Friday, January 29, 2010

More On The Neglected Mares...and "Morons" Who Neglect

Time to meet the other three new horses, but first you’ll need to follow me in the name game…

Jaime ended up liking the “Red” theme for the chestnuts & decided to keep Ruby & chose Rose & Scarlett for the other two…but it gets tricky here…
Because Fairy became Rose & Ruby became Scarlett and the third mare (whom Monica had called Garnet, keeping in a “Gem” theme w/Ruby) became Ruby. I suppose it’s only confusing if you’d been there the first day and had photo files with names on them like Monica & I did…but apparently even then we both walked away with a different set…anyway…probably the easiest way to tell who’s who…

Scarlett – 15 yrs old, Large Blaze, 15 hands, BCS 2
Rose – 20+ yrs old, Thin Blaze, 15 hands, BCS 1.5
Ruby - 11 yr old, Medium Blaze, 15 hands, BCS 2

(1/29/2010 edit: Jaime let me know I actually STILL had it wrong as of this morning so I've updated and hope I have it right now!)

When I told Jean about the story of Ruby (now Rose) & Fairy (now Ruby) we both got a little laugh out of it and then she informed me that there had been another sister in the human Ruby/Fairy family & her name was…”Rose”! So it’s an interesting name story, I think, that ends with an unexpected twist!

And, as posted yesterday, Delilah remained Delilah! It’s a popular opinion that should her foal be a colt we should name it Sampson! We have a few months before we’ll know what that outcome will be.

Space at SAFE is limited and we barely have the budget to take care of the horses we have so the Board of Directors decided that it was only feasible to accept two more horses into the program. The decision to keep the pregnant horse, Delilah, actually means we’ve agreed to take three. It’s difficult enough to place healthy rehabilitated horses and a pregnant mare is twice as hard so Delilah will stay with us. The other horse that was chosen to stay was Scarlett. King County Animal Control, it’s hoped, will place Ruby & Rose, soon. SAFE continues to care for all four but County funds will run out next week. It’s hard to think about what will happen…but we’ll cross that bridge when we get there I suppose.

In the last post I mostly introduced, Rose (for confusion sake, we’ve officially changed over to the new names…sorry!) and since I didn’t really get to spend a lot of time with the others I’ll give you a quick run down on their current status/condition.

They’ve had a vet check and none but Delilah appear to be in foal (Yay!)

Today was their farrier visit:

Ruby – got her feet all trimmed up but has a very active case of scratches/mud fever & apparently is having pain in her left hind & right front legs.

Rose – also got her feet trimmed and was apparently better than Ruby but has suffered a great deal of hoof issues with evidence of an apparent history of multiple abscesses that were not treated as well as dropped heels on her front feet & a probably rotated coffin bone.

Scarlett – her feet showed prior and currently active abscesses and pus pockets. She also has scratches/mud fever but seemed comfortable to have her feet handled.

Delilah – like all the rest, has evidence of prior abscesses and pus pockets.

All of the mares are getting noticed on the SAFE message board but Delilah seems to be stealing hearts left & right. I’m not sure if it’s her maternal status or the fact that she looks like a giant teddy bear. Her photos don’t necessarily show her ravaged body. The pregnant body and long winter fur (or long parasitical evidence?) disguise her neglect at first glance but when you get up close to her the protruding bones and lack of conditioning tell a very different story. In fact, Monica first brought to my attention what appeared to be some kind of growth on her shoulder, until we determined it was actually her shoulder bone. For those of us who have fairly normal horses, you can’t just wrap your fingers around their shoulder bones and hold on to it like you can with this mare.

I’m not sure anything prepares you for this, no matter how many times you see it in different cases. This particular case has it’s own distinctive set of moments that just make you question, “What was that person thinking?” …The only answer we’ll probably ever get is that they weren’t thinking at all! Unfortunately it’s history repeating itself. We see this over and over….

The story of Dexter & Baxter, the most recent inductees to the SAFE Hall of Shameful Treatment of Horses, is another case in point.

Dexter is a black & white paint that was starved by his owner, seized my animal control and placed in foster care prior to SAFE taking him. At the time of his seizure he was 698 lbs and had a BCS of 1.5. Even though he was emaciated & not properly cared for, he was apparently being saddled and ridden. In foster care he was returned to a healthy state.

But while Dexter was in foster care, his original owner apparently replaced him with another black & white paint, Baxter, and proceeded to starve and neglect him the very same way. At the time of Baxter’s seizure he was 834 lbs & a BCS of 1, the lowest possible body condition score and usually considered near-death. Both Dexter & Baxter are currently at SAFE. Dexter is actually pending adoption & it has been determined that he’s just amazingly calm. He’s referred to as “unflappable” under saddle so it’s no wonder there’s actually a line of folks hoping to be his new home. Baxter’s having some difficultly putting on weight but he’s got a team of people keeping up on him and we all hope he makes a turn for the better soon.

Their owner is being charged for the neglect of these two horses and another mare but still doesn’t seem to own up to what he did or understand the damage he caused.

Our most prolific neglector, Jean Elledge, as of today appears to be missing in the jail system. It’s being speculated that she may have earned an early release or is on home monitoring. I hope to have an answer to that very soon because she’s someone I wish to let everyone around know that under no uncertain terms, should she be anywhere near horses again. My next post in the Coconut Chronicles is in the works and happens to be about the Elledge sentencing hearings. What appropriate timing!

So, as with most neglected horses I know…you can follow the links I’ve provided to find out more about them and please check out Save A Forgotten Equine (S.A.F.E.) if this is your first visit to my blog. I am the volunteer coordinator for SAFE and truly admire the work they/we do to help horses. It was their connection to the Elledge herd that drew me in originally but it was their ethical practices & financial transparency that keeps me here. I’ve met some truly incredible people through the organizations Board of Directors, extensive volunteer force and incredibly supportive and diverse message board.

There are a million different ways to help…and I’m sure there will be a post on that some day but for now, SAFE needs donations of supplies & money.

Here’s a list of items we’re always in need of:
- Hay (Orchard, Timothy, or an alfalfa/grass mix are good).
- **Allegra Cadence
- **Senior feed (Prefer Allegra or LMF brand)
- **LMF Development G
- **LMF Super Supplement
- Beet pulp
- **Rice bran pellets
- **Cool Calories
- **Joint Supplements (Cosequin, Corta-Flx, Next Level, etc.)
- **MSM
- **Biotin supplements
- **Alfalfa Pellets
- MicroTek anti-fungal spray
- Lice Powder
- No Chew or McNasty
- Thrushbuster
- Wormers (Ivermectin, Pyrantel Pamoate, Safeguard/Panacur and Zimectrin Gold/Equimax)

Also remember that rescues generally have a network of professionals who either donate services or give a discount so a non-profit 501 ( c ) (3) can stretch a dollar very efficiently.

Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions about our needs or making a donation.

…And on the ADVENTURE front…Les & I are exploring the possibility of attending the Old Friends & Bourbon Trail Fund Raising Dinner in Louisville on February 20th. I’d like to combine that w/a visit to the Kentucky Equine Humane Center to finally accept their invitation to check out what they do there. Check back and I’ll update the progress on that trip as it happens!! Cross your fingers...

4 Mares

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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Four New Friends

Sorry for the delay in a new post. THANK YOU to everyone who's been asking about the next warms my heart to know you like it. Tonite, however, I'm taking a break from the Coconut Chronicles to share an entry about the "making a difference in the lives of horses" part I initially intended as part of my blog subject...

These aren’t the kind of adventures I care to have but sometimes your heart just tells me to go…so I do.

Tuesday night Jaime called and needed to arrange things with the Wednesday SAFE Volunteers in regards to the four new horses she was hauling from Enumclaw. While it wouldn’t be appropriate for me to share anything I’ve heard about this case, let’s just say that it’s safe to assume we have another case of a sick mind who doesn’t take in a horse’s well being when they decide just to make more. Thankfully it seems of the four mares, however, only one is currently in foal.

It just happened I had nothing on my calendar for that day so I offered to go up to the SAFE Facility and help out since Jaime was not able to be there during the day. I sent a note to the volunteers to give them a head’s up that there were going to be four neglected horses in the arena and to call Jaime when they arrived.

Upon my arrival I met new volunteer Jodi who had already been slowly feeding the horses a handful of hay every couple hours in between picking up the paddocks. And then it was time to meet the girls…

Three Chestnut Quarter Horse mares and a Percheron-cross mare (in-foal!). What struck me immediately about these gals is that they were very curious about us two legged creatures. I entered the arena and while they all made their way over, the large black Percheron-cross was clearly the leader and she came to check me out. I apparently passed because then the other three all came up to introduce themselves. They were all very sweet horses and fairly well behaved. It appears they’ve got some manners on them. It was, however, clear that the big girl was the boss; I kept thinking “Large & In Charge!”

