Tuesday, April 8, 2014


Sean Janas? Brutal psycho.
Michael Vick?  Yeah, he's immoral scum.
The Craigslist Cat Killer? Absolutely foul.

But none of them can hold a candle to Sterling Rachwal.

 Since at least the 1980s, Rachwal has been sneaking into Wisconsin horse barns and sadistically pleasuring himself. He rapes horses and ponies, then mutilates and kills them. In the 1990s, one of his victims was a pony, found hogtied and draped over a fence post with a broom handle shoved up its rectum. He also raped a pregnant mare, tearing her rectum in the process, then cut off her nipples. He has shoved his fist up the rectums of geldings while masturbating, raped multiple horses in the same barn, and assaulted horses left out to pasture. He carefully plans his attacks. He wears gloves and dark glasses as a disguise, carries tools like flashlights to aid him during his torture of horses at night or in dark barns, and approaches properties when they seem unattended. In addition to raping and killing horses, he's burglarized homes. Some people report that he was an arsonist as a teenager.

Even after being arrested and convicted multiple times for his crimes, he keeps on going after horses.

In 2008, Sterling Rachwal was released from Mendota Mental Institute and almost immediately went after another horse in Fon du Lac. He was thrown back into custody, and they managed to hold him until 2012, when they finally convicted him and gave him 90 days.

Now he's going to get another release hearing THIS Wednesday April 23rd. He WILL re-offend.
If released, he WILL be living in a Wisconsin neighborhood hear you.
Don't let that happen!

Come to the Waupaca County Courthouse on Wed. April 23rd at 2pm and tell the judge HELL NO!
The public IS allowed to be present and voice their concerns!


I apologize for not being as thorough as usual with this blog post-- I wrote it quickly. I'd like to add a few things...

Sterling Rachwal is held in Mendota Mental Institute, not in prison, because he was determined to be criminally insane. What I believe this means is that, if the state believes he will re-offend, he CAN be held longer-- even indefinitely. While criminals are sentenced to specific terms, those who are deemed criminally insane can be held as long as the doctors and state officials believe necessary. I'm basing this on Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure 32.1(6), which says in part:

 Now, we may be past the point where this decision has been made, but I firmly believe that enough public pressure will cause the judge to re-examine his options.

Attending the hearing at the Waupaca County Courthouse on Wed. April 23rd at 2pm is the best way to exert that pressure. A warm body is always more powerful than a letter or email. However, if you can't make it, here's addresse to write to and phone number to call:

The judge in this case, based on the last court records:

Honorable Judge Gary Sharpe
City County Government Center
160 S. Macy Street
Fond du Lac, WI 54935

(920) 929-3189

I have heard that there will be a new judge for the hearing, which makes sense if the hearing is taking place in Waupaca County. I will keep you posted when I figure it out-- and any help is greatly appreciated!

EDIT: One commentor has suggested writing to the following judge, though he/she did not state whether this was going to be the judge at the hearing:

Judge Keith A Steckbauer
811 Harding St
Waupaca WI 54981


In the comments section, someone questioned the truth of this Sterling Rachwal's crimes. I can assure you that they and he are REAL horrors. I have included some articles and a video below, and you can click them to see them full size. You can also visit this news video, and Fon du Lac newspaper online article.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Open Letter to a Backyard Breeder + News Updates

Welcome back, readers! Sorry I've been away for so long. Because I have been unable to write for a while, this is going to be a long blog! You've been warned :)

For those of you who are new here, let me say "Howdy! Thanks for coming!" I'd also like to warn you, though, that this blog is not all rainbows and sunshine. I swear frequently. I talk about neglectful owners, abusive trainers, and backyard breeders who are making the horse world a worse place to live in. I do praise the good guys, and I do promote rescues and good horse care practices. I also provide a lot of education and entertainment... but I do so with a wicked tongue and no tolerance for excuses. I have great respect for the regular, honest, hard-working men and women of Wisconsin who do so much to give their animals and families decent lives, so I have very little empathy for those who don't even care to try. This is not a gentle blog.

Now then, before we get started with the main event, let me catch you up on lots of news:

Additional information about the EHV-1 outbreak has been published, and I encourage you to read it.
EDIT: I just found out that there may be cases in Iowa now. Read more here.

