By: Tina Garrett
From the early stages of childhood I’ve always had a connection with horses. Growing up in foster care my only comfort was animals. When the day came that I was sent to a new foster home, then discovered they had a pony, I became aware of just how much horses truly meant to me. That pony was named Chubby Checkers and he was just the family’s pasture pet. After I was introduced to Chubby and allowed to care for him, the foster parents saw something that I didn’t even know I understood. They saw that I needed this little pony to help me to deal with life’s events, even trusting me to take Chubby on long trail rides by myself. It was on these special rides that I could let go of the sadness, anger and emotional issues from my past. After several months with this family, I was moved, yet again, to a different foster family. I cried many nights over losing my Chubby, but knew that he had already helped me in so many ways.
At the age of 12, after being shuffled from home to home, I found myself at a Baptist Children’s Home. This home also had a horse, Major, but we were not allowed to care for him. I would sit on the fence and watch him for hours on end. Although I could not ride or groom him, I cherished the fact that I was able to be in his presence.
As my life unfolded and I grew into adulthood, I married and had a son. It was after moving to Florida that I began looking into my true love of horses, eventually finding a ranch where we could go on trail rides. I introduced my son to my love of horses and discovered he was a natural. Moving to the west coast of Florida, I found a ranch offering trail rides that I would go on as often as time allowed. There, I met a man who actually owned horses and needed help working with them for an event he had scheduled. I was in my glory. I could ride anytime! One day I asked him, “If I purchased a horse, could I keep it at your barn”? He said, “Yes”, and my search began. It wasn’t long after that I found the most amazing horse, Cheryada, a full spirited Arabian mare. The two of us bonded and I spent every spare minute with her. Soon, we looked into purchasing property in horse country so I could have Cheryada with me full time. We bought five acres near North Fort Myers, Florida. I was truly living my childhood dream!
After my divorce and a house fire in 2006, things took a downhill turn. I’d lost everything in the fire, but I still had my horses. I purchased a camper and lived in it until I could re-build. In 2007, I met a man who also loved animals. Although not a horse person per se, he did want to learn about them. Soon we were going on trail rides and he seemed to enjoy these majestic creatures as much as I did.
In 2010, I answered an ad on Craigslist placed by a local couple looking for help rescuing local horses. I felt this ad was put in front of me for a reason. After contacting the couple and after a property check, we were cleared to help. Our first step was to foster an off the track thoroughbred, (OTTB). Work started on the back barn while I hooked up to go pick up our newest arrival. Jeannie was in her 20’s and was in really bad shape. We took our time to get her back to health and give her a new lease on life.
We soon got a call regarding another horse needing help. Dover, a little show-pony whose owner had lost her battle with cancer. Dover came to us as a timid and terrified little horse needing someone to show her love and teach her to trust again. Our next call involved a mare whose owners had fallen on hard times and she, too, needed us. It didn’t take long to realize the tremendous need for a genuine horse rescue facility in our area.
As full time FedEx drivers, with only five acres, we realized we were going to need help from our local community. Our neighbors provided our first Foster Farm. We assumed all financial responsibility and delivered all necessary feed/hay/supplements each week. The foster family simply took care of the horses as if they were their own. After our 7th and 8th Foster Farm was established, we knew that our FedEx salaries were not going to cover all that these rescue horses required, so we started to raise funds. We asked folks to donate their unwanted items to us that would be sold at scheduled garage sales we would host on our days off. This helped tremendously and although we were working 7 days a week, very long hours each day, we felt blessed to be able to offer second chances to some very deserving horses.
In April 2011 we became aware of a herd of over 50 Paso Fino’s on our neighboring property. All were in very bad condition and living in deplorable surroundings. I called the owner and asked if we could help him with his horses. Surprisingly, he accepted our assistance and allowed us to move several of the horses to our facility. The others, he said, were very expensive and he wanted to sell them rather than surrendering them to our Rescue. We are not in the market of purchasing horses so we dealt with this owner differently. Continuing to provide the owner updates on the horses improvements he became aware of our success, agreeing to move a few more to our facility, then a few more. Over the course of several months, we were able to save 19 of his horses.
Joey, Maggie and Lucy all came in together. Joey was a 2 year old gelding, Maggie a teen mare and Lucy an older broodmare. All were terrified of humans and had endured a life no horse should ever have to face. As always, we moved the horses to a temporary holding paddock, asked our vet to do a Coggins test and our farrier to trim the horses hooves. While waiting for the test results to come back we started them on a healthy diet to get them back up to an ideal weight.
