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A Look Back at Sumner

This year for Gentle Spirit Horses was crazy to say the least. It seems that every year GSH gets a bit more well known, a bit more wide spread and bit more needed for the horses we help. I personally hope that things continue to grow but not because we are needed, but because of the generous people that support our little rescue in everyday little (and sometimes big) ways.  The following is the story of the Sumner Rescue that really did define most of our year and was shaped by the brave volunteers and generous donators that let us help the horses involved.

On a Wednesday in March 2012, I received a phone call about a neglect case down in Sumner, IA. From the sound of it there were several horses to be moved and several more dead on the scene. The horses were to be seized by the sheriff on Friday unless the owner signed them over or sold them. I agreed to go down and see the neglected horses with my mother, Kathi, that night.  We loaded up in the car and drove the 2 hours to the site and thus began the monumental task of the Sumner Rescue.

Most of the time when you get a neglect case involving horses you are dealing with one or two starved horses. This, while still horrible to deal with and hard to coordinate, is manageable. Kathi and I walked into a mess. The total count of starving horses? 22. The total count of deceased horses? Over 30. No Hay on site and mud and muck up to our knees in most of the pens and in a closed up turkey barn. Two studs, 2 blind full size mares, 3 other fully or partially blind ponies, a handful of ponies, and yearlings to 3 year olds made up the total count. Body scores ranged from sad 4’s to downright horrible 1’s.  And to make matters worse, it looked like every single one of them was infested with fleas. 

The owner was there and helping that night take some pictures and videos so we could start asking for help right away. He had just become completely overwhelmed and signed the horses over to us with relief in his eyes.

While Kathi and I dealt with the case on the front lines, Tiffany was back in South Dakota rallying the troops and asking for help even as we slowly discovered the whole story. By the end of the night donations were already coming in to help these horses and hay was delivered on site to start the slow refeeding process.

Now that the horses were officially under GSH’s care, we scheduled a vet to come out the next day and give us a baseline on the horses overall health and what needed to be done to move them from their current pens. We called for volunteers with horse sense and did we ever get a response. When I headed down to meet the vet that next morning I was ready for a long hard day. I had one volunteer in the car with me, muck boots on my feet, and a GSH T-shirt on my back. I figured that it would take all day to just have the vet look at each horse and evaluate and if we were lucky, we could possibly get pictures of them as we worked. When I drove up to the site and saw the brave handful of volunteers ready to get to work, I almost cried. We had all the horses evaluated by the vet, fed, watered, and pictured in 2 hours. It was amazing.

While we were doing this, we were dodging news crews. Unfortunately, the story had been leaked to the media somehow and we were the evening news.  I say unfortunately because it got to be very difficult to maintain privacy and dignity for the previous owner. I know that this statement is going to cause some controversy with a lot of you. But the focus of Gentle Spirits has always been on the horses we help, not to find justice on those whom life may have dealt a hard hand and who have made bad decisions in the past. To us, it is the decisions they make in the best interest of the horse that should be focused on more.

One good thing did come from the media attention; the support we got from the community was overwhelming to say the least. The same day as the vet visit, a local farmer coordinated several trucks and trailers as well as volunteering a place at his own home for all 22 horses. We loaded them up and took them out of their small pens and turned them out onto a large lot with round bales and sun. For the horses that were in the turkey barn, it was the first time in a long time that they could lay down and roll in the dirt. Looking back at the videos of those first hours of turnout still brings tears to my eyes. Safe and fed for the night, the volunteers headed home to prep for the next day. All 22 horses and ponies, some of which we could still not handle, needed to be flea dipped, haltered as necessary, and flea powdered.

At this point I shouldn’t have been surprised the next day when almost all of my volunteers and some new faces showed up for bath day. I also should not have been surprised at the amount of shampoo, flea powder, and halters showed up that day. Lots of water, scrubbing, flea powder and a couple of bruises later, everyone was clean.  Some of the 22 even got to go to their new homes only 2 days after the initial rescue and more applications were coming in daily keeping Tiffany in South Dakota busy even as those of us on site got wet and sunburned in March!

By the end of the rescue, most of the 22 horses had found homes with only a handful staying with GSH due to health reasons or lack of applications. We did lose three of the 22 over the course of the summer. One was a very sickly mare, Bugs, whom we lost when she was bumped into a tree in pasture. A healthy horse would have had a limp for a few days and some scratches, but due to the lack of nutrition that Bugs had, her bones could not withstand the impact on the tree and her leg was shattered. She was humanly euthanized.  We also lost a beautiful leggy saddle bred named Twix due to an unfixable hock injury. And finally, the little pony Mia was lost to us due to West Nile shortly after she was adopted. Even though she had been vaccinated while she stayed at the Renner location, her immune system just couldn’t handle the virus and the decision was made to humanly euthanize.  

As of December now, there are only 6 of the 22 original that are still with GSH, two of which have applications in and may be leaving for their new homes this week! Congrats Emma and Royce! Kiwi, Doc, Wyatt, and Faith are all still looking for their homes on their long journey and pictures and profiles are available on the Gentle Spirit Horses Facebook wall or on our webpage: www.gentlespirithorses.com. Please take a look at these brave horses that are looking forward to finding their permanent loving homes.