After my blog post about a two year plan to stop neglect in Wisconsin, a bunch of us horse welfare folks got together at a meeting to talk about what we could realistically accomplish. Naturally, we spent a bit too much time swapping horror and success stories, but we have some definite goals. A hay bank, a low-cost gelding clinic, low-cost euthanasia services and much more were discussed. The newly-named Wisconsin Equine Coalition will be meeting again in April, with representatives from at least three Wisconsin horse rescues. I am priveleged to be working with some truly amazing people with many years of experience in the rescue world.

 Barb Thiry's most recent hearing didn't happen, due to a mix-up. Previously, she fired her public defender and played sick at the most recent court appearance, and so no motion was put forward regarding the horrific pictures of dead animals taken at her previous farm. She has somehow managed to keep paying the court-ordered fees for the two neglected stallions, and so there is still a possibility they could be given back to her. The rehabilitated mares are still up for adoption via Dane County Humane Society.

The final pre-trial hearing for Michael Feist took place today at 10am. He'll have a preliminary hearing on May 5th. He has still not been charged with threatening the deputy with a sledgehammer.

Micheal's wife Brenda Weierke-Feist has still not been charged with anything, despite the fact that she lives at, helps run, and co-owns the ranch where the dead and starving horses were found.

The Feists are still trying to sell off some horses, but they are opening Otter Creek Ranch back up for business on April 1st, clearly the WORST EVER April Fool's joke. Yes, they will be offering trail rides to the public. I have offered to donate a large vinyl banner warning people not to do business with them, if any landowner in on Feist's road will agree to put it in their front yard. Speaking of doing business, despite having massive problems feeding all of their starving, wormy animals this winter, the Feists are breeding MORE. They are now offering kittens, guinea pigs, and rabbits for sale via their Facebook page.

I shouldn't keep banging my head against walls,
I'm starting to do real structural damage to my house.

Several other Wisconsin neglect cases have popped up recently, no surprise to any of us. I think I already mentioned the Sean Legault case on my Facebook page, there's the Green County case that has been going on for at least a decade, and I've just heard about two more places where horses are starving and nothing is being done (the WEC is looking into these).

I'd like to address a quote in this article about the Iowa County case involving cows and hogs (the horses were reportedly fine, which I find unlikely):

"Reports of dead horses found in Green and Lafayette counties as well as the dead cows and hog found on the Nelson farm show how some animal owners don’t understand the costs involved, especially during a rough winter, [officer] Michek said. 'The tough part is, people hate to give up on their animal ownership,' he added."

This is bullshit. Neglect is not about some sort of misunderstanding about finances, and it's not a casual mistake made by people who aren't really to blame, as this officer suggests. Neglect is about a lack of empathy. You see your animal starving, and you don't do anything about it. You don't ask neighbors or rescues or authorities for help, you don't euthanize it, you don't give it away, you don't sell your personal stuff to pay for feed or vet bills, and all because you're too selfish to end its suffering. You ARE to blame. You want to keep it but not take care of it. That is the real truth.

And now it's time for another strong dose of no-excuses medicine.
A few days ago, a reader sent this screenshot to me:

I re-posted the photo onto the North Horse facebook page, along with this commentary:

"I'm glad the owners here seem to care about the mare, and are trying to feed her correctly. However, like Jeff Foxworthy says, you may be a redneck backyard breeder IF:
1) Your FARRIER is the one to tell you that your mare is pregnant
2) You didn't know your mare even got bred before he said so
3) You don't bother to get a vet out to do an ultrasound and check for due-date, twins, complications, etc"

"I doubt that the foal will be any great shakes, considering his mom's poor conformation (God only knows what his fence-hopper sire looks like). However, I hope the foal will be loved and kept safe by the people who accidentally created it. All horses deserve to be safe and loved."

