drive for me, but I didn't care, I just wanted to help. She had said "I have to get those horses out of there, I try so hard to keep up with the animals I have sold and to make sure they are kept up for life, I can't stand to think of them suffering."
A woman had seen the horses for sale, contacted the owner, driven down from another state to purchase them, had ordered a coggins and health certificate with vet check, and when she arrived, found horses weak and starved and filthy, yet still wielding a hefty Icelandic horse price tag. When she told the seller she wouldn't pay her price for starved animals the owner said she would not lower the price and the buyer said "well how about you lower your price and I won't turn you in to the authorities..." She then proceeded to engage the seller in a nasty shouting match that ended with the buyer being thrown off the property. Which wasn't much good when it came to helping the horses. Since Icelandics all have a clue as to former ownership in their registered names, the potential buyer then contacted the breeder, and asked her if she knew her horses had been sold to a woman who was starving and neglecting them. And that's when the breeder asked for my help. She asked if I could perhaps act as an intermediary since she had called and the woman had hung up in her face. She asked if I could try and negotiate a sale if she could find a buyer.
I called and offered a rock bottom price for a horse and she countered with an unheard of rock bottom price if I would take them both. I feel now that this was divine intervention. I know in my heart that if one of these horses had been taken away without the other it would have simply died. It would have had nothing to live for... no food, no water, and no hay or grass of any kind. And then not even a companion, none at all. Can you imagine? I was so lucky to find another person on the Icehorses group who was more than happy to go in with me on a package deal.
When we drove up we found a luxury estate, a gated compound surrounded on three sides by water, a circular dive, exotic gardens, at least a million dollar home. We checked the address. But it was the right place. As soon as we got out of the truck we began to see tale-tell signs that things were not wholesome at all beneath the surface. There were five cars in the driveway. Her kids had cell phones and computer games. Skateboards and basketball goals and other recreational items were everywhere. We would later go inside and find a television set larger than my entire kitchen.
As we made our way down a path to the horse paddock we passed cage after cage of dogs and puppies being bred for selling to pet shops, she told me this proudly. When we saw the horses it took everything we could do to maintain a pleasant expression. Filthy stinking Icelandic horses with three inches of flaccid skin hanging from emaciated bony chests, hip bones jutting, pencil thin necks, backbones sticking up two inches at least. They were living skeletons. I could not comprehend seeing a backbone and ribs on an Icelandic horse.
When people see pictures of these horses they are amazed but many have said "I have seen thinner". To that I always respond, "I don't think you could ever see a thinner Icelandic."
The gelding looked like a giant walking stick, his bones so big, his chest so tiny, his big head suspended by that thin gaunt neck. The mare's mane and forelock were a solid hardened mass of mats and stickers of some sort. She was starved for attention and affection, following us everywhere in amazement. It was as if she could not believe her eyes, that humans were actually visiting. Remember, humans did not even come once or twice a day to throw feed.
The gelding was standoffish. He would stand several feet away and glare insolently over his shoulder at me. When I walked to catch him he would stay two or three feet ahead of me. She would say "And THAT one, he's a real S**T, he is! He won't let you catch him for nothing!" My husband walked over and slid the halter over his nose with no problem at all.
They were kept penned in an area that periodically flooded them neck deep. Can you imagine? In the south when waterbodies flood, fire ants and water moccasins migrate in huge clumps and if an animal gets in the way of it they are often stung or bitten repeatedly until they die a horrible gruesome death. That these horses were subjected to that with nowhere to escape horrifies me.
She did not own one item of tack in any form. Not a halter. Not a lead rope. And she had owned the horses four years. She had never wormed them, given them shots, or had a farrier out in all that time. She said "when we first got them we used to work with them in the roundpen" and I perked up in interest at that. "Oh? And how did you work them?"
"We would drag a hose and give them long baths and fix their hair," she said. "But what did you do with them in the roundpen," I asked for clarification.
"We bathed them," she scowled, like she had already told me once.
What sort of person thinks bathing horses and fixing their hair is "working with them".
What sort of person fully admits not feeding animals any food of any kind for months but says it's ok 'because they are icelandics and everyone says they don't need to eat much".
She had bought them in the first place because she had decided she wanted horses and had researched the internet and come up with what she felt was a perfect breed for her "because they are short and when you fall off them it won't hurt so bad and besides they are so cute and fuzzy."
Is the breeder at fault for any of this?. She said the woman told her she had horse experience and that it would be good for her children to have the horse experience as well. She intended to ride them on trails and let the children show them. She had cash money. A lot of it. It was ten thousand dollars to purchase the two young unbroken horses and have them hauled. If you were a breeder wouldn't this sound good to you? The breeder asked all the right questions and received all the right answers. How could this have been prevented?
