October 31, 2008 | | Comments 0

Sammy – A Horse Rescue Story

Sammy – A Horse Rescue Story

Written by Alisa Atkinson

The story of Sammy really begins eight years ago with the story of her mama Misty.  I bought Misty from a lady I met through a friend, a woman who owned many horses but for some reason was reluctant to let Misty go.  After an agreement was made that Misty would be bred and the foal would go to the lady, Misty was mine.  At the time, I didn’t think the deal was a bad one but as time passed it became clear that this was possibly the worst deal ever made.

Sammy was born on a cool early November night in 2002.  It was clear right away that something wasn’t right; and despite urgings from her dam and repeated attempts by me she didn’t get up to nurse.  The veterinarian determined the tendons in Sammy’s front legs were contracted, which prevented her from straightening her front legs.  Without physical therapy, she would not survive.

I stayed in the barn for the next two nights massaging Sammy’s legs to lengthen the tendons and bottle-feeding her to keep up her strength.  The next morning she still could not stand on her own, but she never gave up.  By that afternoon, Sammy was showing real improvement.  Once on her feet she began to get her balance.  By the second day, she could get up on her own and finally I could breathe, she was going to be just fine.

It became clear the morning after Sammy was born that this was going to be a long journey.  Because I became attached to Sammy while trying to ensure her survival, I approached her owner and offered to buy the filly.  She wouldn’t hear of it.

In the months following Sammy’s birth, I approached the woman many times about purchasing her and when my husband and I bought a farm several miles away, I approached her one last time as I knew I could give her a better home than this lady who adamantly insisted on keeping her.  To my horror, she refused; and my heart was broken.

As years passed, I learned more and more that things were not as they initially seemed at the woman’s farm.  It became increasingly clearer that the horses that lived there were not getting the best care.  In fact, the county animal control visited the property three times but still nothing was done.

My heart ached for Sammy.  I wondered often what her life was like.  More than once I called the woman to see if she had changed her mind about Sammy (she hadn’t) and I always asked about her when I ran into her.  I would always tell the woman before we parted: “if you ever change your mind, please call me first.”  I was afraid that call would never come.

But it did; and on May 22, 2008 my dream came true.  Sammy’s owner had realized that she could no longer care for all the horses and she wanted me to have Sammy.  She knew I would give her a good home.  Hanging up the phone, the words echoed in my ears: “She’s mine, I can have her.” Slowly the words settled; I was speechless, excited, and worried.

I got in my car to go see her.

What my eyes found was horrifying.

Coming Home

I found not only Sammy but also 13 other horses starved. If it were not for Sammy’s markings, I would not have recognized her at all. She was so thin and small; her ribs and hips were poking out and it looked as though time had stopped for her.  Oh, my beautiful Sammy was the size of a yearling despite the fact that five years had passed.

Tears streamed down my face as I realized some of the poor horses were locked in dirty stalls with no food or water.   It was a nightmare.  All my dreams of Sammy and how beautiful, healthy, and strong she must be after all these years evaporated into a nightmare of pain, hunger, and waste.  Sammy looked so weak and lost as I turned to leave.

I whispered a promise to her: “I will be back.  Tomorrow I will take you home.”

I arranged to pick her up the next day, and tried to find homes for the others.  I decided I was going to do everything I could to get them out of that nightmare, but I had to do it without making the owner angry and causing her to shut down communication.

However, the following Wednesday, the county came and took six of the worst horses, and charged the owner with six charges of Inhumane Treatment of Animals.  Two days later, one of the six seized horses was euthanized because it was unable to stand due to loss of muscle mass.  It was determined by necropsy that the horse was so malnourished his body had consumed the nutrients from its own muscle to sustain the vital organs.

On May 23, 2008, Sammy stepped off the trailer onto the green grass of her forever home.  The veterinarian had warned, however, that the green grass would have to wait for several days, as her system couldn’t handle it all at once.