Here's the message she sent me after I posted that:

I'm going to share my response to Mandi with all of you here. Not because she's a criminal (she isn't). Not because she annoyed me (so many others have said so much worse). Nope, I'm sharing this because what's going on here really epitomizes the mentality that has resulted in so many unwanted and neglected horses. It's also one of the things that has led to such a poor horse market.
This is a textbook example. We have all the elements here:
  • ignorance about a fairly common genetic defect in horses
  • ignorance about other basic information a horse owner should know
  • horse dealing
  • calling something a "rescue" when it's absolutely not
  • unwillingness to get proper vet care for a horse
  • a desire to create a foal, any foal, not for a specific purpose, not because the parents have great skills or conformation, not to improve a breed, but just because "I want to" and having a baby horse will be cute
Like so many others, Mandi has created a life without thinking much about the consequences. Her intentions were not even bad intentions. She just hasn't thought about what's best for the horses. That unfortunate lack of empathy is why tens of thousands of horses suffer every year. Even as we speak, here in Wisconsin and around the USA, many young horses are going through auction rings or being sold cheaply on Craigslist. With poor conformation, unknown bloodlines, and inadequate care and training, they are thrown into a world that, for the most part, does not want them.

Open Letter to a Backyard Breeder:

Don't flatter yourself Mandi. I didn't target you personally by showing people your post-- I target ALL horse owners who need to be hit with a clue stick. You just happened to provide a recent example. And now that you've shown just how ignorant you are, I'm happy to use you as a further example.

"We are not sure how far along she is" and "I say it's only a matter of weeks" and "I posted on here before asking about her condition" doesn't at all sound like you got a vet to check out your pregnant mare. It sounds exactly like you're guessing at what's happening with her pregnancy and asking random people on the internet for advice. But hey, feel free to post pics of your vet's ultrasound. I say with 100% sincerity that it would be a huge relief to me to be proven wrong, because then I would know your mare is getting what she needs to avoid the potentially deadly consequences of twins, mispresentation, etc.

As for the stud... wait, let me get this straight... you "rescued" a horse, held on to him a while, and then sold him again (to a person who didn't pay you in full) without gelding him? That's not a rescue, darling. That's rather unethical horse dealing.

"...but he only had one nut. I guess he was still able to make babies..."

I'm begging you to Google "cryptorchid" before you breed or buy more horses. Please please PLEASE study horse care some more. Yes, horses with one un-descended testicle, or a testicle trapped inside their bodies CAN breed. Cryptorchidism is a hereditary defect, and requires expensive surgery to fix. Your new foal may carry the genes for this, and if it is a colt, may suffer from the same condition.

"...we have WANTED A FOAL for awhile, now we're getting one. Its not an accident foal, it was planned."

So if you know you someday want kids, and then tomorrow you have a one night stand with a dude and wind up pregnant, you'd consider that a "planned pregnancy?" Look, stallions hop fences, it happens sometimes. But now that it has happened, please do what's right for the mare and her foal.

Now then, here's the part where I provide some education along with my "harassment:"

-Mares can bag up four to six weeks before foaling, so if she just started getting bigger teats, she probably won't be foaling soon. Getting an ultrasound done will give you a more accurate due date. Knowing the due date is important, so you can be at the birth to watch out for complications.

-If you're unsure about the max time a healthy foal should take to stand and nurse, the latest time the mare should pass the placenta, symptoms of torsion or rupture of the uterus in the last month of pregnancy, what type of bedding to use or NOT use for the birth area, and about 1,000 other things, please do some reading. I'll provide some resources at the bottom. Even if you become an overnight expert, I highly recommend at least TALKING with a vet before this baby comes.

-One very important thing to talk to a vet about is vaccinations. Mares need some vaccinations during the later part of the pregnancy, even if they have had them previously, in order to protect the foal. In addition, the current outbreak of EHV-1 can cause spontaneous abortions unless a mare is vaccinated.

-Don't make the mistake of thinking, "Nature will just take its course and the birth will go fine." That doesn't always work with humans OR animals. If YOU would want prenatal care and a checkup before YOU give birth, if YOU would like a doctor or at least a nurse standing by when you give birth, please do the same for your animals.

-Doing what's right for your horses extends far beyond what we've talked about here. I'm glad you're excited to have this foal-- please make sure that your love for it doesn't end after it grows up. Great training, good vet care, good nutrition and an adoption or buy-back contract will help ensure that your new baby doesn't end up in a bad place, no matter how long you're able to keep it.