I took a few photos and waited for Monica to show up with her much better camera so she could get some good “before” photos before we started some grooming. It was kind of a gloomy day so the lighting wasn’t the best. Not knowing if the girls would get spooked by the flash I decided to go with the no-flash option which made for some dark results but I’ll post them anyway. It’s clear that there are huge issues with the condition of these horses.

Next was trying to distinguish three chestnut Quarter Horse mares so it came down to markings. There were clear size differences of the blazes so they graduated to “Thin” “Medium” & “Large” blazes. As I started working on the skinniest horse, the one with the Thin Blaze, I noted she was lame on her front left foot. The poor horse was so skinny you could see every rib and it looked as if a huge chunk of her belly was missing back near her flank. She looked so frail. I wondered if it would hurt her for me to touch her & feel her bones beneath her skin. I lightly touched her at first and then applied a little more pressure. She closed her eyes. I wasn’t sure if it was pain or relief.

I stepped away to get some grooming supplies and even with her sore foot, she hobbled to follow me. I realized she wanted the contact. She wanted to be touched. She wanted to be loved

I first grabbed a soft rubber currycomb to try to break up some of the mud. She lowered her head as she relaxed. I was able to run it everywhere over her. She even lifted her sore foot for me to clean out with the hoof pick but when I asked for any of her other feet I could see she thought about it and even shifted her weight a little but it was clearly too painful for her to put her weight onto that foot to lift another. It broke my heart! She wanted to comply but even her trust in me did not overcome her fear of that pain.

I was able to get most of the mud off her body & combed out her mane, which was actually on the short side and was easily combed through. I can’t say the same for the rest of them who had tangles in their manes that would require hours of work to remove. Her tail was short. It’s possible that a foal ate her tail or it could be that it was cut to remove the dreadlock of mud and tangles it must have been at some point. For an old gal (she’s aged at 20+) she certainly should have had a much longer tail and mane.

A younger mare kept coming over and trying to shoulder her way in to the beauty treatment. I’d give a quick bush and then return to the older mare. This continued quite a bit and for some reason I started calling them Fairy & Ruby after a couple of elderly sisters I know; the Aunt & Mother of my shop assistant Jean.

Fairy was the horse I was working on and Ruby was the interrupter…the horses, that is…I’m not making any kind of statement about the human Fairy & Ruby ;-)

So Fairy and I spent most of the afternoon together. She’d hobble to follow me whenever I had to go anywhere. This made me feel bad because I couldn’t just say “Stay Fairy!” but it did endear her to me.

Monica worked a little while on the big Percheron mare who apparently had enough of the mane detangling and simply walked away. She was, however, checking over our work on everyone else. She’s defiantly “Boss Mare”! Monica also got to work on the other two mares a bit too but I kept focused on Fairy. She seemed the most needy to me but also very appreciative.

Another couple of volunteers showed up in the afternoon; A Mother/Daughter team – Patsy & Caitlin. I could see the compassion in their eyes as they approached the arena rail, reaching over to give some love to these poor mares. They smiled as if to give them hope. I wanted to smile but my first thought had been to cry. It’s easy to get caught up in the anger at how these things happen but I think it takes a lot of inner beauty to get past that to just be there for the horses. It’s that pure love that I see in the volunteers that gives me strength to get on with tasks be it responding to email, schedule arranging, answer the phone or making the hour long drive to help when I know no one else can. This day wasn’t about helping where no one else could; it was more about giving to the horses (and maybe taking a little stress off of Jaime, who’s work allows this place to exist in the first place).

Re-feeding these horses, I’ve learned, is a tricky feat. I’m sure most folks (including myself at first) would probably be inclined to just give them a huge pile of hay and say “Here…have all you want…this is your lucky day!” but in listening to rescuers talk about the tedious method of slowly reintroducing food into a starving horses’ world, I’ve grown to understand that the simple act of kindness can turn deadly. Their systems can get overloaded and horses can colic. As I’ve learned, first hand, about colic it’s not usually the pain itself that becomes so deadly for the horse, it’s the twisting of the intestines that occurs when they roll around in pain. So a slow, methodical re-feeding regiment is necessary so that the horses can acclimate to eating. Can you imagine having to re-adjust to food? They were being given one large handful each of hay every couple of hours around the clock.

Needless to say, the mares were very excited about food time. The big Percheron, being referred to as “Big Momma” by the volunteers that day, would be the first to get her share and then as soon as the other mares got theirs, she’d come over to claim it as well if she could. By the end of the day they each calmly ate their own pile. My photo of the event is pretty dark but it was quiet, peaceful and it felt successful to watch them all lined up several feet away from each other, their heads all down happily eating their ration.

I waited for Jaime so I could update her on the horses. We talked about them while we turned other horses in and fed. I told her about the names we’d started calling the mares and when I told her we hadn’t called the big horse anything really, she said “Oh, you mean Big Momma!” … too funny! That just fits…although she did mention a name that I kind of liked, Delilah & that one has appeared to have stuck.

Jaime walked around with her headlamp on which was good because I had nearly forgotten it had gotten dark. The farm at night, probably any farm at night, has a peaceful quality to it. There was no sign at that moment that starving horses were being rehabilitated nor any hint of the neglect they’d faced. In the dark they no longer had the jagged edges of starvation. They were another four-legged silhouette against the moonlight & another nicker in the wind.

I have a little more to tell about them in another post but you can read their full stories (so far) at:


Ruby & Rose

Friday, January 22, 2010

I don't want to re-write history...I'd be happy just to know it!

Very early in my introduction to the Rescue Community through the SAFE Message Board, I was contacted by various folks, some of whom are no longer involved in the board or SAFE activities, wanting to know who Coconut was or were willing to help me figure it out.

One woman in Idaho, as I recall, was very interested in one of the SAFE horses, a Chestnut Mare named O Barhira Magidaa. I suspected that it must be the horse SAFE called Amber but since it wasn’t public knowledge I didn’t let on right away that I might know that SAFE had that horse. I'm not even sure SAFE knew for sure it was this horse at that point either. She did offer to look up Coconut for me but was not able to come up with anything noteworthy. Eventually she did write to me and said she even if SAFE knew which horse she was looking for, she wouldn’t “touch that horse with a ten foot pole” as she told me in an email advising me to rethink my alliance with SAFE. Her new objection was that SAFE would not allow the mare to be bred and it was a shame to lose the very valuable bloodlines but more importantly she and her Arab Association friends felt that Elledge could come back at any point and fight for custody.

I thanked her for her help so far but that I would continue to work with SAFE and the horses from Coconut’s herd.

Ever since I brought her home I’ve wondered who she is and what her bloodlines might be. Remembering all those hours I spent in my childhood (and periodic re-visits in my adulthood) devouring the book “The Kellogg Arabian Ranch: The first 50 years” had fueled my fantasy about owning one of those stunning horses. Looking at Coconut those first few months didn’t exactly give me hope that I’d snagged my mythical creature but every once in awhile she gave me momentary glimpses into what might be there hidden in her mysterious past if only I could uncover it.

At one point I paid for a one-month subscription on the Arabian Horse Association website so that I could try to find her, pretending I could navigate their registry and magically come up with the prized answer. That didn’t happen, although I was able to learn something about the Elledge Arabians…at least the ones who’d been registered. She seemed to have a taste for good bloodlines and from the stories I’ve learned later, she paid hefty price tags to import horses from other states so that she could use them in her breeding program.

In fact, later I would eventually hear her say in court that she purchased these well bred horses in hopes of creating her own fancy line that would produce 5 or 6 horses a year that could sell for enough money to support herself and her horses. That plan clearly got out of control and she somehow got mesmerized by color and kept on breeding everything in sight. That’s another post I’m sure….

All I had to go on was the story that Coconut had belonged to a former Monroe Pasture Boarder who had fallen behind on payment and surrendered her to Jean Elledge in order to pay her board bill. At least one of the young ladies who worked for Elledge during the time that Coconut was on the pasture has confirmed the story to Jaime, adding that there was also a POA Pony. Both were taken to auction and did not sell (presumably because she put a minimum price on them). The POA was sold off the trailer after the auction was over and only Coconut returned to Monroe that day.

So far no one has been able to tell me anything about those boarders or a time frame as to when she first came to the pasture. I am under the impression that the POA and Coconut belonged to the same owner but I don’t know that to be the case.

As I looked through the registry, particularly at the horses registered to Elledge and there were a couple of possibilities that I’ve since ruled out, but there is no Coconut Macaroon. I’ve also been unsuccessful at locating a markings/foaling year match to her. Not that I actually know when she was born, but we’re kinda going with 1994 – 1996 as that covers both her ad that said the horse was 12 in November of 2006 and the age of 10 that her vet guessed her at when I first had her looked at. So far nothing blaringly obvious matches!

