By April Horowitz
(The Heart of a Horse Story, part 16)
The Bor family members in the Lockwood Valley abuse case were hoarders and they were also deliberately cruel. But I also discovered that there were well-intentioned owners, even rescuers, who took on more horses than they could handle and soon found themselves over their heads with results that could be destructive. Word about Heart of a Horse was spreading far and wide, and not long after the Lockwood incident, I received a call from a lady about 125 miles away, who was concerned about a friend who was rescuing horses. My caller told me her friend, whose name was Kim, had a big heart but was not coping with the situation. She had run out of money; her hay barn was nearly empty, and her bills for water and other necessities hadn’t been paid. The caller said, “I think my friend’s problem is she has too big a heart and too little business sense.” I was to discover that the problem was a little bit bigger than that.
The woman gave me Kim’s phone number and I called to make an appointment. I could tell in the voice that answered, that Kim was overwhelmed and scared. She told me that when her parents died, she had come into a trust fund, but now had spent it all on the horses, and was at her wits’ end. She told me she had 23 horses, every one of them rescued from a situation of abandonment or neglect. I listened to her story and then told her that if she was willing, I would come and look over the situation and see what I could do to help.
After I hung up, I called Kevin and discussed the case. Before dawn the next morning we teamed up to make the three-hour drive to her ranch arriving just after daybreak. As we drove up, a small woman, in pink Uggs and a pair jeans two times too small for her chubby body came hurrying towards us. She looked worn and tired and was chewing on the remains of her breakfast. I rolled down the window and said, “I’m from Heart of a Horse.” Her face brightened. “Oh my God, thank you. Most people don’t do what they promise, and you’re really here.” From a sad desperate face I saw hope and a smile.
When I got out of the truck, my heart sank. Kim’s place was filthy. There were horse poops that had lain there so long they had mold, and strands of hay were strewn all over the ground. When I looked in her barn there were only a few bales for the 23 horses. A mare was standing by the ranch fence with her colt, who had on a horse blanket that was so small it was pinching him. Kevin told Kim to take the blankett off. While she was at it, Kevin whispered to me, “This is an out of control hoarder.” Then he said to the woman, “Why aren’t you getting on top of this?”
“I am,” Kim replied, “there’s nothing wrong here. I need help.” Then she launched into a monologue in which she told us about all the people who were harassing and hurting her, until I realized that we were dealing with mental disturbance. Disregarding these complaints, which hadn’t answered his question, Kevin pressed her again. “How did you get so far behind?” Without pausing, Kim answered: “Two weeks ago I was in a car accident. Everybody’s suing me,” which didn’t answer the question either.
Giving up hope of a explanation that made sense, we toured the property and, as we did, she told us the stories of each horse and how she had rescued it. Some were old horses that weren’t wanted anymore; others were horses that had been ridden too hard and not cared for and had become lame, and were no longer wanted. All around me were these orphans who had been left behind. There was a colt with its mother, and a very old horse with no teeth. Others had skin problems and lame issues. As we walked, I noticed all her facilities were run down. The stalls and feeders needed attention, and the arena needed to be raked and cleaned up. I was struck by the fact that there was old hay on the ground everywhere. It was just overwhelming.
I asked her, “Have you fed them yet this morning?” She said no, she was just beginning. At that point Kevin turned me aside and said, “April, do you see what I’m seeing? There’s all this hay left on the ground.” To solve this puzzle, we started questioning her about how she fed the animals. As she answered the questions we realized she did not have the basic horse knowledge to manage their feeding properly. She was feeding hay to horses that were in their twenties and could no longer chew. They needed pellets not hay. This was not just a feeding issue. It went far beyond that.
Kevin began to tell her about proper horse care, and what an individual horse needs. We went through her horses, case by case, one horse at a time. Kevin examined several of them, and pointed out the ones who needed pellets rather than hay. He discussed hoof care with her, and went over vaccines. He told her the younger horses needed to be exercised. He told her to get a scale so that she could figure out how much hay was required to feed each horse for a week, and then buy the proper amount of hay and not waste it. He told her she had to manage her rescue as a business.
As Kevin patiently lectured her, she had a look on her face that told me she was overwhelmed. I told her that Heart of a Horse would fill up her barn with hay, and that changed her look to one of relief. Then I stressed that we would do this only if she was willing to educate herself and manage her situation, so that what we brought her would not be wasted. She agreed that she would, but I had my doubts.
Kevin and I went to a local feed store and bought sacks of pellets and a truck full of hay and brought them to her. The empty barn was now full. Before we left, we went over her irrigation system and made suggestions as to how it could be made better. And we stressed again that she had to run her rescue in a more efficient and less costly way. Finally, we told her that she needed to begin finding homes for some of her horses. It was just too much for one person of her means to take care of all of them.
Several people said to me when I told them about our trip, “Why would you help someone like this?” I understood their question and shared their concern. I helped her because I believe that when people are wanting to do the right thing but lacking the education, I owe them the chance to prove that they are sincere, and I owe the horses a helping hand. I had my doubts about Kim’s ability to change, but I didn’t want to deny her the chance, and I wanted those horses to get something to eat. My last words to her were to remind her of the responsibility she had to each of her horses.
A month later, I checked back with her. She said she had purchased a scale, and put each horse on a feeding program that fit their needs. She said she understood now that it was not just the will to rescue, but the knowledge and ability to manage the rescue that would save the horses in the end.
Unfortunately, bad habits are hard to discard, and a year later I was in a deli with my family during the Christmas season, when there was a call on my cell phone: “Hi, this is April Horowitz” I answered, “how can I help you?”
The voice on the other end was familiar. “Hi, this is Kim. You came out last year and helped me.” Oh my God, I thought, it’s the hoarder. Kim continued, “Merry Xmas. I have no hay and my horses are skinny.” I asked her “Why is that?” And she said: “Two weeks ago I got in a car accident and people are suing me, and I’ve fallen behind.”
Unfortunately, Kim is not an uncommon character in the rescue landscape, where many people are either overwhelmed by the lives they have been unable to manage, or are just scamming the system whenever they see an individual or an organization that offers to help. Here is an email I received from one such person:
After loosing my handicapped son to a killer flu and also my job as his caregiver, I’m struggling to care for 7 horses, 3 dogs, 8 cats and now my daughter and grandson along with paying out $2,500 to $3,000 each month for bills. I’ve sold cars and medical equipment and haven’t missed a payment yet and still need a loan modification. I live near Placerville. As you may know with the prices of hay now I’m paying 4 times what I used to from the growers and they are all out of hay! I emailed Heart of a Horse before about needing hay because I had seen the donation mentioned on your website and didn’t receive an answer. I’m now asking for help with feed for the horses and/or dogs. I’m trying to place some animals and was also wondering if you can take a few of my mustangs as well. I do house cleaning, however I need more clients than 2 and some others had also run out of money. I’m still trying to fight for my unemployment and/or disability for my lower back as I have a worker’s comp case. Please, if you can help, give me a call.
I didn’t answer the letter, but I have to confess I was tempted to write back: “Dear X, God helps those…”
Thank you, Build-A-Bear, for your recent grant award. We cannot fully express how appreciative our foundation is for this grant. Many horses will benefit from your organization’s generous donation. Together, we can end the suffering of horses everywhere.