All this time, we were funding the Rescue out of our own pockets so we put the word out to our local horse community seeking help by adopting the horses we were saving from an uncertain future. A local family came to visit one day and fell in love with Joey, Maggie and Lucy. To our surprise, they wanted to adopt all three of them. The family had recently purchased a 10 acre farm close to the Rescue and after a property check and reference checks, the paperwork was put in place.
In September 2011, Joey, Maggie and Lucy, went to their forever home. This is just one example of why horse Rescue must exist in our local area. We had a dream, a passion to save the lives of the horses in our local area, and although neither of us knew what this would lead to, or exactly ‘how’ we were going to do it, we just plugged along, day by day.
In 2012, a writer for a local publication contacted us about doing a story on our Rescue operation. When the story went into print, our phones lit up with callers from across the country. It was surprising and thrilled us that so many folks were willing to help us save lives. We were introduced to a lady who offered to fund our 501(c)(3) tax-exempt application, learning she was the President of a foundation that loved what we were doing, and offered to help in bigger ways than we ever expected. Later, we were informed her foundation was awarding us a grant that would enable us to expand our Rescue by purchasing a larger piece of property. In 2014 we found the perfect place, a 40 acre foreclosure needing a lot of work. After closing on the sale, we spent our evenings after work, often using the headlights of our trucks to see, as we cleared out brush and bush hog the fields that would soon become pastures and paddocks for our rescue equines.
On my FedEx route in January 2013, I got a call regarding a little pony for sale on an animal exchange site. The lady calling me was very worried since the picture showed a frail little pony with a horrible injury on her leg. I took a minute to give the seller a call. After identifying who I was and that folks were calling me with concern about this pony, she agreed to surrender the pony to our Rescue. Problem, I am on my route in Naples and the pony is just outside of Lake Okeechobee.
I immediately went to work contacting everyone I knew on the east coast of Florida. My efforts paid off when a Facebook friend was willing to help me out with this little horse until I could make arrangements to pick her up. I then Googled local veterinarians in that area and found one to do the farm call for me, paying for it over the phone with my credit card. When the vet arrived at the property, she called to give me updates on the little pony. She addressed the wound, drew blood for a Coggins test and gave the woman pain meds for the pony. When I asked the vet what the ponies name is, she said, “She has no name, they’re just calling her Bay pony”. This would never do. I asked the vet to tell me what the pony looks like to her. The vet answered, “She looks like a coffee drink, maybe a cappuccino or a Latte”. Latte, it was to be! And now our little pony with no name had a new name, and a new lease on life!
Latte was with my Facebook friend for a couple of months, we paid all the bills and the kind lady cared for Latte. The day came that we were to go pick her up. We traveled for 3 hours before we laid our eyes on this little pony we had all worked so hard to save. After getting Latte to our facility, our vet came out to examine her wound that was not healing. He knew it was pythiosis and informed us that if it had gone to the bone, we would have to euthanize Latte. To our relief, the x rays showed it had NOT gone to the bone and Latte could be saved. It took nearly one full year of costly injections for her injury to heal, but she recovered and to this day, if you didn’t know she suffered such an injury, you would never be able to point it out.
Latte has been with us for years. In March 2017, Latte is adoption pending. Four years at a Rescue facility with all sorts of folks coming and going but no one ever choosing this little pony. Her day finally came and her new parents love her as much as we do. This is all we wish for with any of the rescue equines who come to us, to connect with folks who love them as much as we do.
In early 2013, we were contacted by a group of horse advocates to pick up a little horse advertised on Craigslist. The advocates were concerned when the price of $2500.00 dropped dramatically over the course of a few weeks. Listed for sale was a yearling, gelding, for $400.00.
A buyer in Ocala contacted us to pick up Picaso and bring him to our Rescue while she made arrangements to come get him in the upcoming days. When we got to the property and they led this frail little boy around the side of the barn, our jaws dropped and our hearts ached. Nothing like the handsome photos showed in the Craigslist ad, this baby was a walking skeleton and seemed to have lost all will to live.
We loaded him in the trailer and prayed he would make the trip to the Rescue, only 15 miles away. He was weak and severely malnourished but he was a fighter and he knew he was in good hands the minute he met us. After getting him settled, our vet was called to do the initial exam and give us advice on getting him on a healthy diet. To our surprise, our vet told us Picasso was deaf. So he not only suffered a horrible period of time in the hands of horse traders, he was deaf and the people most likely didn’t have a clue.