I do have her listed her on Horse Reunions (HRS# 88) but have never been contacted. There is a horse that someone else is looking for a horse that is similar in description: Bey Luvly (HRS# 622) who had apparently been part of another neglect case in 2002 near Maple Valley. This is from that ad:

“Mare was in a seizure and dispersal of Parkwood Arabians herd (40+ horses) in approx 2002 she is still registered to former owner along with many others who are suspected of being sold to slaughter following seizure in the severe abuse-neglect situation with action by authorities against owners last name Surridge. Believe some of the herd incl. this mare may have ended up in a bogus "rescue" in eastern Washington. Sire is Bey Shah son/old Polish breeding dam. Former owners - one deceased, other in nursing home. I tried unsuccessfully to buy the mare in 2000 to get her away from that situation; I would like to find her or at least know she is safe.”

Ok…part of me would like to know that this IS Coconut but most of me would prefer to think she was only ever neglected one time. My heart would break into a million more little pieces if I learned that suffering has been an ongoing way of life for her in the many hands she’s passed. At least I know she’s well loved now…and forever! Still, I did look up this horse and it seemed quite similar. I don’t have AHA access right now but as I recall the horse actually had a different spelling to the name Bey Luvly. There might not be any connection but I’m constantly trying to rule out horses since I don’t seemed to be armed with the right information to pin point who she is based on name, breeding or markings. So I make a list of horses that fit into the color/age possibility and cross them off as I go. I may never know…

Her documented history may only be 3+ years long but it’s certainly a rich one so far, wouldn’t you agree? I recently got a note from Barbara who owns another one of the Elledge horses Khramer (formally known as Wajiih El Nefous) thanking me for telling the story because it’s creating part of his history too. That touches me. I know I’m not alone in my semi-obsession for information about these horses. My interest does not stop with just Coconut or the horses who ended up at SAFE. I’m also just a tad bit obsessive about any of the horses who came out of that mess.

I tend to put myself out there and I suppose that makes me an information contact. I’ve had many people over the last 3 years contact me or become known to me in regards to other horses who come from The Herd.

On Craigslist…twice…I’ve seen ads for Sea Of Wisdom (Sinatra’s Dam) and have had contact with both prior owners. I’m not sure where she is right now but she had a tough time. Apparently Jean Elledge contacted a young woman, Cecile, who had formally worked for her asking if she could provide this horse, a buckskin Saddlebred, with some training. At the time, Elledge was concerned that her horses were not selling and had come to the understanding that some of that might be because they were untrained (or unhandled!) and thought that with some training the horse could be sold for a few thousand dollars. Cecile agreed to take her but when the horse arrived it was immediately obvious that the horse was underweight, wormy and in poor health. Cecile and her Mother contacted Elledge to take the horse back and get it some help but she refused. They got a vet out there and got the horse in shape. I was told that the selling price of the horse (once it was trained) would be split between Elledge and Cecile. Of course once Elledge was arrested and headed for jail, they were going to be saddled with the full responsibility of the horse. I’m not sure at what point the papers had been transferred but at the time of our contact, Cecile claimed to have papers. Several months later I saw Sea Of Wisdom on Craigslist again but from a different seller so I wrote to her and inquired about how she’d obtained the horse. She said she took the horse in trade over a vet bill she’d helped the former owner with (presumably Cecile) and was just looking to sell the horse to cover her expenses. I offered my contact information if any future owner was interested in her story. I hope someday I get that email or phone call! I hope everyone wants a history for their horse.

I was at the Pierce County Horse Summit meeting last fall and met one of the Animal Control Services Rep who told me she owned a Pretty Dappled buckskin Saddlebred mare, Sunshine, out of Seas The Golden Day. At the time she was showing an aptitude for dressage and jumping and was for sale.

Another hose I see on Craigslist from time to time is a filly named Buttermilk (as I recall) that was a “boarding bonus” or “pasture accident”: a Quarter horse/Clydesdale-cross bred to Seas The Golden Day, Elledge’s prized Cremello Saddlebred Stallion. The resulting filly is what looks like a bulky Cremello Draft. The first time I saw her for sale they were asking $7,000.00….yup….that is Seven THOUSAND! I, of course, had to write her and ask about this filly and was told the story about how she had been a boarder and her mare had accidentally been exposed to Seas The Golden Day. She was aware that he died on the Monroe Pasture but never mentioned what a horror fest that place was or why she kept her horse there until she moved it when the horses were seized. I couldn’t stomach the thought of how this individual could have not known what was going on and didn’t report her. I would think that anyone who understood how wrong it was on every level would have said so in an email to someone who was involved in the rescue of horses from that place…but she appeared fairly oblivious …or didn’t want to admit her ignorance at the time…anyway…I’ve seen ads over the last year for this horse, dropping in price to $2000 and finally now down to around $700 by last listing. It appears they’ve had a dose of reality having to care for just this one extra mouth…too bad Elledge didn’t figure that out before she produced foal after foal…even though she was unable to properly care for the adult horses she already had.

That’s actually a debate of sorts…one we’ll probably never know the answer to. Did she really just run out of money (as she stated in court)? Did she truly not understand that she was not providing proper care? Or (as I suspect), did she know exactly what she was doing and the loss of life was just an acceptable percentage when rolling the dice to get those fancy colors? Produce more in hopes of getting a few (lucky) good ones? Well…obviously NONE of those horses were lucky…except the ones who got out of there alive!

…like Coconut…the horse with no real history before November 13th, 2006.

I think it’s safe to say that if anyone ever reads this and has ANYTHING to add to her history I’d be ever so grateful. I promise…I’d pass no judgment on anyone who may feel any kind of embarrassment because of the role they may have played in the Elledge nightmare. I suspect there are lots of people who worked for her, came in contact with her or even tried to report her over the years who battle their own personal demons because they feel they didn’t do enough to stop the death toll and suffering. If you’re out there please contact me…if you’ve read my previous posts, you’ll know I’m one of you. I did help one horse but I failed the others. Maybe that’s why I work so hard to help horses now. I’d like to think I would have done anything I could to help them before…I just didn’t know what to do that could make a difference. I’ve learned so much over the last two years & I’m still learning…every day. One thing I do know is that every little bit helps. Whether it’s a small tid-bit of information to fill in the giant holes of a horse’s past…or mucking stalls at the rescue…or donating your extra $3 this week. Every little bit helps.

And one thing I’ve discovered along the way…

In searching for her history, I've redirected my own.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Even a mother's Love...

It turned out that we had been planning a small house concert at our place in a few weeks and I suggested…ok…I probably TOLD Les that we were going to turn it into a fund-raiser for SAFE (Save A Forgotten Equine) after I learned they were caring for the horses seized in the Elledge case. We belong to the Parrot Heads of Puget Sound, a Jimmy Buffett fan-based club that promotes community service and ‘giving back’. It’s fairly typical of us to hold functions and raise money or donate our time & energy in support of what we consider good causes. Our good friend & musician, Jerry Gontang, performed on our back deck (under tarps in the rain, I might add!) and we were able to raise about $700, which I sent off to SAFE. Upon receiving our donation, SAFE VP, Bonnie Hammond, contacted me and asked if I was free to come up and meet the horses at Jaime’s farm in Monroe that following weekend. Of course I jumped at the chance to get to see them in person…the horses…but meeting the SAFE crew would be good too!

As I drove down Hwy 2 through Monroe, I came upon the first landmark that Elledge had given me “Turn left at the red barn that was a gas station & Indian food place”…as I approached it, I could feel my muscles start to tense up and my heart sped up too. I hoped not to have to make that drive down Woods Creek Rd because I wasn’t sure I could do so without breaking down. Thankfully it was the road after that…Old Owen Road. As I pulled up I met Bonnie, Jaime and Safe volunteer Valerie who had begun working on Kokomo’s rain rot…. combing…pulling…combing…pulling… it would eventually take hours over several days to work on that mess!

While I was waiting for a breaking point, someone suggested I go look in the stall next door to see if I recognized anyone in there. There I met Jasmine a bay Arabian mare and her filly, Ella. I was both touched and shocked at the same time. She did not look familiar to me but she was definitely making her impression on me right then. Here was this mare, skinny and undernourished, feeding her baby. Jasmine’s face haunts me to this day. It appeared she had no facial muscles in her face because her lower lip was hanging several inches below her face. It exaggerated the gauntness but made her look a million years old. How could anyone do this to a horse? Who breeds a horse who looks like that…or worse yet, breeds a horse like that over and over so many times that it sucks the life out of her? Across Jasmine’s face was a severe scar from an ill-fitted halter she undoubtedly wore constantly. I could hardly imagine how an animal could muster the will to live in that condition. Perhaps it was her instinct to provide for her baby. Perhaps it was conditioning to the years and years of neglect she suffered as a “prize” mare in the Elledge herd. What a terrible lot in life to be treated so disgracefully yet be so in-demand for her fancy foals. Shameful…. absolutely Shameful!

I was also directed to the new filly and her Dam who were hanging out in the arena. That turned out to be the very adorable Ariel & Amber who was every bit as ravaged as Jasmine but had managed to keep her face together. We so often think of the joys of motherhood & the beauty of nature in witnessing animals and their babies. These scenes were nothing short of horrific when you take in the big picture that these horses were bred over and over in addition to the fact that they were not fed, watered, vetted, wormed or groomed. The horses were baby factories for the mad professor of breeding, Jean Elledge.

