A Second Chance at Life

By Coleman Cornelius

Kate Marley knelt on the neck of a young rescued horse that, minutes before, had been altered from stallion to gelding.

With the horse laid flat-out under general anesthesia, Marley adjusted a surgical towel protecting the animal’s eyes from abrasion and light stimulus. She checked his gum color, a sign of circulation. She held a palm over his nostrils, the field doctor’s way of monitoring breathing. She stroked his velvet muzzle.

“Doing all right up there, Kate?” asked Nigel Miller, a fellow veterinary student. He paused while examining the incision between the horse’s legs to confirm that the patient was well sedated.

“Yeah,” Marley responded, glancing up from her watch on vital signs. “We just topped him off.”

The students were in a group of three Colorado State University veterinarians and eight fourth-year trainees castrating young stallions at the Dumb Friends League Harmony Equine Center near Franktown, Colorado, south of Denver. Just one month ago, the rehabilitation center accepted 59 abused and neglected mares and stallions that authorities had seized among more than 200 American Quarter Horses from a farm in Conroe, Texas, north of Houston.

The horses had been starving to death – emaciated, skeletal. Some had open wounds. Others were limping with injuries. Their hooves were so overgrown that the animals could not move normally. The farm’s owners were arrested and charged with animal cruelty. The lead prosecutor called the case, one of the nation’s largest reported horse seizures, “a nightmare.”

After the seizure in June, the Houston Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals spent several weeks on triage, then dispersed the rescued horses to centers designed for intensive rehabilitation. Harmony Equine Center is one such rehabilitation facility: a pristine collection of fenced pastures, barns and arenas equipped to nurse and train rescued horses so they may be successfully adopted by responsible, caring owners.

Feed is job one. Since arriving at Harmony in September, the horses from Texas have gained an average of 100 pounds each, a startling sign of just how malnourished they were. Next are hoof and dental care, so the horses are comfortable, can eat and may be trained to ride. Then halter breaking, a key step in socialization.

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