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The Resilient Spirit of the Horse


Original Report

We often witness the resilient nature of the horse; of how quickly a neglected horse responds to kind treatment, both physically and emotionally. Every time we witness this wonderful faith in humankind it is an inspiring experience. An arrival at the ERL in early 2003, Spirit is one more example of what some good food and a lot of love can do!


In July 2002, Animal Control officers in Orange County were appalled to find a young colt near starvation. He was a condition 1 on the Henneke Scale of Condition.

Spirit, as the flashy paint baby came to be called, had been sold at an auction when he was just two months old, far too young to be separated from his mother. Without his mother's milk, he probably dropped weight very quickly and was in dire condition when the Orange Country Animal Control officers seized custody.


In the care of Animal Control, though, Spirit gained weight and quickly outgrew the temporary facilities Orange County had for the colt. Officers called the ERL and arranged for the growing boy to continue his rehabilitation at the farm shelter.


When he hopped off the trailer at Churchland Farm, Spirit was in good weight and had a wonderful outgoing attitude about his new circumstances. Unfortunately, it was immediately obvious that he was not 100% sound. His front legs were very crooked, with enlarged knees.


A visit to REACH, a new equine hospital near Millwood, VA, revealed congenital birth defects in both front legs. Spirit showed "carpal bone collapse," meaning that the ligaments and cartilage in his knees were not properly formed. Of three areas of movement in each knee, only one was functioning, drastically reducing the range of motion in the joints. Some of the bones that should have been separated by cartilage were beginning to fuse, which could stabilize the leg, but would further reduce Spirit's ability to bend his legs and walk normally.


Despite his "defects," Spirit is thriving and is presently in no pain due to his unique leg structure. He loves to buck, jump and play as any yearling would. The little paint inspires hope and joy when new admirers watch him bounce around his paddock. Turnout is limited and he is being fed a low-energy diet, for his own safety.

Spirit's long-term prognosis is guarded, but as long as he remains pain-free, he will have a home at the ERL and will be able to live out his very noble Spirit.



Spirit had some very happy times at the farm. Everyone who met him fell in love with him, and he never ceased to amaze us with his energy and good attitude. He absolutely adored apples!


However, he started to sprout, as all young horses do, and his poor legs simply could not handle the growth spurt. Sadly, the cold, hard facts of his condition caught up with him, and it was clear that it was never going to be possible for him to "get better." Spirit eventually started showing evidence of pain in his legs, and when a nasty infection started in the joint capsule of a front fetlock, the decision was made to have him humanely euthanized.


It is never easy to end a horse's life, especially one as young and well-loved as Spirit. However, instead of suffering through the pain and discomfort, which would only get worse as his condition progressed, Spirit peacefully left this world surrounded by the people who knew and loved him the most.


Weep no more for me, my friends, 

No longer should you mourn;
For every horse that leaves this life, 
Quickly is reborn.

Our broken bodies are left behind, 
The pain and suffering, too;
An angel leads us to His hands, 
Where He makes us strong and new.

At Heaven’s Gate He turns us loose, 
And we streak across the sky;
We prance among the shining stars, 
And jump clouds a mile high.

Some of us will chase the winds, 
And gallop through the stormy fray;
The roar of thunder in each hoof, 
The clap of lightning in our neigh!
We run along the ocean’s plain,
Leaping with the rolling waves;
Necks arching as the breakers curl, 
Sea-foam ribboned through our manes.

Over endless desert sands we chase, 
Our new lives just begun;
Never slowing, always striding, 
For a horse was made to run!

The setting sun casts rosy light
Throughout Heaven’s vast domain;
Blowing soft we pause to rest, 
For with dawn we race again!

So when you hear the thunder rumble, 
Or watch waves break upon the sea; 
Say a prayer for the horse, 
Whose Spirit finally is set free!

To Spirit – and all the Rest!

-- CS

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