As I chatted with the SAFE ladies and fed Kokomo some treats in an attempt to extend his patience for standing still for his treatment, I learned that approximately ten of the horses on the SAFE Farm owned by Jaime Taft were there “in secret”. They were allowed to keep and care for them as long as they didn’t publicize the fact that they were doing so. Snohomish County said it was because of the ongoing investigation to the Elledge Case and that these horses were evidence. It was speculated later that it could also be damage control for the failure of Snohomish County to have acted in time to save horses lives, among the many theories. None of which, however, bought the “evidence” excuse.

I, for one, will never point fingers directly at Animal Control for my frustration in attempting to report Jean Elledge to the authorities. What I ran up against was a huge case of apathy when it came to acting on the possibility that animals were being neglected. I can’t say that Animal Control didn’t do their job because I was never even informed that there was such a department that I could report it to in Snohomish County. As we recall…it was the Sheriff’s department who brushed me off. It had not been that high of a priority. Thinking back to the phone call I had with the deputy investigating my trespassing incident, they still hadn't connecting the property to the offense until I pointed it out. Although, to the credit of the deputy I spoke to in March of 2008, once he did make the connection, I was cleared, basically excused and the matter was dropped.

King County was a different story, however. They seemed quite motivated to tell the press and anyone else who would listen that these horses had been neglected, some to death and that they were doing all they could to prosecute Ms. Elledge. I eventually learned that once Elledge was arrested in Snohomish for the neglect & death of the horses on the Monroe Pastures that Snohomish Animal Control called King County where Jean Elledge lived in Carnation. As it turns out Carnation & Monroe are not that far away from each other but happen to be in two different counties. King County Animal Control was dispatched to the Elledge residence and four dead horses were discovered and approximately ten more were in severe states of neglect. Therefore, there were two cases against her, one in each county. This probably turned out better in the end but she still only eventually faced 3 felony counts of 1st degree animal cruelty in each county even though there were some 30 horses involved overall including approximately 12 deaths that were eventually attributed to her (lack of) care practices.

My day visiting SAFE was both emotionally draining and hopeful at the same time. I had to believe that these horses were on the road to recovery and that their horrors were behind them. Tragically though, that was not the case for every horse there.

A Buckskin mare named Willow had a 4 month-old filly, Lilly, on her side at the time of the Carnation seizure. Willow was one of the horses who was described in early media accounts as near death but giving everything in her to nurse her filly. It was obvious that this walking skeleton of a horse had but one purpose…to keep her baby alive. Initially, it seemed that Lilly had an advantage over the other horses in that she did not require Jean Elledge feed her. Her nourishment came from her mother. Things seemed fine for more than a month but then things went very wrong. Lilly had gone from one of the hopeful stories of the seizure to the most tragic. Although she was not reliant upon her neglectful human to care for her, she already had a time bomb ticking inside of her. It could be because of her Dam’s lack of pre-natal care. It could be because of parasite damage due of the lack of proper worming in any of the horses in that herd. It’s even been speculated that her Dam might possibly have been bred back to her own Sire. It could just have been one of those natural malfunctions but Lilly's bone marrow was compromised and she was not able to fight off infection. Her little baby body turned on itself with fury. Heroic efforts were made to save her, including a weeklong stay at Philchuk Equine Hospital with King County’s approval. Yet despite all the emotional and financial support, Lilly could not be saved. I still count her among the lives that Jean Elledge is responsible for ending.

Sadly, Lilly’s struggle and passing came immediately following the loss of another baby, Ella; The filly with the diamond shaped “Kiss Spot” directly on her nose, belonging to the tragic-faced mare, Jasmine. Little Ella came to SAFE in a weak state and while she perked up enough for everyone to get to know her beautiful little, true self, she suddenly declined. Her little body had also been too far damaged to survive. One day, she laid in the pasture and seemed to shut down & give up. Despite everyone’s best efforts the little beauty died 3 days later. A necropsy revealed severe parasite damage to her internal organs; most specifically they had eaten holes through her tissues, including her heart.

There was nothing either of the Dams (who were both reported to be very good mother’s to their babies) could have done to make a difference although it seems they would have if they could. Their abuser gave little, if any, care to the health of the Dam and what effect that it could place against the life of the babies they bore … and she so gruesomely desired. Though both fillies died from different causes, it’s clear their “breeder” could have done so much more to give them a fighting chance.

When I learned that every one of the horses from that herd had severe parasite overloads, and necropsies on the horses who died prior to the seizure had confirmed the same parasite damage as was found in Ella, I finally realized that must could have been Coconut’s issue as well. Her severe colic and the fact that Dr. Best said her intestines appeared to malfunction…and her very large belly at the time we rescued her are all indications that she, like her herd mates, must have been carrying a tremendous infestation of parasites. I finally felt like I had an answer to why Coconut had become so ill, even several months after she came home with me. Even though it probably would have been helpful to take a stronger treatment approach to her parasite issues (and eventually I did, which seemed to be part of a turning point in her well being) there was too much internal damage already done. It became even more of a miracle to me that she pulled though. It was probably because of the good care she’d had over a longer period of time that gave her a little extra help or she certainly would have died. I understood that had it happened while she lived on the pasture…and it certainly would have, it was her own time bomb waiting to explode…she would have died on that pasture. No one would have come out to feed her in the morning (because they didn’t feed there!) and find her rolling on the ground... no one would have walked her while they called the vet out (because they didn’t use vets) and no one would sat with her for hours while she found the strength to pull through. She would have been scared and she would have struggled. She would have died. It might have been days before they discovered her body out there on that pasture. She would have died not understanding that she was deeply loved. Her life would have passed and it would not have mattered to anyone. She doesn’t deserve that kind of ending! No horse does…

Lily & Ella died knowing love. Love from their Dams who struggled though their own neglect & abuse attempting to spare the lives of their babies. Unfortunately, they had no power to undo the crime of their captor…their creator…their abuser. Lily & Ella knew love through their rescuers...their angels...who showered them with care & kisses how kind people can be...they lived and touched the lives and hearts of many in their few short months on earth. They didn’t deserve to die, but they deserved the love and admiration they gained…they serve as a reminder of why we do what we do in rescue.

This post has been extremely difficult for me to write…I’ve been in tears myself at many points this evening. I’ve had to go back to the threads of these horses to refresh some of the details & in doing so was reminded of how deeply I felt about these horses as we knew them...but they are not forgotten…not by a long shot. Their lives and their deaths are both something very meaningful…

Please see their full stories & visit the SAFE website at to find out more about what is done to help neglected, abused and at-risk horses.

Here are links to the individual threads for each of the horses mentioned in this post:

Jasmine - Available for Adoption


Amber - Available for Adoption

Ariel - Adopted

Willow - Adopted


Thursday, January 14, 2010

When the end is really just the beginning.....again

A year passed and I felt settled into my life with a horse quite well, I think. We both made friends at our barn and progressed (ever-so-slowly) in our riding skills. Everything seemed to fall into place nicely and I began to feel very comfortable in this new equestrian life I’d (re) created for myself.

Then in late February 2008 I was watching the evening news and a story came on about a large horse neglect case.

A carnation woman had been arrested at her home after four dead horses had been discovered at her property. Ten more horses were emaciated, one of which, a young colt was near death. The next scene on the TV sent shock waves through my body…this older blond haired woman walked into a courtroom in a bright orange jumpsuit and stood in front of the judge next to her attorney. The news reporter went on… “Jean Marie Elledge was arraigned in court today…” I let out a scream that sent Les & Corey flying into our family room to find me sitting on the couch in tears. “What happened?” they asked… “They got her!” I said.

The reporter went on to say that the arrest in Carnation (located in King County) had come just days after her arrest in Snohomish County after more horses had been discovered dead and starved on a pasture she leased in Monroe. There had been an ongoing investigation after reports in December that a horse (or two?) had died. Snohomish Animal Control had apparently come out to that pasture, the same pasture island hell that Coconut had come from and she’d been told that she needed to provide her horses with good food & clean water. A follow up visit discovered two more dead horses because she failed to follow through. She Failed.

Apparently she was already trying to blame it on people she’d hired to take care of the horses and they failed. But she was the “expert” right? Even if someone else did not follow through, she failed!

I continued to cry for the horses … it was not relief…it was not joy…it was horror! I’d left those horses there. I hadn’t done enough to help them. I failed. They died.

I compulsively watched every edition of the news that day and night. This continued on for the next three days. I googled her online and read every version of the story written. I watched every video. I tried my hardest to see if I could find out any information about the horses who made it out of there alive…and anything that could identify the ones who did not. Did Coconut’s mare herd survive? I was frantic. I was genuinely in a state of shock and grief.