Yours very sincerely,

North Horse

Recommended Resources:

The Late-Term Pregnant Mare, Foaling and Newborn Foal Care by Thal Equine LLC Hospital, NM

What is a Cryptorchid? By The Horse

Pregnant Mare Care (a very brief guide but a good start, and very clearly written) by Magic Hollow Horse Farms

All of the excellent Cherry Hill books , which are available at your public library for free

Thursday, February 27, 2014

A Two-Year Plan to Stop Neglect in Wisconsin

Update 2: Leading WI horse rescuers will be meeting on Sunday March 16th in Fon du lac to work on these ideas.
If you want an invite, email me at northhorseblog@gmail.com.

Update: scroll to the bottom for a new message.


So this is probably old news to you all, but Juslain's mommy paid all the bills Kelly could prove were owed to her, and took the horses. Kelly had no choice, legally. The little bay mare left still pretty damn sick with strangles. God help those horses.

Speaking of crappy news, further investigation into the Sean Legault case has shown that he's been neglecting horses since at least 2007. When he moved his horses to another county, he escaped scrutiny, and that's how they wound up so damn thin. Why didn't the humane officer from Green County warn the cops in Lafayette County? Why was Legault allowed to neglect horses for SO LONG in the first place? Why was he NEVER charged with anything, and why is he only being charged with two misdemeanors when he's clearly caused horses to suffer (and die!) for years?!

I am SICK of this crap being allowed to happen. Every single week I see another starving horse or beaten dog here in Wisconsin. Stories like the Barb Thiry case are all too common. And case after case has ended the same way: abusers may get a slap on the wrist after years of causing suffering, and then they go right back to getting more animals and letting them die in misery. I've been obsessively thinking about how we can change things, and here's my idealistic, pie-in-the-sky plan:

Stop Neglect in Wisconsin
2 Year Goals:

  1. Volunteers will have offered training and education to every law enforcement agency in Wisconsin. The curriculum would include what neglect looks like versus what's normal, how to capture and handle horses in an emergency, what Wisconsin laws say about neglect, and what resources are available to cops to assist them (rescues, experts, etc).
  2. Formally propose a finalized piece of legislation that would increase penalties for animal abuse and neglect, with at the support of at least one major politician.
  3. Formally propose a finalized piece of legislation that strengthens laws against animal abuse and neglect, with at the support of at least one major politician.
  4. Compile a list of Wisconsin residents who have a proven history of animal abuse and neglect. Give this list to every law enforcement office in Wisconsin...and maybe make it available to the public too.
  5. Form a communication network for humane officers (and regular law enforcement in counties where there are no dedicated "animal officers"), so that they can better notify their colleagues about individuals to watch out for.
  6. Form a "neighborhood watch" type of network, where volunteers "patrol" small areas of Wisconsin (no more than what's reasonable on a daily or weekly basis) and report any neglect they observe.
  7. Achieve this neglect watch coverage over the majority of Wisconsin.
  8. Formally petition large WI organizations to support Wisconsin rescue groups. For example, the Wisconsin Horse Council (which hosts the Midwest Horse Fair, among other things) currently gives no support to any horse rescue in Wisconsin. The Council doesn't even give them a discount on booth rentals at the Fair so that they can promote their rescues. Other groups could include breed organizations, the racing industry, and charitable groups.
  9. Bring horse rescue groups together, for better communication, support, and fundraising efforts. They might also consider agreeing on a set of standards for Wisconsin horse rescues.
  10. Target groups that have been proven to be more likely to become involved in animal abuse or neglect, and send volunteers to educate them about welfare issues. These groups could include the Amish community, Mexican rodeo groups, breeders, etc.

So what do you think, folks? This plan would require a ton of volunteer manpower. Those volunteers would have to really commit to following through as well. However, it doesn't require much money, if any. Will you support this plan? Do you have anything to add or change in this plan?

Oh, and p.s., of course I know that we will never totally eradicate neglect and abuse!

EDIT: The response to this has been amazing! Thank you all so much. When I wrote this, I thought I was mostly hoping and daydreaming. I never expected such an immediate and powerful "YES!" from so many people. Now I know we can make this happen.

But... (there's always a "but," isn't there?) it will take some time to get our ducks in a row. There may be weeks when it looks like nothing is happening. Hang in there! Don't get discouraged, we need you!

