From Chicken Soup for the Horse Lover's Soul II

Sandy’s Miracle

Life isn’t a matter of milestones, but moments.

Rose Kennedy

From her very beginning the little Arabian had known nothing but abuse, neglect and cruelty. Now, she was destined to die, or was she?

Lost Acres Horse Rescue, a non-profit organization for abused, neglected and injured horses had been in operation only seven weeks when the call for our fifth rescue came in. With emotions still raw after the recent death of a severe neglect case, this was a call for which we were not quite prepared.

I was baffled by the uncontrollable crying of the female caller. After several minutes of trying, I was able to calm her and learn the story of Sandy, the little fifteen-year-old Arabian mare. Sandy had been unlucky enough to be born into the ownership of a “self-made cowboy trainer” who believed that all you needed to make a good horse was a club and a few good beatings.

After several beatings for anything that he felt deserved one, the cowboy decided it was time to make Sandy a riding horse. When she refused the bit in the bridle, it called for another beating. This time, he rendered her unconscious. Shortly after this incident, Sandy was sold and now carried with her a horrible fear of men. Another home, another fear and another chapter of cruelty, this time neglect. According to her new owner, she had been riding Sandy a week before and had asked another family member to put Sandy in the barn. They did, but failed to lock her stall. Sandy opened the stall gate during the night and indulged herself in a barrel of hog feed, a natural poison to horses.

Living through something that should have certainly killed her, Sandy continued to get sicker and sicker. When she showed signs of founder, a condition causing severe pain and lameness in horses, her owner phoned the farrier and upon his recommendation, Sandy’s shoes were removed. The days went by and Sandy’s condition continued to worsen. As there were no large animal vets in the area, small animal vets were consulted and unfortunately, none of them were familiar with Sandy’s ailment, neither the cause, condition, nor treatment. Sandy continued to grow weaker.

Unable to bear the sight of Sandy in pain any longer, Sandy’s owner called her neighbor and explained the situation to him. Unable to destroy Sandy herself, she asked the neighbor if he would be willing to shoot Sandy if she went away and left a gun for him. The neighbor had heard about Lost Acres on a local TV broadcast earlier in the week and had copied our phone number. He refused to shoot Sandy, but gave her owner our number and made her promise to call us.

We arrived at Sandy’s as a steady mist began to intensify. Four of us crossed a small, dusty paddock area and there, on the other side, lay the most pitiful, forlorn sight I had ever seen . . . at least since our last case. Sandy was a very small, frail, strawberry and gray Egyptian Arabian mare. Her fleabitten coat was matted with thick dust and she lay in a fetal position capable of raising only her head.

The mist turned into a full-scale downpour as we worked feverishly to remove part of the fence around the paddock. Sandy was unable to rise to her feet to be led to the trailer, so our only choice was to take the trailer to her. After removing the fence, we backed the trailer to where she lay and the four of us proceeded to lift her in. We laid her down and made her as comfortable as possible for the long drive home. Reina, Sandy’s four-month-old foal, watched as we pulled down the drive, leaving her and taking her mother . . . somewhere.

Back at Lost Acres, we moved Sandy into a stall. With her fear of men, it proved to be a tedious task, although she did warm up to my son Dustin right away. We examined her and found her problems to be more than just founder. She was 450 pounds underweight and, as we would learn later, Sandy had been in a downed position for nearly a month. Trying to care for her foal, Sandy had used her mouth to pull herself about the paddock. In doing so, she had developed eighteen ulcerations on her body and had come in contact with an electric fence. Her tongue and lips displayed chemical and electrical burns which were proof of the fence and the use of fly spray. Sandy’s reaction to the spray contracted her muscles and drew her into the fetal position in which we found her.

The next morning we began trying to help Sandy hold her head up enough so she could eat her quarter can of grain that would be given three times a day. Hay was placed in front of her to eat as she chose. Next began the task of getting her wounds cleaned and treated and to get her looking like a horse. Her coat was brushed and the mud cleaned off, quite a task with a horse lying down! With a little trimming, she began to take shape.

Three and a half weeks would pass before Sandy would be strong enough to stand on her own for fifteen minutes, three times a day to eat. One month would pass before she would be given a full can of grain at a time. Twice daily, we would work her from one side of the stall to the other so that her bedding could be cleaned.

Five weeks after Sandy arrived at Lost Acres, we were able to walk her outside her stall to stand in the aisle while her bedding was changed. As I started to take her back inside, I noticed a pool of something around her feet. Touching it revealed the beginning of another nightmare . . . blood. And a lot of it. Abscesses had formed on the inside of both her front feet. They had been deep and she had shown no signs or symptoms, but now the backs of both feet had blown out, as well as the heel bulbs on one foot. Three days later, the next of a long line of problems occured; she would lose the soles of all four feet and I would spend the next two months, two hours a day, cleaning, soaking, drenching and continuing to bandage them.

While Sandy had a terrible fear of everyone and would cower away, she would cling to me as a lifeline. She would even lie down on her side and stretch her legs out for me as I painfully cared for her feet. When we were finished, she would scoot around and cradle her head in my lap. While she was improving in some ways, I wondered if we would ever really come to the end of catastrophes. Sandy had ulcerations, four feet without soles and two feet and an elbow that had abscessed with tissue and muscle dying away. Our only good news was she was eating like a champ and the burns she had acquired from the fence and the spray were finally healed. Two months passed and while her feet were recovering, something just wasn’t right. As I examined her, I discovered our next disaster. She was completely losing her front feet.

Randy, the man who would become known as our miracle farrier had seemed confident when he had told me her feet would “take some doing.” I’ve often wondered since if he knew just how much doing. While I had always held her on a lead line for him to work with her, the time we placed her in crossties in the aisle, Sandy panicked. Only then did I realize Sandy’s beatings had occurred while being held by crossties.

For the next ten months Randy painstakingly worked with her: Trimming her feet, filling them with epoxy to help rebuild part of them, placing the right type of shoes needed for the current problem at hand. Daily, I hand-walked her for exercise and to get her adjusted to her feet. As a vet assistant for eight years, six of them with one of the best horse vets in the state of Ohio, I had acquired experience that a million dollars couldn’t buy. Unfortunately, only time would tell if Sandy would make it. Fortunately, I had all the time in the world.

Sixteen months, sixteen long months, and the day of reckoning had arrived. For the first time, Sandy would be turned out in the large paddock without being held back by a lead line. This time she would be set free. As I walked from the paddock and turned to close the gate behind me, I heard Sandy squeal, followed by a triumphant whinny. I looked to see her standing on her hind legs, shaking her head and striking the air as if to say, “I’m back, world! I won!” She tossed her tail over her back, gave another victory squeal and ran like the wind, her mane and tail flowing like silver angel hair as she raced time and time again around the paddock. As I watched, the tears from so many months—scared tears, tears of relief, tears of joy and tears of wonder—fell to the ground. Sandy had earned her nickname, “Lost Acres’ Miracle Baby.”

We kept Sandy for a few more months, seeing her through to her seventeenth birthday when she was adopted as a riding horse to a wonderful home. Our policy is to supervise our adopted horses for a period of one year.We did and were elated to find Sandy was doing great. Her transition to a new home wasn’t without some difficulty, but this little Arab who was destined—but refused—to die is loved like a million dollar horse and couldn’t be purchased for that!

Sissy Burggraf

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