I was able to determine that some of the horses had been taken in by a rescue group in Monroe, WA: Save A Forgotten Equine (S.A.F.E.). I found their website and started reading the accounts as they were being updated on each horse that was in their care. I wrote to them asking about the horses who made it & shared my experience with Jean Elledge and the story about Coconut. A day or two later I received an email from Jaime Taft, explaining that they had been swamped with emails asking about the horses but mostly they were deeply busy taking care of the horses. Many of those emails had come from others, like me, who had been in contact with Jean sometime in the past, many of who had also tried to report her without success. I was told to be proud that I was able to save one of the horses before she had to endure the suffering these horses had to go through as they slowly starved to death. I went out to the barn, wrapped my arms around Coconut’s neck and just bawled!

The next few weeks were kind of a blur as I poured my soul into finding out as much as I could about the horses and what had happened. Meanwhile, the near-death colt had recovered enough to be released from the equine hospital and SAFE named him Phoenix. I became especially fond of another colt named Kokomo and became his sponsor. The two of them had been in a small fenced off paddock with no fresh water and only dead blackberry bushes to eat. It was while he was trying to get to these blackberry bushes that Kokomo must have suffered a corneal scratch from the thick thorns. They and another colt, Sinatra, all appeared to be close in age and were all in horrible condition. In addition to their emaciated bodies from being starved (Body Condition Scale – BCS – of 1’s to 1.5’s…. out of a possible 9…- 2 or less is considered near death) they each had severe rain rot (a fungus that forms in their coats) due to improper grooming (basically lack thereof), lack of shelter or blanketing as well as extremely large intestinal parasites (lack of worming) & horrible hoof conditions (lack of farrier care). These conditions were reported in all of the Elledge horses.

I read a report that said there were 3 young horses in that paddock while the body of a mare who had been presumed to be one of their mothers lay decomposing just fifteen feet away. All of the feed was moldy and unhealthy and there was no water being given to these horses yet there were boarders who had horses there who were in fine condition.
That was very difficult to comprehend. It doesn’t take any responsibility off of Elledge for what she did to those horses but what were the other boarders doing still allowing their horses to remain there while horses were dying all around them…and that after months of slowly starving to death. I don’t get it…at all!

Meanwhile another report was aired about Lauren King who’s horse had been boarded on the pasture in Monroe and was now missing, a bay Quarter Horse as I recall. I had posted something on Craigs List about my experience there in Monroe and was contacted by Ms King who asked if I remembered seeing her horse while I was there. I wrote her back and explained that I didn’t think the timing matched up but would ask Corey & Kelli if they remembered the horse. Upon asking Kelli we got to talking about the horses there and we decided we’d take a ride up to the pasture that weekend to see if we could remember anything about which horses were there…basically to refresh our memories. Our friend Stephanie decided to come along.

That Sunday we drove up to the pasture, passing “Happy Valley Farm” which was still quite unhappy looking, still stuffed to the gills with junk and two horses remained, as I recall.

I parked my car in the same dirt lot and we got out and looked around. There were no horses on any of those pastures any longer. Attached to one of the fence posts was a “reward” flyer from Lauren King with a photo of her horse. We looked at it but replaced it in case someone else came out there and knew something we didn’t. We walked out onto the mare & foal pasture and recalled the encounter with the Chestnut mare with the yearling sized halter embedded in her face. Kelli pointed out the large tractor prints in the grass and told us that had to have been the rendering truck. By the looks of the many tracks there had been several “pick up” points in that pasture alone. We walked back around the shelters (pictured in the photos a few posts back… in fact, this is when those photos were taken)? And the manure was piled was worse than I remembered, and the ropes that had once trapped that Appaloosa gelding 15 months ago, had been restrung and in the same place they were when Corey had untied them to free the hungry guy.

We noted that a man across the creek over at Happy Valley Farm was walking around and could tell he was watching us. As we continued to walk around the pasture we all got a very spooky feeling being there. It felt like walking on a graveyard or in a crime scene. There was still a sense of the horrors that had taken place there and I, for one, had my heart in my throat.

About this time a white SUV pulled into the pasture and headed towards us at a fairly urgent pace. We had turned to walk towards it and when it reached us a man in his 40’s with a young boy in the passenger seat strongly asked us what we were doing there. I approached the car and explained that I’d previously had a horse out “here” (ok, not really HERE on THIS pasture) and I was trying to come out to see if I could help locate someone’s missing horse. He looked around and sarcastically said, “Well, there aren’t any horses here any more!” Stephanie asked him if this was his property and he indicated that it was not her business and that “we neighbors are trying to keep this a private matter and you need to leave!” I told the man he was right and that upon second thought this hadn’t been a very good idea and that we would leave right away. As he left we noted that he drove off and up the road to the east of the valley, not back towards the main road.

We loaded back up into my car and made our way back through Happy Valley Farm and up the driveway to the main road. Just as we approached the road a van came and blocked our exit. A dirty blond haired woman in her late 40’s (who we’ve always suspected was Jean Elledge’s sister…or at least related) rolled down her window (as did I) and started screaming at us. She yelled, “I’ve got your license plate & I’m going to turn you in!” I told her that we were leaving and that we’d already talked to the man and his son in the pasture who had asked us to leave and that’s what I was attempting to do if she’d just move her car. She looked confused and said she didn’t know who that was that we talked to. But now she wanted to know why I was taking photos…oops! She wanted our “film” and I said they were digital and she said, “I better not see those on the news!” She wanted to know why we were there and so I explained to her the same things I had told the man in the white SUV including that I had purchased a horse off the pasture from Jean Elledge and she blurted out that SHE (the driver of the van) was the owner of the property and that Jean was just a renter. Then she asked if I’d like to come down to the “house” and explain that to her brother-in-law who had called to tell her that we were snooping around her property. I simply said “No!” I was not interested in the least bit to go back to Happy Valley Farms and talk to that creep. For all I knew they were all connected to this disaster and I wasn’t even convinced yet that I was going to get out of there without a fight or maybe worse! She was one angry and aggressive woman. She demanded to know my name and phone number but all she got out of me was “Jeannette”. She eventually moved her van so I could leave.

I went home and confessed my adventure to Les. Needless to say I was a bit on edge after that encounter. Les took me out to get some dinner and upon return there was a message on my recorder from a deputy from the Sheriff’s department in Monroe asking me to call back the following morning to explain why my car had been trespassing on private property. Well the crazy lady in the car wasted no time in making sure I got reported!! I called the deputy back and left a message explaining exactly what I was doing there. He called me back Monday morning and told me that he had no idea that place was connected to the horse neglect case & said that explained a lot! I told him, in hindsight, it was a pretty stupid move to go out there and I assured him I meant no harm and would certainly not be going out there again, ever. He was very kind and said he understood and that he figured the old lady that owned the property was just concerned why someone she didn’t know was out there. Old Lady? I kinda laughed and told him that the lady was “My” age and had a mouth like a sailor…she was certainly no kind old woman and explained how aggressive she was with us. At least I felt he was on my side at that point.

Jean Elledge had posted bail and was out of jail. She'd pled not guilty and it looked like there was going to be a lot of work to be done to reverse the damage she'd those who had survived.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Stay With Me Coconut

Although the first several months went by fairly uneventful it became clear to me that if I wanted to ride this horse I was going to require some assistance. Ibby Jane, who was giving lessons at our barn at the time introduced me to someone she knew who was a kind & caring trainer, Crissy (Brown) Lynch.

Crissy’s a petite woman who comes across very quiet but she connects with horses like no one I’d ever met before. The first day she came to help me out she brought her daughter, Carlen. Both are from New Zealand and have these marvelous accents that I didn’t understand completely in the beginning. I grew to love their words both in the manner in which they were delivered and the insight they provided. Carlen (who I thought was “Callen” because of the accent) was actually visiting from New Zealand and it turns out she was going to be the first real rider. Crissy had moved here permanently a few years prior.

They showed up with a funny looking Navajo print synthetic saddle and a simple headstall with a bit, no reins. These were not the typical tack expectations from an Eventer, but I suppose they served the purpose. The first tid-bit I learned with her is that she expects every horse to “suit up” for work. So each time I took Coconut out I was to tack her up. A saddle and bridle indicates work time. She also introduced me (and Coconut) to the rope halter and a long detachable rope-weight lead rope/lunge line. So, off we went to the round pen (or as she calls it the round “yad”) for our first groundwork session.

Crissy showed me that the horse picks up on our energy and eventually you should be able to Think it to make it happen. She had Coconut on the long rope that acts as the lead, lunge line and whip. She told me that the center was the safe & quiet place so she placed herself in the center and asked Coconut to move off to the left by lifting her left hand. She held the rope most closely connected to Coconut’s face in her left hand and let the rest of it drape in front of her with the other end of the rope folded in her right hand with about 4 feet or so hanging free. She lifted that left hand, directing Coconut to move off to the left and if Coconut did not respond she raised her right hand in support: Direct/Support. If Coconut still did not move Crissy would increase the pressure of the rope in her right hand by tossing the folded length of the rope behind Coconut all while the left hand remained in position. Direct/Support/Inrease Pressure. Once Coconut moved forward all pressure was released & both hands were returned to a neutral position not above her waist. As long as Coconut maintained that speed, gait & direction no additional cues were needed. Crissy says the horse is expected to continue as asked until further notice. If she slowed down or stopped, Crissy directed again and went through the steps, if needed, until she got Coconut back into the action she had requested.