Here's what's happening right now:
I am currently organizing a meeting of some of the biggest horse rescuers in the state. Their cooperation is invaluable, and I really really appreciate their willingness to work with me, basically a nobody. We're hoping to get together sometime before the weather warms up. During that meeting, we will divvy up the 10 goals. I imagine the goal leader(s) will then recruit volunteers to help reach that goal.

Here's what YOU can do right now: 
Start working on goal #6. That's, "Form a "neighborhood watch" type of network, where volunteers "patrol" small areas of Wisconsin (no more than what's reasonable on a daily or weekly basis) and report any neglect they observe." Start talking to your friends about whether they would be willing to help with this. It's important to emphasize that we're not asking anyone to do more than observe and report neglect. Not trespassing, not confronting abusers, not feeding animals. Just observe and report. We especially need your friends that are not in your neighborhood; remember, we need wide coverage across Wisconsin.

Stay tuned, folks: there WILL be more on this!

Friday, February 21, 2014

Otter Creek & JL & Other Updates

Hey folks, I'm back. You have no idea how backlogged I am. Actually, you probably do, because I keep promising you various stories and then putting them off! I apologize. I AM working on several more posts, including ones about the LeRoys and helping beginners and re-riders. Today, we're going to concentrate on Otter Creek and Juslain Lumaye.

The Otter Creek Ranch neglect case has been going on for months and months now-- years, actually, if you count the abusers' previous properties. I will never understand how cases like the recent one involving Sean Legault get attention ASAP and the horses involved are seized, while hundreds of other horses linger at deaths door for an eternity while cops do nothing.

If you missed hearing about Otter Creek, you can read my previous posts about it here, or visit the relevant Facebook page, but the situation is basically this: Married couple and long-time abusers Brenda Weierke-Feist and Michael Feist own Otter Creek Ranch in Polk County WI, where at least 80 horses have been starving and living in filth. At least three dead horses were found on the property, and autopsy reports confirmed that they starved to death. Michael Feist was eventually charged with 34 counts of abuse... but is still allowed to keep all the horses. Even after he threatened a deputy with a sledgehammer (a deputy assigned to check on the horses) he's walking around free, and his horses are staying put.

Countless times, rescue groups and private individuals have talked to the Feists and offered to take the neglected horses off of their hands. Each time, the Feists have refused. Now, however, they say they are ready to part with some... as long as you pay them thousands of dollars. Yes, you read that right. The Feists are attempting to sell off part of their herd, and are selling four untrained 4 year olds for $500 or $750... and all the other sixteen horses are priced at $1,500 to $15,000 dollars! Check out this sterling example of the horses they have for sale at ridiculous prices:

This photo reproduced here under section 107 of the Copyright Act (Fair Use) "...for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting..." etc.

Ugh, if this is a horse the Feists consider in good enough condition to sell, I don't want to see the ones they AREN'T showing us. As for this poor thing being valuable... Quick everybody, raise your hands if you know of a local auction where you can pick up a thin, over-at-the-knees, grade Appaloosa like this for $200 or less!

...yeah, that's what I thought, all of you.

Let's take a quick peek at Otter Creek's top-priced horse, a 2005 stallion named Tommy.

Hmm, this guy is sickle-hocked and tied in at the knee, he has a decent shoulder but a rather poor loin coupling... hey, is that jumper's bump back there? If so, bam, lumbar pain to deal with. What the hell were the Feists thinking, standing to stud something with this conformation?! And they want to retain breeding rights?!! I am utterly flabbergasted.

This picture was taken in 2013 and he's pretty thin. I wonder what the poor fellow looks like now that he's spent the winter in the hands of a man charged with 34 counts of neglect. I wouldn't buy this horse for $1,500 much less $15,000! Yet, I suppose the price does make sense in a way. People who neglect animals are very often delusional about what they're actually worth.

Speaking of delusional, if you are interested in buying any of the Feists' horses, they are very very adamant that you abide by a long list of rules... including allowing them to do a credit check, presenting photo ID, only looking at a maximum of two horses, you can only bring one other person with you, and you can't take pictures. Hell, sounds more like a prison than a horse farm to me!
 Here are the rules in full, and my comments (click to enlarge):

Some people are debating the ethics of buying horses from the Feists. It's a great question: should you pay an abusive owner for a horse, just to rescue it? What if they demand that you pay way more than the horse is worth? With every particle of my being, I hate the thought of giving money to (i.e. rewarding) horse abusers. However, it's the horse that's important, and giving an asshole a few extra bucks might be worth it, especially if you know he's not going to buy another horse with it. In the end, I'm on the fence on this one, and I think the "right" answer is always going to depend on the circumstances of a particular case.

