After weeks of providing water for the wild horses and other animals in the Apache-Sitgreaves national forest during this summer's exceptional (driest classification) drought Leslie, our point-person closest to the wild horses and her husband Steve, saw a group of 5 mares with two young foals that appeared to be starving. They were huddled not far from the fence separating them from the wild horses and other animals we had been providing water for and didn't appear to have water on their side of the fence. That side of the fence was the sovereign nation of the Apache Indian Reservation. Leslie contacted me and we immediately started making calls to get permission to assist them.
While waiting for calls back, I loaded the trailer with two troughs and some hay. I filled one trough with water so we could put the empty trough by the horses and fill it with buckets of water from the full trough, then I made the 35 mile trip to the location of the horses. Leslie and Dennis met me there.
Bucket after bucket, we hauled the water to the trough so they could drink. Even though these were wild horses, they came right up to the trough to drink even while we poured the water.
Once we emptied the water into the drinking trough, we went to get more water and return. The horses had finished all the water by the time we got back. This time we filled the drinking trough and then put the second trough on their side of the fence as we waited for Lynn to finish her daily route with her water truck and meet us to use the rest of her water to fill both troughs as much as we could.
Their thirst initially quenched, they stood back and watched as we camouflaged the now full water troughs so they would not be disturbed. We noticed they already had hay spread on the ground. People were putting hay out to feed them, but didn't realize there was no water in the nearby earthen water tanks causing them such deadly dehydration. We left some extra hay in addition to the water.
The next morning Leslie went out to check on them and realized that gray mare was nursing two foals and that she was clearly in a very bad way and we were worried she would die before we could do more to help.
The other horses continued to drink, eat and show signs they were responding, even if slowly. Our concern was this mare had nothing for the foals to suckle and all three were at risk of dying.
We got permission from the proper authorities to go onto the reservation and rescue all of them if we could, or at least those in the greatest need. At 4pm a call went out to our friends and horse savvy volunteers to meet at 5pm and see if we could rescue the mare we called Momma and the two foals. Wild horses in the wide open forest....not an easy task.
Lary, myself, Leslie, Bill, Thelma, Craig and Kristi waited for Momma and the foals to be near the water and approached from out in the forest to the corner where the troughs were. The other horses took off, but Momma was so weak we were able to gently toss a rope over her and Sydney too.
As Leslie had seen her doing several times during the day, Momma laid down to rest. We were able to get a halter on her and her foal, then walked the foal into the trailer. Now we had to get Momma up and into the trailer. We were not sure we could do it.
With great team effort we were able to get her standing, let her rest and then slowly moved her step, by single foot step to the trailer. She climbed in the trailer and nuzzled her foal, clearly she was so weak and tired. The black foal had left with the other mares who took off over the hill and it was too dark to try to catch him so we slowly headed for home.
Exhausted and without dinner, Lary and I realized on the slow drive home that if Momma laid down in the trailer the two of us would not be able to get her up. We were so blessed to find her standing when we opened the door of the trailer so they could go right into a stall in the barn.
Safely at the rescue, we slowly got them both in a stall with water and hay. Even though they were in a strange place, it was calm and quiet. With my many years as a equine vet tech and health care provider at the rescue I could tell Momma's body was shutting down.
Through the night we kept Momma comfortable, I prayed and sat rubbing her, gently talking to her and giving her love in her darkest hours. When our vet Tammy arrived we knew the most compassionate thing to do would be to humanely let her go.
Her foal got to be with her in her final moments and she passed so very quickly. The angels were waiting for her as she crossed the rainbow bridge. Her foal was not left in the forest to fend for herself, she was here and even though the time at the rescue together was short before she passed, her foal was safe. Now we had to deal with the other orphaned foal.
Leslie had been going out each day and noticed the wild horses were gathering around our water troughs every morning so three more times we went out to try to catch the little colt we called Snorkel because he puts his face in the water to drink. From this picture I could tell by his teeth he was older than the filly by a month or more and his age explains why he bounced back so quickly with the water and forage readily available. We decided to keep an eye on him over time and if we saw him in any distress figure a way to capture him if possible.
We named the filly Sydney when Leslie realized that the star on her forehead looked like an upside down Australia. Knowing she was malnourished we drew her blood to check for anemia or anything else that affected her. She was put on a special diet that was easy for her to eat and digest.
With daily gentle touches, grooming and other handling she slowly looked forward to our time together. She gained weight and her coat got shiny, soon we let her be near the other horses, donkeys and minis and eventually let her out to be with the others.
With many visitors she got lots of tender loving care and she loves to have that human contact every day. .
It has been such a joy to see her kick up her heels and run while she gets used to her new herd of fellow equine. They have all accepted her and she is finding her place in the herd hierarchy. The old mares school her like any mother would do and she likes to herd the minis around because they are smaller than her.
On November 20th, Deborah Thompson and I assisted Dr. Tammy as she repaired a small umbilical hernia that Sydney had on her stomach. We had tried some belly bands and daily massaging of the area, but none of those things seemed to be working to close the area causing the hernia.
Being able to do it here at the rescue versus a trip to an equine hospital was a huge savings.
It was a VERY cold morning so closed all the stall doors, hung blankets on the pipe panels around the stall and even brought in some heaters. Bundled up in our cold weather close we were done with all the preparations and the surgery itself only took 16 minutes.
She is recovering well and just finished a round of antibiotics and also some pain meds and anti-inflammatories. Other than the staples that will need to be removed, she is back to her normal self and healing perfectly.
The vet will be back on December 4th when Gwen and Ruby Rose will have minor surgery on their lower eye lids and Sydney will get her staples out.
When we refilled the water troughs during the summer we spotted the mares and Snorkel running through the forest. We kept our troughs out there until Labor Day weekend. By then there had been enough monsoonal rain to fill the earthen water tanks so they had plenty of water to drink. All the horses look fat and healthy and Snorkel is the picture of energy and happiness. Thankfully he is thriving as are the mares. The water saved their lives.
We weren't able to do more for Momma than bring her home, make her comfortable and let pass with her baby by her side. She did not die alone on the forest leaving two orphaned foals in distress, she knew our love in her final hours. This mare gave her milk so both foals could nurse while depleting her own life. There is no greater love than that of one who will give up their life so others can live. The angels lifted her up to heaven and both the foals she so lovingly sustained are now thriving.
I can think of no greater story to tell on this #GivingTuesday than the story of Momma who gave her all. With your support and donations we were able to provide water through the drought that saved the lives of this little herd and many more. We were able to save Sydney and we have been able to provide for all her needs including her recent surgery.
We know there are many wonderful charities to support. We appreciate all you do to help us help so many horses, donkeys and minis throughout the year. We have no paid staff or hired help, everything is done by volunteers including myself and Lary which allows your dollars to go much farther and truly reach those in need.
On #GivingTuesday, through the holidays and year end, we ask that you please consider Equine WellBeing Rescue when you donate to a charity. We are a small charity that is able to do wonderful things with the help of all of our volunteers, supporters and friends like you.
Saving Sydney didn't change the world, but it changed the world for Sydney!
Many, many thanks for all you do to help the rescue! Christine