Next she showed me that I could control the speed by concentrating my energy through my hand and pointing at the horse. She demonstrated a few times, talking it through as she did it…pointing at her shoulder to move out/widen the circle and to point in the dirction again to speed up... pointing at the flank to get her to slow down or close the circle in more. Then she pointed at Coconuts flank and not only slowed her down in her circle but brought her to a stop and Coconut turned in to look at Crissy. All acomplished without one verbal command to the horse. As Crissy continued to point at Coconut, she began to drawn a line from the horse to herself by pointing to the ground in front of Coconut and then bringing it to the place directly in front of her, slowly. I watched Coconut walk up and put her head down directly in front of Crissy…. Good Pony! She said as she rubbed her head. I was convinced I had just hired the horse-whisperer.

Center is the quiet, calm place. The place where the horse would rather be if you create that as it’s safe zone. I could see through the session that Coconut would look to see if it was time to come in yet and would do what she was asked so that she could come in and have a rub. Crissy then invited me into the round yad and asked me to stand behind her as she went through the Direct/Support/Pressure exercises until they turned into just Direct/Perform. Then she put the rope in my hands and stood behind me as I “asked” by directing and taught me how to use my support hand. By the end of the session, I had successfully “asked” Coconut to move in both directions, had been required to “support” my request and maintained pressure until I got exactly what I was asking for…but most importantly, I learned to release the pressure. I also was able to speed her up and slow her down but there’s nothing like that moment when I asked her to slow down and come to a stop, having her turn and look at “me” and by pointing slowly to the ground and drawing that line, bringing her slowly to me. I gave her a rub on that sweet spot on her forehead but my heart was excited and full! We’d connected that day in a way I hadn’t expected. It was in her all along, I just didn’t know how to ask for it until then! Learning to handle the rope was challenging but I understood that the rope was probably more of way of sending a signal to Coconut from my spot in the center. Eventually she would be able to get all the same cues without the rope. She would connect with me mentally (or perhaps she reads my body signals very well..but for now I'm choosing to believe it's a connection). She's with me!

The second session the following week actually included Carlen getting in the saddle. Things were going pretty well from my view on the sidelines until Coconut bucked & threw Carlen into the mud. I felt horrible but she was a very good sport about it and climbed back on. It was rather exciting (minus the bucking incident) to see Coconut beginning to show that she might actually be able to do the one thing I was hoping to do with my horse…ride! This little glimpse into our future was as big a reward as a blue ribbon.(which, by the way, in New Zealand is Second Place! but we'll go with the US version!!)

The following morning as I was on my way to meet a customer at 7:30am, I received a call from Ken at the barn. Coconut was sick, I’d better get down there quick and advised that I call the vet right away. Dr. Tooman answered his phone but he was on a ferry to Bainbridge Island. He would not be able to get to us and suggested I call another vet. By this time I was close enough to the barn that I pulled in and got a number from another boarder for Dr. David Best. He said he would get there but it would take an hour. Ken & Jan had been walking Coconut because they suspected colic. She was certainly not happy about the walking and kept trying to lie down. Ken told me I had to keep her moving and not to allow her to lay down, even if I had to get mean about it. He said she could die if I let her lay down and we might not be able to get her back up.We all took turns walking her up and down the road. I kept to the gravel as the soft grass was too tempting for her. Every time she got near the grass I could feel her gravitate towards it, wanting to lie down. We kept walking and talking….Stay with me Coconut.

Dr. Best got there about 9:00am. He agreed that it seemed like colic so he slid his hand in to feel around. As he retracted his arm & removed that long arm-glove he delivered the difficult news. He could not feel a blockage so he didn’t think it was food or sand related. He did say that the intestine felt constricted. It seemed to collapse around his arm. His advice was a five to six thousand dollar surgery that he, himself, could not perform. He warned that there was still only a 50/50 chance that she’d make it and it was an even bigger chance that I’d never have the same horse again. I would need to decide if this was a viable option. In my hesitation he tired to console me with the fact that only about 10% of his clients would opt to go that route to begin with & to consider her quality of life, even if we did attempt it. The window of opportunity was very small. He said that if we didn’t get her into a trailer and to the equine hospital immediately, they would not be able to even attempt to help her…. or…. he could treat it like a regular colic and hope for the best. Either way, he said, I was probably going to lose my horse that day. I did consider her quality of life and painfully decided against surgery.

He prepared a saline solution and fed a long tube through her nose for the fluid to pass through. He gave her a dose of banamine and handed the rest of the tube to me, instructing me to give her a dose every three hours. He had very little confidence that this procedure was going to help and delicately told me to call him when I was ready for him to come back out to put her down. Meanwhile, he told me to let her lay in the grass as long as she was comfortable but to get her up if she started to trash around.

By this time all of my friends from the barn had come down to support us. We set up chairs and had food & coffee to get us through the next several hours. They offered to keep watch over her when I had to leave at 11am to meet my customer but I raced there and back to Coconut’s side. While I was away I made a call to my Mom and told her my horse was very sick and could die. I filled her in on the details and she wished me luck. About 20 minutes later she called me in tears and said that Coconut had let her know that she’s fighting to stay with me. Mom's not an emotional person normally, but she senses things. I believed her message.

At noon I gave her a second dose of banamine and she continued to lie there. Her belly was so big she looked like a cow. As I sat there and watched her I couldn’t help myself and I got down onto the grass beside her and pet her, eventually she put her head in my lap and all I wanted to do was cuddle this very large animal and hope that she knew that I loved her very much. After all she’d been though with her previous neglector, I felt this was just not a fitting end for her. I cried a lot that day.

By 3:00pm I knew it was time to call Dr. Best back. My friends had all been wondering when I was going to be brave enough to do so. I gave her the last dose of banamine hoping to make her comfortable while we waited for him to come and continued to stroke her beautiful face. I could see in the faces of my friends they were afraid to say it to me…but we all knew too much time had passed. She hadn’t shown any signs of improvement but at least she was peaceful. I got up to go get my phone and she lifted her head and looked back over her belly at us. Suddenly she got up on her own and while she was still a bit drowsy and her head quite droopy, she passed some gas…and then she pooped. A cheer let out across the lawn…I doubt any of us had ever been so excited for poops and farts but it was an indication that she’d begun to function again. She then began to graze. I called Dr. Best and he asked if I was ready for him to come back out and told him what had just happened. He was surprised but said she just might have gotten through it & told me to call him back in an hour. By 4:00pm she was still grazing and seemed pretty comfortable, although still a little groggy! His feeling, however, is that she was out of the woods & said it should be ok to leave her for a few hours but to check back after dark and if she was ok, then she’d probably be fine overnight but to keep her on the grass. My friends were elated. Relieved doesn’t even come close to what I was feeling. There’s a reason this horse could not leave yet and her life had just become more of a gift to me.

Training resumed after a few weeks off, but lesson number 3 included me getting to ride her to cool down. Just weeks before I had to imagine that this would never happend but every moment became precious…and obviously we became riding partners though it. Crissy is still our trainer to this day. Coconut continues to make lasting impressions on those who meet her. She’s an amazing horse in many ways. (and sometimes she can be a frustrating horse as well!!)

I’ve heard it said that no horse teaches you as much as your first horse and that is certainly true. I can also say that no other horse will ever be my first horse. She’s not just my path, my destiny and my inspiration. Through her I’ve found my passion.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Coming Home...and Actual Horse Adventure News

It was dusk by the time we got home and Coconut unloaded in the driveway of her new home at KCJ with several onlookers. She was understandably nervous so I walked her around and let he nibble on some grass for a few moments while we made a plan to introduce her to her new pasture and pasture-mate. Ken asked me if I had her shot records and since Jean Elledge had never come to the Monroe pasture that day, I wasn’t able to get any of that information from her. Ken decided to quarantine her until we could get the records or get a vet out to give her new vaccines. He placed her in a nice pasture behind his house and gave her some hay…she was in heaven, for sure!

I went back to the barn and asked Kelli if she needed any help getting the trailer cleaned up but she insisted on doing it herself but had already begun to tell the other boarders about what we’d seen that day and what a horrible place Coconut had come from. One of the boarders asked me if Coconut was in foal. I had to admit that I didn’t know but I’d find out as soon as possible. She had a very round belly and while I was trying not to think about it too much at the moment, it certainly needed addressing. One of the other boarders, Glenna, upon hearing the story suggested I call Pasado Safe Haven to see about getting someone to do a well check on the horses that were still there.