Speaking of tricky moral questions, let's move on to the Juslaine LuMaye strangles case.

In case you haven't heard, another one of the ten horses dumped on Kelly Radtke's property by JL a month ago has died. This one died at home with her owner, who had entrusted LuMaye with the mare's care and training. Some care! A third horse may die soon-- bastard strangles is breaking out all over her body, and she's pretty weak. Despite the best efforts of Kelly, vets, and the owners of the other horses, things don't look great.

The moral question here is this: The greedy horse dealer JL has offered Kelly $1,000 to get her six horses back... despite the fact that she owes Kelly thousands of dollars. Should Kelly sell the horses back to Juslain, the very woman who caused them to become so endangered?

"No, never!" you cry. And I totally understand that sentiment. But Kelly is pretty deep in debt over all the extra vet and feed bills, stressed out over caring for the sick horses 24/7, anxious not to infect other horses, and in short, running out of options. Just imagine if someone dumped a herd of sick horses on you! You might not be so charitable.

No one else is going to buy these horses at this stage. Not in winter, certainly not when the outbreak of strangles is so fresh, and not when it may mean getting entangled with the likes of JL. So what is Kelly supposed to do? She's at her wits end.

You know, we could save Kelly from having to make that awful choice. We can do that by donating to the relief fund set up by her friend. Click HERE and donate please! I am hoping the WI horse community can work together on another fundraiser for her as well. Spaghetti dinner? Fun show? Whatever it might be, I am willing to help.

  According to Kelly, Juslain's mother showed up, paid Juslain's bills, and took the horses. Kelly had no choice but to give up the horses, as she couldn't legally hold them once she was repaid. God help those poor things, and any other animal that winds up in Juslain's hands.

OK folks, I am running out of steam and daylight. My own rescue horses are calling! Let's wrap this up with a few very brief updates.

- Barb Thiry did manage to pay another $350 towards the care of her two neglected stallions, currently being held in protective foster care. Her next court date is March 18th, where her public defense attorney will attempt a motion to get some pictures of Thiry's Kewaunee County farm dismissed from evidence.

-Sean Janas's trial is also about a month from now. May she rot in hell. I'll be posting the contact info of the judge in this case soon, so you can write and request that Janas get the longest sentence possible.

-I am still looking for any information on a possibly abusive horse owner & dog breeder Amy Mateyka. Please email me at northhorseblog@gmail.com or message me on Facebook.

-I will be attending the Equine Nutrition Seminar at UW Madison tomorrow, Feb 22nd. I hope to see you there, and I will definitely be reporting on all the great info I get there.

As always, readers, stay tuned to northhorse.org for all the WI horse news!

Friday, February 14, 2014

Equines and Valentines

Howdy all! It's time for a brief Valentine's Day post. Today I'd like to send out some heartfelt "thank-yous" to a few people that truly love horses. There's no possible way I can name every horse person that deserves a Valentine today... but know that I appreciate you!!

If you would like to send a little note of love and praise to a horse or horse person that has done good in the world, post in the comments below!

Now let's watch something really sappy and awesome. This marriage proposal isn't too fancy... but I think that makes it all the more touching. Clearly this is an average guy trying his very best! Heck, I'd be very impressed if my own husband even groomed my horse so well!

Oh, and I just love the cat and chickens wandering around :)

Now enjoy some pics... and have a great weekend!

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Rescues: A Three Year Saga

Mare on the left. Filly with filthy, long catch rope on the right.

These are my two new rescue horses, pictured here at their previous, awful home. The story of how I got them out of there actually begins years ago. Gather around, readers, and let me tell you a  tale of neglect...

Once upon a time, there was a dairy farm owned by two brothers. It was a rundown, worn-out, filthy dairy farm just barely held together by spit and baling twine. (And I mean that literally-- this is part of the horse pasture fence, held together by orange baling twine.)

