The title says it all ... even as aware as I have become about watching those places I go by I miss the obvious.
I've gone by this barn scores of times, often a dozen times a day, never saw much activity around there; the odd horse out front in slipshod paddocks but all seemed to be in fair condition. Nothing out of the "ordinary" for this area; very run-down places, low rent ... maybe that should have been a red flag (if we can't afford to fix anything, can we afford to keep horses?)
Got the call late yesterday afternoon ... the sort I get 'way too many of; could I attend for a seizure right away? Seems an officer had struck an order to have 4 horses released from being kept in a barn 24/7 with no turnout or husbandry/care, & the owner appeared to have complied; trouble is they had not, just added more horses that looked like the ones trapped inside. We got to the place just before dark, and each of us were stunned at what met us ... the horses had been kept in a dank barn littered with garbage, debris & every manner of pest. The biggest shock came when I approached the tiny area where 3 stallions & a mare had been kept. It took a moment to actually believe what my eyes were telling me, because it was just too horrible to imagine; these horses were standing belly-deep in a mire of mud & their own feces, which they had of course been eating in that last ditch effort to survive. As if that were not enough, someone had been throwing garbage, old boards, empty bags & debris INTO the stall with horses! Each one sported their own array of sores, bites, cuts & other injuries. The smell was beyond anything I'd ever experienced.
It took me 20 minutes to get close enough to one stallion to get a halter on him, & that was a fight unto itself. Bit by bit, we managed to gain enough trust to handle the horses, all of which were completely feral. We expected issues with their feet, but even that did little to prepare us for what we saw as each horse was prodded & coerced from the hideous mire. What we found didn't even look like feet, at least nothing that a horse would grow ... they looked more like something a deformed duck would grow.
It amazed me the mare was even still alive but what remains the biggest puzzle - once again - is "WHY"? What reasoning allowed this person to dutifully perform such a calculated reign of abuse on these horses? Had I trusted myself not to bury the human turd in that mire of muck & manure I would have asked them for an explanation ... alas, had they opened their mouth I probably would have shoved a handful of poop into it.
The dank pit that can be the human mind is a mysterious place and one that I'm not sure I want to understand, for that way madness must lie. I was elated at having wrangled those stallions out of the barn, into the trailer, then into their new housing at the shelter - there were more than a few "OH NO" moments as we watched studs dance across the lot on their hind feet while paddling those forefeet in what they could only deem as their last defense ... lead lines humming taut while horses wielded their battle cries & thrust pitifully deformed hooves into the darkness, striking at whatever they could in a feeble effort to escape ... I don't even want to imagine what has been done to those horses to make them THAT terrified of a human.
Unloading them was a distinct surprise ... the eldest stallion, by far the toughest to handle, was at once alert yet docile. He looked at me as I slid carefully into the trailer, and there was that unmistakable plea in his eyes: "Is it over now? May we just be horses again ... please?" He stood stock still as I reached a hand towards his scarred & matted neck, & allowed me to stroke him gently ... "Those days are done, My Friend", I answered. I tried to apologize for not helping him sooner, knowing I'd been by that place so often, so close to their suffering but ignorant of their plight; but nothing I could say would ever make up for what happened to them. The best I can hope for is that amazing resilience to return, allowing these horses to heal, both physically & spiritually. Doesn't make me feel any better though, knowing how many times I'd failed them ...
The moral of this all too often repeated story is this: be ever watchful, take nothing for granted, look deeply ...