On Monday I got in touch with the folks at Pasado Safe Haven and they informed me that there was nothing they could do to help these horses without a police report. I called the Sheriff’s department in Monroe and told them about the horrible conditions these horses were in and that I felt very strongly that someone needed to do a well check on all 3 pastures out there. He said that without an address, there was no way to make a report. I offered to drive out there, meet a deputy and show them where the horses were and I was told “Lady, you could come out and sit in our lobby for 3 days and we might not get someone free enough to come out with you!” …Basically…. they didn’t have time and never once gave me an alternative about what to do. They didn’t inform me that Snohomish County actually had an Animal Control Department. They didn’t direct me to a rescue, which there are many in the area but I didn’t know who or where they were. Basically, they didn’t care! I felt bad…horribly bad…but I also had a horse in need of my help now here, back at home in our new barn.

Later that day I met the vet, Kent Tooman, who happened to be coming out on another call. He pronounced Coconut in good conformation, gave her a full set of vaccinations & aged her at about 10 years old, even though her original ad said she was 12. Her hooves were going to require some work but he said I’d gotten a pretty nice horse, especially considering the circumstances. I had him worm her and we decided on a supplement. I asked if she was pregnant and he thought the belly was grass fat, not a foal. Dr. Tooman really liked how mellow she was. He rubbed her all over and she just stood there. He was impressed…and I was thankful!

Next out was the farrier, John D’Alesandro who pronounced her feet in poor condition. It wasn’t that they were too long, but they showed signs of poor nutrition and were soggy, probably from standing in wet pastures and mud for so long. Not to worry, he said, we’ll get her fixed up but said it would take about a year to grow out that unhealthy hoof and as long as I had no plans to ride her hard or on lots of different surfaces, we should be fine keeping her barefoot. He also remarked that she had good confirmation but needed some conditioning. He told me that he liked this mare, which, over the years, I’ve come to understand that he doesn’t give out that stamp of approval very often. I was pleased!

Over the next few months we just hung out mostly. She enjoyed me coming to groom her and new pasture pal, Quincy, also took to the pampering sessions. Eventually we moved on to going for strolls and some arena work. The belly was not shrinking and I started to consider baby names. I finally decided that no matter what it might be, I’d name it Key Lime Pie. A nod to the “Lime In The Coconut” song… By March 2007 I had decided that I needed to know for sure if she was pregnant and requested that Dr. Tooman come out and palp her. He pronounced her 100% Not Pregnant! YAY…or so I thought. We beefed up the lung work and I saddled her up. I even sat on her a few times but she would never do more than bend that flexible Arabian neck of hers and put her nose on my boot as if to ask “why are you touching me with THAT?” Forward was not apparently in her vocabulary & I didn’t even know a single word in Arabian (not Arabic…that I actually do know a word or two!).

I thought about that pasture in Monroe often and worried about the horses up there. Anytime I got the ear of anyone even slightly horse-related, I told them the story and hoped that someday some one would tell me what more I could do since the officials didn’t seem to want to help. I even talked with folks from a couple different rescues but still no one offered the solution. I apparently didn’t talk to the RIGHT rescue! The point is that I kept talking. I figured I couldn’t just let the memory fade away. I had my hands full at home but certainly someone might someday tell me what could be done.

By now I was living the dream…well, mostly! I had the horse, I had a saddle, I had some boots but somehow none of those things connected enough to fulfill my fantasy about cantering off over the hill. But I had a purpose. This horse, by now referred to as The Princess or Coco-Nutty, was my life. A day was not complete without a visit to the barn and to see those beautiful eyes and here that nicker as I approached her. Who knew it could fill your heart so?

Next up in the tale …Training & Some Tough Times…

...but now for a little break in the Coconut Story for some exciting “adventure” news…
(I knew I couldn't go a whole week without SOME new horse project!)

Les & I got our tickets to the KENTUCKY DERBY & the OAKS yesterday. I believe this will be our 6th time and we’ll be joined by my Brother-In-Law, Michael & a friend of his. Les had the foresight to book a room awhile back. This time we will not be staying in Shelbyville. I’ve come to love Shelbyville, the home of the Saddle bred! In fact I’ve often fantasized about moving to there. But this time we’re staying in Indiana, directly across the river from Downtown Louisville and a mere 6 miles from Churchill Downs.

It’s exciting to start REALLY planning for all we want to do there. It also happens to be MY Birthday week so I intend to call dibs on as many horse related activities as I can. I’ve already written to Michael Blowen at Old Friend’s Thoroughbred Retirement Facility to find out if they’ll be hosting any kind of party and heard back already that there’s a party being thrown in their honor on Thursday before the Derby and that they’ll be hosting their “Homecoming” on Sunday. That makes me very happy. Last year I came home from their Homecoming with a giant oil painting. I really wanted Jazil’s leather halter but I could only watch one auction item at a time and the painting won, or rather I won it! I’m also hoping to dig up some more Horse Fun while we’re out there so check back, I’ll be updating more as we get closer to DERBY WEEK!!!!!

Check Out Old Friends and see their amazing organization for giving a retirement home to ex race horses.

One more Horse Adventure note: My trainer, Crissy & I had a meeting with a Race Barn Owner/friend of mine and had a great conversation about re-homing Thoroughbreds who either don’t make to the track or don’t cut it on the track. We shared some really good ideas and I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to help him network for the horses. I think there’s a fantastic opportunity to put a program together that can serve as an example to the local racing community in regards to non (or no longer) racing Thoroughbreds in Washington State. Right now the proposal is to work through the Racehorse Rehoming Program at Save A Forgotten Equine (S.A.F.E.) and work towards creating a plan that starts at birth on how to best equip these horses to life after racing. I hope to have lots more news in regards to that soon!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Week #1 - Monroe

On the way home from Monroe that first day we stopped at Dels in Auburn for a new halter, some basic grooming tools & TREATS before heading to Wal-Mart for rubber boots & a bucket. I also made a call to Ken at KCJ Stables and wanted to confirm that the stall he said would be ready at the end of the month would be for-sure because my situation had changed drastically and I really needed to get my horse out of its current situation. He understood and asked me to come by the next morning because he had an idea that might work out and we’d be able to bring Coconut to her new home in a matter of days instead of weeks.

KCJ Stables is a family run boarding facility nestled in a little equine enclave of Federal Way. The entrance is right on Pacific Highway but the horses and the facilities sit way back off the road. If you know to look there, you can see horses but most people drive by and never notice them. The farm is really peaceful and clean & it seemed like a really good fit for me location-wise. I went to see the pasture that Ken said he could offer us which currently held a stunning National Show Horse, Quincy. Apparently Quincy’s most recent pasture mate had recently moved out and he was lonely. Ken called his daughter, Kelli and arranged for her to come with me and haul Coconut home. Her next available day to do it was that coming Saturday, four days away. I left and returned to Monroe to check on Coconut (ok…a horse crazy girl with a new horse is not going to sit around the horse even in the best of circumstances…so OF COURSE I was going to make the one hour trip each way to spend time with her!)

With a bucket full of grooming supplies and treats I was quite the curiosity in the stallion pasture as I passed through. In fact I’m sure the smell of treats was unmistakable and the force and intensity of the herd who now wanted to get their noses into my bucket was almost overwhelming.

I took a closer look at everyone on the remote pasture that day. A black & white pinto and a leopard Appaloosa, both with fairly round bellies and a gray mare who was clearly the alpha. In fact I had to shoo her off so I could focus on Coconut who appeared to be low in the pecking order. I gave Coconut some treats and took off the raggedy old halter she was wearing. It looked as though it had been on for quite some time & she was clearly grateful for both kindnesses. Apparently the halter had been in place for so long that it wore a groove across her nose & a ring had broken but was tied together with a strip of fabric. I rubbed her face gently but she was a little head shy until I got up to her forehead. That, we’ve since determined, is Coconut’s sweet spot! When it came time to try on the new halter, she calmly lowered her head and nosed into her pretty new purple one (that didn’t fit quite so snugly). She never even reacted when I clipped on the lead rope & discovered there was actually no reason to hang on to her at all. She stood ground tied & perfect for her little pampering session. One of my flags from the previous day was that when I got up close to her legs, what had looked like black socks turned out to be thick black mud halfway up to her knees. She was fairly clean considering she’d probably had little if any grooming. She certainly had NOT been fixed up for our visit the day before. I was able to brush away her black socks and revealed 3 white hooves, one black one and four “white” legs. She loved the attention and brushing. She closed her eyes and I swear she smiled.

Coconut appeared to enjoy our time together and led like a dream. Not pushy and even let me get a glimpse of her sense of humor with subtle nudges. She had every right to be standoffish but she remained engaged. I was pretty impressed with this little horse. And I say “little” horse because she turned out to be more like 14.2 hands…neither the 15.2 nor “tall” she been advertised as. In fact, on the previous evening I’d spent quite a bit of time pouring over the photos I’d taken that first day comparing them because I wasn’t convinced that the horse I met on the pasture was the same horse in the ad. I actually zoomed in and had to compare spots before I finally believed that it had been the same horse but there must have been quite a time lapse from when the photos were taken and the day I met her. Her tail was just reaching her hocks in the ad photos but was nearly touching the ground in November of 2006. I admit that some of that length could have been taken up in tail position while she moved in the original photos but I don’t think it would be an 18” difference, would it? My gut was telling me there was much more to the story…if any of it were true to begin with!