When we contacted the buyer and told her the news of Picasso, she changed her mind and said she was no longer interested in him. At that point, Picasso was now our rescue.
Picasso blossomed in our care and soon was just as healthy as the other youngsters at the Rescue. With one difference, he was deaf. We had to learn to care for a horse with no hearing. For the most part, we treated Picasso like all the others – short of being able to stand at the fence and call him over, he was no different than the rest.
We have never considered horses as “throw a-ways”, but sadly many do and this is why horse Rescue organizations must exist. They all deserve a chance to live a nice, long and healthy life, no matter their disabilities. Picasso proved to the world that he was just as worthy as the other horses “with” hearing and he brought joy to all who had the pleasure of meeting him.
In early January, 2015 we were contacted about a horse listed for sale on Craigslist. The caller had gone to look at the little horse and was extremely concerned, enough so that she felt she needed to contact our Rescue for help. From that call we made arrangements to pick up the little horse, with no name. When we arrived, we were shocked to see what was advertised on Craigslist was not what we were seeing with our own eyes. Standing alone in a small, barbed wire paddock, was a little stallion, matted with burrs, barbed wire cuts on all four legs, severely malnourished and dehydrated, plus was terrified of people. With the help of several volunteers, we finally got this frail little boy loaded in the trailer and off to his new life at our Rescue facility. Upon arrival, our veterinarian did an initial exam while we started him on the road to recovery. We posted our new arrival on Facebook and it wasn’t long until the little guy had a huge following, AND a new name… “Trooper’! He was indeed a trooper for enduring such horrible neglect. Trooper’s feet had never seen a farrier so his hooves were very long, he struggled to walk without tripping over them.The farrier began the task of slowly trimming his hooves, a small amount at first and then continuing with corrective trimmings every 4 weeks.
The cuts on his legs were pretty severe but began healing after a good cleaning and some antibiotic ointment. After checking him for worms, we were all shocked to see SO many worms in such a little boy’s belly. Getting rid of the worms was a slow process, as we did not want to introduce de-wormer to his frail system in large dosages. The burrs that matted his fuzzy coat were not only in his coat, but were also embedded in his skin. The task of grooming and removing the burrs was started as soon as he arrived.
Since he was only a yearling and was still intact, we knew we had to get him to good health before we could schedule his gelding procedure. We started Trooper on a diet that would teach his delicate system to eat and fill full while not causing colic. After being with us for several weeks he is healthier, much easier to halter and handle and the gelding procedure went beautifully. Now our little man has a brighter future.
Since Trooper became an overnight success on Facebook, folks from far and wide have followed his journey, including one of our volunteers, who fell in love with Trooper as soon as she met him. The bond grew stronger as Trooper grew stronger. Her friend, who also followed Troopers journey, wanted to do something special for her friend so she agreed to pay for Trooper’s first month of professional training. This was wonderful news to us, as a Rescue organization, always on a tight budget, was not prepared to fund the training Trooper needed. After 30 days of training, our volunteer had grown even more in awe of Trooper and offered to pay for another 30 days of training because she wanted to adopt him. We could not have been happier with this news and Trooper continued his training. Since our volunteer is a snowbird and only in Florida for 6 months out of the year, another of our volunteers agreed to be a co-owner of Trooper, keeping him at her home full-time. This was wonderful for all involved and the paperwork began for the adoption process.
Trooper is just one example of why Rescue organizations must exist. As a rescuer, I cringe each time I see an animal posted on a sales page for FREE or for low prices. I don’t think folks do their homework to ensure a good quality home for their animals and all too many end up in the wrong hands, often ending up in an even worse environment than they originally came from. As a dedicated and compassionate Rescue organization, we thoroughly check all potential adopters, establishing a contract between our organization and the new family. This keeps people honest and our rescue babies safe and out of the wrong hands. Not all stories have a “happily ever after” ending but with the support of folks who have the best interest of the horse at heart and genuine horse Rescue organizations, many more happy endings will come.
We were contacted in December 2015, regarding a herd of Mini’s who needed our help. Upon meeting the owner, we were informed that due to the hospitalization of her husband and the mounting medical bills, she would have to give up several of her Mini’s. We asked if we could take all six that we saw on the property. She said no, she would only surrender the two younger Mini stallions. Our biggest concern was the other stallion and three Mini mares on the property, all of which looked to be bred.