What are some questions every breeder should ask that might lend a clue as to stability of ownership in cases such as these? I have found out since that it is fairly common for wealthy people to purchase exotic, unique animals for fun, and end up clueless as to how to meet the animals basic needs and then be too embarrassed to ask for help once the animal becomes embarrassingly thin or mangy.
"I will be so glad when you just take them off from here," she said as we were leaving. "They are so thin and smell so bad I just can't even stand to look at them. I used to get some pleasure from sitting and looking out at them now and then but now I can't even have that because they are just an embarrassment." She blamed them for letting her down.
She should have bought two large, expensive stuffed animals and saved herself and her horses a lot of trouble.
The mare is in North Carolina now, living a spoiled and pampered life. The gelding is out back in my grass-less moonscape of a "pasture" I often feel so guilty about, but he has a roll of free choice hay and is getting fatter every day. The warm dry sand is good for his feet, which were so eaten up with thrush his frogs were nearly destroyed. The stinking matted hair that never shed because he was eaten up with worms is coming off by the grocery sack full, and now he stands quietly, with eyes soft and wise, when I approach. He never runs from me.
If my life takes a bad turn and I end up down on my luck, I will ask for help the first time I have to even consider skipping one of their meals. But let's be real... I know I would give up expensive electronics and computer games well before I would allow a horse in my care to be starved or neglected. Because to me a horse is real, with living thoughts and feelings, not a status symbol.
You know, you just wonder what good could possibly come of tragedy
sometimes, but yesterday my nephew called and he said "aint Jan, I
just wanted you to know I didnt say anything because I didnt want you
to feel bad, but Parker has always been terrified of shots you
know..." and I didnt know and my heart just sank, Parker is only 7
and he was exposed by trying his little very best to get poor sick
stali to eat a piece of apple and he would smush the apple in Stalis
mouth and it would just fall out and he just refused to give up,
exposing himself more and more all the time. I felt horrible when I
realized that kid would need shots...
Then my nephew said "but I just wanted you to know this rabies thing
has been the best thing that could ever happen as far as helping
parker with his shot phobia. he has gotten so much attention from all
the nurses and from all the kids at school for having rabies that he
got to not only speak in show and tell to his class but go from room
to room and show off his shot spot and tell all about the sick pony
and how it had rabies and how now he has to have shots cause he could
have rabies and all of a sudden he's like the rock star of the whole
second grade and now when he goes for his shots he is first in line,
rolling up his sleeve, all puffed up cause everyone makes such a fuss
and tell him what a big boy he is and all..."
that just made me feel so good! I am proud that my nephew is a person
who can take lemons and make lemonade. It shows what a good person he
Dear everyone, and you know who you are :)
I want everyone to know I am so touched and heartwarmed by your notes
and cards and poems and emails and yes checks :) This whole thing has
just filled me with a new sense of hope about mankind. Especially the
internet. You know everybody says if you hang out on the internet all
the time you dont have real friends. BULL. People around here are
like oh well, she is out a lot of money, too bad, wow, her horse had
rabies, maybe we should stay away from her horses. I am just shocked
at it, and then at the same time, just amazed at the outpouring of
love and compassion from the icelandic horse world! It says a lot
about icelandic horse people!!! It is actually sort of mindboggling.
I can honestly say I have never been the object of so much love from
people I don't know, EVER.
But thanks all of you, and you didnt have to send a check for me to
know you really really care and i appreciate it more than you will
ever know!!! I have spent ALL money received on vet bills and toward
the rabies shots series.
Your outpouring of love and concern for me, just simply because of my
association and experience with a breed of horse, says so much to me
about how you all, we all, feel about these animals. I have received
large checks and small checks and no checks and incredible poems and
cards. All of it touched my heart and brought tears to my eyes. But
my husband, who is not internet savvy and wonders what on earth could
possibly be so appealing as to sit and read and write emails every
day, is absolutely FLOORED by this whole experience as you might
imagine. he keeps saying "My God these icelandic horse people are
just blowing me AWAY, how did they ALL find out about it?!?" and I
just smile and say "word of mouth".
I am attaching the pic i posted earlier, of me and stali when a lady
came to take pics for a magazine story she was doing on nasi and I
looked and saw Stali seemed sweaty and might be colicky. It was the
first moment I realized he was not feeling well, and you can see the
worry in both our eyes, but you can also see how he would not hesitate
to do anything I asked even when he must have felt so sick! That says
so much about icelandic horses, to me. And all of you who reached out
to say you care, says a whole lot about people who own and/or love
icelandic horses. And I just thank you with all my heart.