About an hour into my visit a small white truck pulled into the stallion pasture and someone got out and dumped a bale of hay. Just one…and the boy herd attacked it ferociously. As I watched the white truck drive away without feeding the mares in this remote pasture I actually gave them an initial benefit of the doubt. Perhaps they weren’t feeding the mares because they knew I was there with Coconut and didn’t want to tempt her away. Surely they’d seen my car up near the road. But then I began to wonder how they would get hay back there for them. There was no way to drive over the creek and no one could carry a bale of hay across that footbridge. My heart just sank as I realized they were not feeding the mares. They currently had grass to graze but no grains, no supplements…and no water except Woods Creek, which was now receding after the flood.

My attention went back to the stallion pasture ….13…14…15…and stopped counting because I understood that one bale of hay could not support that many horses and even in my newly returned to horses innocence I instantly knew not all of those horses would get hay because the alpha horses would push them away. I saw horses that paced back and forth but never dared try to get close. I realized my $500 purchase might have just bought something Jean Elledge may have lacked…food for the horses. But $500 would certainly feed every horse out there for a little while… someone had decided only to feed certain ones. Coconut and her mare friends were not so lucky. I’m not saying the stallions and geldings were any more lucky…perhaps just a smidgeon so.

As I got ready to leave that day I released Coconut from her halter. I didn’t see a need to leave it on and trusted she’d come back to me when I returned the next day. She followed me to the creek and watched me cross. She inched as close as she could to the tree that the barbed wire was attached to next to the footbridge. As I got across I turned back and she had lowered her head and was watching me with those beautifully sad Arabian eyes. I know she believed I was there for her…and couldn’t understand how I could leave. I hope she knew in her heart I’d be back. It was clear I was something good in her life. I couldn’t let her down! I’d be back each day until I was able to take her away. But even as I crossed the stallion pasture & turned back over my shoulder, she was still there at the tree….watching…I kept turning to look as I made my way back toward the car...until I couldn’t see the tree, the remote pasture or her any more. I knew she was there.

The next few days were very similar…except that I never saw the hay truck again. As I walked the pastures I never saw any sign of hay in the manure. I saw horses in the stallion pasture who’d clearly been in fights. None of them had any recent grooming and their manes at tails were mangled dred-locked messes. One buckskin gelding’s mane was knotted, but pulled out of his neckline so it was tangled into itself and nearly dragging on the ground. Most of the horses looked like they had rain rot and their coats were clearly unkept. I wasn’t sure if what I was seeing was as bad as my gut was telling me because I felt so unqualified to make those kinds of assumptions. I did begin to understand that there were an awful lot of horses being kept out there and no human supervision at all. Something could go terribly wrong and no one might know for quite some time. Even when I asked Jean about Coconut’s medical history the first day she told me she didn’t use vets & that she administered all of her own shots and worming. By the sheer number of horses out there I just knew she couldn’t be doing an effective job. And based on what my untrained eye was seeing, I think she fully understood that what she was doing was not customary or acceptable. I got the feeling she purposely did not have horse professionals out there…ever! There was no point even talking to Jean about any of my concerns. My intuition told me she’d try to explain it away. Clearly I could not trust anything she’d told me up to that point.

Saturday could not come quick enough and I met Kelli at KCJ at noon. I called ahead and told Jean we were headed out and to expect us no later than 1:30pm. I hadn’t previously met Kelli and I drove separate but had Corey ride with her so he and I could contact each other by phone and he might be able to help her with directions if needed. We arrived at the pasture at 1pm and hung out for a little bit. I thought I’d try to figure out how to get Coconut off that remote pasture. I crossed over and put her halter on and walked around but the place was surrounded by trees and a fence along the backside and the creek cut it off from the stallion pasture. It was practically an island. I could find no horse gate at all. I know the mares had to get back there somehow but I couldn’t figure it out. For a moment I thought about having Coconut try to cross the footbridge but it could be a little slippery, was not very wide and I wasn’t sure it could support her weight. If she lost her footing or the bridge gave way we’d both go down the 5’ drop. I just couldn’t risk an injury for either of us so that was out of the question. I was out there about 30 minutes and still no solution so I decided to join Kelli & Corey back at the trailer.

Upon arriving Kelli appeared very disturbed. While I was off with Coconut, a chestnut mare who appeared to be about 3 years old walked up to the fence line of the mare & foal pasture on the other side of the road. Corey asked Kelli to look at her halter. He thought it looked “wrong” and upon inspection she discovered it was a yearling sized halter. She reached over and undid it but it was embedded into her skull. Removing it peeled back layers of dried skin and hair revealing halter scars on her face. A grateful horse walked away. Kelli left the halter on the ground. Even someone with no horse experience recognized that was wrong!

I informed them that I couldn’t find a way to get Coconut off the pasture and I tried calling Jean to see when she was going to get there. She did not answer so I left a message. We waiting awhile longer and noticed some old rickety shelters with dangerous fencing, lots of exposed nails and saw a horse standing in what looked like a cattle chute. Upon closer inspection, we discovered that the horse was actually trapped there. In an apparent attempt to escape the poor excuse for a paddock, he had gotten himself entangled in some rope that someone had tied cris-cross across this cattle cute as a makeshift fence blocking the exit. There was least a foot high pile of manure behind him so he’d probably been there some time. Corey climbed in there and untied the rope and freed the Appaloosa gelding who headed straight for a growth of weeds and began eating hungrily. I continued to try to get Jean on the phone but by 3:00pm it was clear she wasn’t coming and we were going to have to do something on our own to get Coconut off pasture island hell.

About this time a young couple pulled up and started walking around the pastures. I asked them if they knew anything about the fencing there and they said there was a place in the trees that you could un-do the barbed-wire and get thought to the back pasture & offered to show it to me. As we all walked through the stallion pasture into the wooded area, they explained that they were looking for their horse and wasn’t sure where Jean had moved it. Suddenly it occurred to me that it was possible I’d just purchased someone’s horse under false pretenses and was very afraid of what their reaction was going to be when I brought Coconut through. We got the fence unwrapped and Corey went over and clipped Coconut’s lead rope on her halter. They didn’t react and I was secretly very grateful but also felt bad because it was clear that Jean Elledge had a habit of sneaky and questionable behavior. They left and said to make sure that we reconnected the fence, as it was the only barrier between the mares and stallions. That and the creek!!!

Because of the flooding, the creek had risen quite a bit and now that it was receding there was about 15’ of deep thick mud on each side of if at this point. It was thankfully flat, unlike the 5’ drop just a little ways down stream but this mud was still a big problem. Corey had Coconut and just tried to lead her through it but she was visibly upset. She hesitated to step into the mud but put up quite a fuss when she got close to the water and would not cross the creek. Corey, if we recall, has ZERO horse experience and the sight of him on the other end of the lead rope from a very upset Arabian is one I will not soon forget. One thing I can say is that when he’s stressed, he’s very stubborn and he actually out-stubborned the horse that afternoon, forcing her, with Kelli calling out directions, to finally enter the water and cross over to the wooded area. We also discovered the source of Coconut’s temporary black socks. This had to be the only area the mares could get to water and they’d have to make their way through the nearly knee deep mud to get to it. The reality of her nightmare was becoming more and more clear.

We reconnected the barbed wire fencing realizing that it was inappropriate and dangerous but it wasn’t our fencing so I aimed to leave it as I’d found it. As we passed through the stallion pasture one last time, this time with a mare attached to us, I asked Corey if he wanted me to take her as I sensed he was frustrated and tired but he simply said, “I have it!” He wanted to finish the job and this part was actually the easiest so far. We got back to the trailer and let Coconut walk around a bit. While we were breaking her out of the pasture a woman with a young girl had arrived and was grooming a horse in the parking area there near our trailer. They were clearly watching us. I tried to call Jean one last time and, of course, she did not answer. Kelli opened the trailer door and it must have looked like a 5 star hotel to Coconut…clean, nice bedding and ….in a bag hung by her own window was…. HAY!!!! I no sooner stepped into the trailer, she followed me in and headed right for the hay bag. We clipped her in and closed the divider. Before we closed the back door, Kelli said, “I’m tempted to just load that buckskin and get him out of there, in fact, I have two more spots, I could fill up the trailer….” We were torn. The sad fact is that we’d be in more trouble for taking neglected horses than Jean would get into for actually neglecting them…but it was tempting…very very tempting. The woman with the young girl called over to us and asked, “Does Jean know you’re taking that horse?”…Really? Has she not seen the horrible conditions these horses live in or the lack of food, water or care? Uh…”Yeah!” I told her…I’ve been calling for 3 hours and she knew I was on the way so I’m guessing she purposely didn’t want to be here when I brought in “MY” team in case they might catch on to what she was doing! “Jean knows exactly what’s going on here!”

Next entry ….Coming Home!