Since Dante and Shadow were only 2 and 3 years old and had never been handled, it took some time to halter them and load them into our trailer. When we got them to the Rescue we spent the next several days letting them settle and get accustomed to human contact. Our vet then did an initial exam to determine if they were ready for castration surgery. Both were healthy enough and the gelding procedure was scheduled.
Both did very well and we continued to work with them on their human trust issues. After being with us for just a few weeks they were different little horses. They took the halter, stood for farrier, loved all of the volunteers grooming them plus learned to lead.
Dante and Shadow are still with us today but we are happy to announce they are now pending adoption. We have strict guidelines when it comes to adopting from South West Florida Horse Rescue. Our main priority is to never let our rescue equines end up in the wrong hands again so we check prospective adopters as if we were adopting out our children. This has worked out beautifully for us over the last seven years – our success rate is beyond exceptional.
On December 1, 2016, Bill, a local gentleman who helps horse owners bury their beloved equines after a veterinarian had been called out to euthanize contacted us. Bill is well known in our area as a loving and kind man who lays our sweet babies to rest in the gentlest way possible.
Bill called our Rescue because he had received a call from a local man asking him to come out and trailer his senior horse, Sparky, to the local vet to be euthanized and then take him to be buried. When Bill arrived, they loaded Sparky on the trailer and off Bill went to the vet. Upon arriving at the clinic, the vet examined Sparky and informed Bill that he would not euthanize a perfect healthy and sound horse. Bill called the owner to tell him the good news and was met with, “Do not bring that horse back here.” When Bill asked the owner what did he intend for him to do with Sparky, the owner told him he did not care, but he was not to bring Sparky back to him. Bill told the unruly owner that the only option he had was to call South West Florida Horse Rescue and see if they had an opening.
After talking to Bill, my heart ached for this poor horse whose owner had sent him off to be disposed of with no regard whatsoever of Sparky’s possible future. We were at capacity but we accepted Sparky with open arms. When Bill informed the owner of this move, the only thing he said to Bill was, “Fine, but I want my money back.”
In this world of horse Rescue, we have met some interesting individuals, some who cry and genuinely hurt at the thought of giving their beloved equines up. Some who are simply ignorant as to how to care for their horses and reach out for help. Some who fall on hard times and reach out for assistance. The ones that we come in contact with that have no regard to “life” and no care as to the well being of their horses, these are the ones that try us to our very core.
Sparky was examined by our veterinarian who found a slight respiratory issue, otherwise he desperately needed his teeth floated and a proper trim by a professional farrier. Sparky had such a neglected dental history he could not eat. He would lower his head to the grass but only sniff it due to the pain it caused to try to graze. We scheduled his dental appointment, called our farrier to schedule his trim and our trainer came over to body clip Sparky. Low and behold, after he was clipped, his breathing seemed to change dramatically. His matted coat was so thick that he was extremely uncomfortable, but after that was clipped away, he was like a young horse again.
His dental work was something of a different story. Since there were years of neglect, Doc was only able to do a partial float and we scheduled a new appointment for 6 months later. We had opted to give Sparky soaked Timothy/Alfalfa pellets as well as soaked Triple Crown Senior grain. This was probably the first time he had anyone show any sort of compassion at all and he slurped up every last morsel.
Sparky is still with us, in rehab, and doing amazing. He was recently introduced to Poco, a coon footed paint mare, and they have become best buds. Sparky lights up our days here at the Rescue, he is just one more who did not fall through the cracks, thanks to our local horse Rescue.
Over the past years our organization has grown and flourished into one of the largest and most respected horse Rescue facilities in our local area. Together with my family, our many dedicated volunteers also share that vision. We all want to be a part of something that would be around for many, many years to come. We recently hosted our Grand Opening at the Rescue facility, raising nearly $10,000.00 for our organization during the two-day event. Looking back to our days of FedEx, Monday thru Friday, and our garage sales on weekends, raising anywhere from $200-$700, we are truly blessed to be where we are today.
We have hosted two horsemanship Clinics here at our Rescue facility in the past 2 years and we are planning a Summer Camp for Foster Children. This is very important to me, as it is my way of giving back to the children who, I am positive, will benefit from equine interaction. I was that little girl sitting on the pasture fence, I do not want any little girl sitting on a fence, longing to touch, smell and love a horse.
As I tell everyone I meet, if you have a dream and a passion backing your dream, the sky is the limit. You will sacrifice everything to make your dream a reality and if your dream is saving lives, all the sacrifice in the world will all be well worth it.
I firmly believe that if you can dream it, you can achieve it. Look at me, I am living proof!