by Ann Jamieson
They are ambassadors for rescue horses. In parades, and at fairs, their near fate at a slaughterhouse is announced, announced so that onlookers realize that the stunning animals before them were nearly thrown away. Announced so that others realize what fabulous horses can be found at kill pens.
Madonna Hine relates how she found her first ambassador, Piper. “Like so many days, April 8 started just the same: checking my email, my phone messages, the Facebook websites. That’s when I saw her, only known as hip tag #7602, a 17-year-old American Saddlebred mare at risk of being lost forever to the horse slaughter industry. I saw her pictures and a video and what stood out was her kind eyes and her quiet demeanor. There was fear in her eyes but there was also hope. It was as if the video spoke to me, through me, and straight to my heart.”
It all began with a message Madonna sent to PA Kill Pen. Pam White, one of the volunteers of Lifehorse Inc., an organization that helps to network horses that find themselves forgotten in a kill pen, responded.
Madonna let PA Kill Pen know she was looking for a Saddlebred. “I had had the honor of riding one at my trainer’s barn, a huge 17 hand-high gelding, and fell in love instantly. He had these huge expressive eyes that looked right through me. Red was a rescue that my trainer saved to use as a lesson horse. He was a gentle giant with animated Saddlebred gaits. So I had begun to look at the Saddlebred rescue sites on Facebook. I looked for months. I decided to go with a rescue for a few reasons. I knew it had to be a Saddlebred, but the cost of a finished show horse was in the thousands, and I already had one horse in training and could not afford a second show horse. The other reason was I had already seen several rescues that had been repurposed, and I was confident that I could go with a rescue and have good results.”
No one knew about the mare’s health; there were no guarantees. So Madonna was more than a little hesitant. However, “There was some unknown force that would not allow me to stop thinking about #7602, so the arrangements were made, #7602’s bail was paid by me, and I started out the next morning, off on an adventure that I never knew was going to change my life in so many ways.
When we arrived at the kill pen, the silence was eerie. The kill pen worker brought #7602 out and she was dirty, underweight, and defeated. Yet, she carried her head high and still had a spring in her step that was the unmistakable Saddlebred grace and courage I had heard about. That night, after the six-hour journey back home to New York., #7602 went into her own stall, knee deep full of bedding, and plenty of fresh water, grain, and hay. She was free of her hip tag and she went to sleep that night as ‘Piper.’”
For the next few months, Piper steadily gained weight, recovered from a horrible case of thrush, and stole the hearts of her new family right from the beginning.
But the bliss changed in June. Madonna came home to find Piper down, flat on her side and unmoving. She called her vet, Dr. Matt Zeh, who arrived later that night. After an examination and the verification of a temperature of 105 degrees, Piper was diagnosed with Potomac Horse Fever.
Madonna was “devastated, to say the least as I knew that Potomac usually ended in death. Dr. Zeh informed us that with her fever, he could not be sure that she would survive. Piper had a catheter inserted into her neck and my husband Josh was instructed on how to administer the IV medications.
Piper was barely able to stumble back to her stall, but she did. I told her that I was not ready to be without her and that we would get her through this, but her eyes were tired and dull and she immediately lay down.
I left her in the early morning hours after a long night with the vet, not knowing if I would return to find her alive. My heart ached, my stomach was in knots, but I had to believe that she was not ready to leave me either. I left her to make the decision to stay or go.
I asked for prayers and good thoughts and I got them. Friends and family let me know that they were praying for Piper to pull through. It was very encouraging to have people that had never met my horse send good thoughts to pass along to my mare as she was fighting for her life.
She did fight…hard. And she won.”
Piper fully recovered from Potomac. She and Madonna went to their first local show in the summer, where they showed in Adult Walk/Trot classes. “Although we didn’t win the blue,” says Madonna, “we still won. I won when my horse, who had no idea what she was doing, trusted me enough to guide her through the obstacles of barrels and poles, and never faltered.”
In July they participated in a local parade which presented Piper as a rescue. Madonna says, “She carried herself with grace and beauty even through the chaos and noise of a busy parade.” Piper was then selected to be featured in a Christian based video titled, “Belles on Our Horses.”
At the Delaware County Horse Show Piper served as a lead-line mount for Madonna’s daughter, five year old Corrine. The chairwoman of the fair had them step out of the lineup so she could read Piper’s rescue story.