Sammy Arrives Home

Sammy Arrives Home



Even though her pedigree was littered with much larger horses, Sammy weighed just 580 lbs and stood only 14.1hh at 5 years old.

Sammy's Intial Days Home

Sammy's Initial Days Home

Settling in, I was not surprised when she inhaled the hay but I was surprised when she would not eat her grain or touch her water during those first few hours home.

The next morning little had changed, the grain was still there and only a small amount of water was gone.  Worried sick, I called the veterinarian.  He told me “be patient, she may not know what it is.  As long as she is eating hay she will be ok, don’t panic yet.”

He was right.

Later that evening when we returned to the barn, it was gone, all of it; and her water bucket was only ¼ full.  With great relief, I poured more grain in her bucket. She attacked it like a starving child.  I stood with a growing smile and tears of joy streaming down my face.  Oh, my beautiful Sammy is going to be okay.

Soon it was time for Sammy to have a friend.  I knew sweet Rusty would be the perfect companion and so I turned them out together.  The two were fast friends, and soon were napping together under the oak trees.   Another sigh as that familiar smile spread across my face; yep she is going to be okay.

Starting Again

My plan for Sammy was to get her weight up so she could join the rest of the herd she would so affectionately stare at over the fence.  In order to prepare for the “big day” I rotated a number of horses into Sammy’s pasture, which always provided us with some priceless moments that I would have given anything to capture on film, but I never seem to have a camera for those times. Ah, but then some moments are really just better kept in your memory.

On July 4, 2008, Sammy decided that she was ready to join the herd whether or not I was.  Sammy refused to follow her normal routine so… I held my breath and one by one turned the other horses into the pasture with Sammy.  I watched.  I watched some more.  They settled in like one big happy family and tears came to my eyes, as I knew Sammy was finally home.

Sammy (Forefront) - Gaining Weight and Friends

Sammy (Forefront) - Gaining Weight and Friends

No training and very little else had been given to Sammy over the five years of her life.  Slowly the horse inside began to show though the dull hair and tired eyes.  However, like most rescue stories it is not all sunshine and butterflies. With an awakening often comes, fear, anger, and aggression.  Alone each of these are not a big deal but when they all crash together the results can be very dangerous.

From the time she came home, I made a point to be close to her.  Sammy began to show fearful aggression when confined or pressured in any way; and she would explode into violent tantrums when tied.  They began as mild pawing and escalated into violent kicking and rearing explosions.  I didn’t realize what the trigger was until the worst outburst nearly ended in tragedy.

After Sammy exploded into a kicking fit one day in which I was struck at least three times it occurred to me that Sammy was experiencing a great deal of claustrophobia.  Could she have been confined in one of those stalls without food or water before she came here?  Regardless, after the near tragedy, I made it a point to go slow with her, earn her trust, and give her time.

In rescuing an abused animal, the easiest part is the actual physical rescue from the environment; but to truly save them a person must be capable of dealing with the wounds that we cannot see.  Sammy and I began again; I cannot hold against her any of her actions, as she can only use the tools she has been given.  So, I gave her new tools to deal with frustration and fear; and she has learned how to use these tools to give a voice to her opinion about her training, her likes and dislikes.

Sammy is finally home and no matter what tomorrow brings she is safe now.  She has the home she always deserved and was destined to have.  As she learns and grows in more positive life experiences we will become more of a team.  The road may be long, it may have many rough spots, but she is worth every bump.

There is something unbelievably fulfilling about being involved with an abused animal.  Seeing them come from horrible conditions, mentally and physically to a happy and well-balanced animal with a productive job is truly a gift.  Sammy has many talents, and a wonderful, sweet personality; how she managed all those years and still has the ability to forgive and move on is beyond my comprehension.  Most people would say she is a lucky horse to have found her way through; but I say I am the lucky one.  I am the lucky one to have such an amazing creature’s love and trust.

Sammy - Before Rescue

Sammy - Just a Few Months After Rescue

Sammy - Just a Few Months After Rescue

Visit Sammy’s Rescue Blog

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