“It was my crowning moment as I proudly displayed my once slaughter-bound mare who was by far the most amazing horse in the show ring that day,” relates Madonna.
In addition to her show duties, Piper has proven herself to be a reliable and most enjoyable trail partner, including…conquering the terrifying rickety snowmobile bridge.
The local newspaper, The Press and Sun Bulletin, wrote a story about Piper and her rescue. “She is such an exceptional example of what a rescue can become, if only given the opportunity. I would love for her story to inspire others to give a rescue horse a second chance at life and be amazed at the outcome, as we have!” says Madonna.
She continues, “Piper’s biggest accomplishment has been winning the trust of my 15-year old daughter, Elizabeth, who had lost all interest and confidence in riding. Elizabeth had taken a bad fall off of one horse resulting in a concussion, and then been bucked off another. Although she loved horses, she was terrified to ride. It was Piper’s gentleness and kindness that inspired Elizabeth to ride again. There isn’t anything that can rattle Piper, and that is what Elizabeth needed. Even with all the mistakes that Elizabeth sometimes makes, Piper is very forgiving and simply moves forward. The two now have that bond that makes my heart sing with joy.”
Due to “Piper’s kindness, gentleness, willingness to please, and the overwhelming love we have for Piper, another life was saved as well,” Madonna discloses. “In August, my family took in #493, now known as Bentley, a 15ish American Saddlebred gelding.
His bail was paid through the donations of unknown Saddlebred angels but he had no home to go to. Having Piper inspired me to open up my heart as she has opened her heart to us, and we went to Pennsylvania to pick up the big chestnut gelding who was underweight, withdrawn, and suffering from a broken spirit. His eyes were distant, he flinched at our touch, and his expression was always worried. He came with whip marks all over his body. We could not touch him, especially his head.”
Over time, little by little, a change has come over Bentley. “He is very shy, overly cautious, and hesitant to let us near him, so I spend a little more time each night with him, give him one more hug before going in for the night, and I’m giving him time to regain his confidence and learn to love again. His whip marks have healed, the hobble marks have healed, and his worried look is starting to lessen. It has amazed me that a horse so broken could regain his ability to love, and trust and to be exactly what we needed.
This relationship is powerful. These horses know they have been saved, and in return they save us from themselves.
Now, two years later, these horses are amazing trail horses, gracious and safe show horses, and teachers to us all. They have taught my smaller children to ride, taught my horse indifferent husband to be a true believer in the power of the horse’s spirit, and most of all, brought the love of all things horse into my entire family.
Through these two horses, who are both extensions of our own souls, we are spreading the word about the endless possibilities waiting in the heart of every rescued horse. Piper and Bentley become precious to all that meet them; they are remembered for being the ‘slaughter horses’ and are most often the best behaved and most beautiful horses wherever they go.
My rescues have proven to be more than I could ever have imagined. And my heart now belongs to the Saddlebred. I am now a member of several Saddlebred organizations, my family is active in Saddlebred rescues and are committed to the preservation and promotion of the breed. Piper showed us the capabilities of the breed, the loyalty they possess, and the fact that they have the biggest hearts of any breed I have been associated with. Our horses ride, drive, trail ride, and are spectacular and animated parade horses. There is no other breed capable of such diverse activities that I have seen.
Through this journey, my own heart has been healed in more ways than I can explain. When we as humans, find ourselves lost, we will continue to feel broken until that one thing comes along that heals our souls. Piper did this for both me and my daughter Elizabeth. This horse will be forever in our heart as being that one horse that changed us to be better people. It is truly remarkable that these horses are capable even after all they have been through. Their confidence is crushed and they withdraw. The magic is to see them unfold with our care, in turn healing ourselves. It was witnessing the amazing transformation from discarded buggy horses to the amazing horses that we see today that has proven how we made all the difference to these horses. Bentley’s ability to forgive humans for their cruelty and abuse towards him has increased my ability to be more passionate and grateful for the small things in my life. The sad gelding who was once so unreachable is about to be my delicate seven year old’s debut walk/trot horse.
This is what I have been looking for, the connection that I only ever heard about, but never experienced; the mutual love, respect, and understanding that makes the human-equine relationship so unique and healing. I found this the day that I rescued Piper and it was strengthened when I rescued Bentley.
To say that I rescued them is untrue. It is they who rescued me …”
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