The two brothers hired Mexican immigrants to work for them on this dairy farm, renting them housing and even a bit of pasture if the men wanted to keep livestock. One of these men got horses. Another decided to raise sheep. To guard those sheep, they brought in two young llamas.

The Mexicans eventually moved on, taking the sheep but abandoning the horses and the llamas. Months passed, then years. One llama disappeared, either dying of neglect or wandering off through the broken, nearly non-existent fences. The other llama survived and stayed near the farm, but as he grew, the halter he wore cut through his face. Eventually, part of his nose rotted off, leaving him with a projecting lump of proud flesh.

 Another Mexican immigrant named Amos Barradas eventually arrived to work on the farm, and claimed the two horses for his own. One was a mare, the other was her colt. Amos used these horses in backyard races, where they were beaten and injected with "vitamin shots" in order to "make them go faster." (These are Amos's words, which I got out of him later.) Inevitably, the stallion bred his own mother. And that's about when I stumbled on the scene.

In the late fall of 2011, I drove past this sad farm and noticed the two very thin horses, eating what was left of the dying grass. The mare also had a rotting pile of straw that had been dumped on the ground for her to eat. The stallion was trapped in a weird, ramshackle, open-sided wooden structure. A blue tarp, nailed casually on top of this crude frame, flapped in the wind. The mare was obviously heavily pregnant, but her projecting spine, sharply defined shoulder blade, and the deep grooves between the tops of her ribs also showed that she was starving. The stallion had no water. The mare had access to a pathetic trickle of water in a drainage ditch.

I took pictures, including the one above, and sent them everywhere. I called the local sheriff, animal control, anyone I could think of. I urged others to do the same, and they did. Not much happened. The cops told me Amos Barradas was providing "food" in the form of straw and moldy hay, and "water" in the form of the ditch for the mare, and a bucket of water for the stallion "every day" (according to Amos). The cops said that the law required no more.

Well I knew bullshit when I heard it, but I got busy with one thing or another. Unforgivably, to my great shame, I didn't return to the farm until the middle of winter.

Meanwhile, the llama continued to roam the farm. He had never been fed or watered, never shorn, never touched. He ate snow in winter, and what alfalfa he could find in the hay field. He had no shelter. In the summer, he had baked under a six inch thick armor of matted wool and burdock.

I believe that sometimes God, or fate, or something sends you reminders. My reminder came in January, in the form of a very annoying lady. The story of her craziness and her part in this story is best left in my archives (it's there if you want to read it). Suffice it to say, I was reminded to get my butt out there and help.

Amos did not want to sell his poor horses, but he had no claim on the llama. I talked to the dairy farm owners, who did not care a bit about the llama wandering their land, but were willing to cooperate a little just to see him gone. And so at the end of January, several wonderful volunteers and a very helpful vet with a blow dart gun and tranq darts helped me get the llama home. (All of this is in my blog's archives, with lots of pictures.)

The llama eventually had to be tranquilized again so I could cut all of his burdock mats off. He got vaccinated, got his feet trimmed, and got a name: Nash. The vet said his nose would never heal, but he would be OK. Nash eventually found a wonderful home at a llama sanctuary, where, for the first time in years, he could be with his own kind again.

After that, it was time to work on the horses again. During winter, Amos kept the mare and stallion in tiny, filthy outdoor "stalls" made of miscellaneous junk, and fed them when he felt like it. He had no heated stock tank for them, and so he brought them water in buckets when he felt like it. Worst of all, he absolutely did not want to sell them, his "valuable racehorses," and his bosses the dairy farmers did not care about what was happening. Neither, apparently, did the cops. All I could do was maintain contact with this hateful, ignorant man and try to cajole him to do better.

Finally, in the spring of 2012, the filly was born. Amos did not understand the need for worming, vaccinations, or dental care for horses, but even he thought it was probably a bad idea for the stallion to re-breed his mother...and it would be worse if he bred his own daughter-sister. So his solution was to tie the stallion to a rotting shed 24/7, away from the mare and filly. (The cops still didn't care.)

This situation might have continued indefinitely, had the stallion not had the good sense to try to escape. He did so constantly. During one random drive-by check, I was surprised (but not very surprised) to suddenly find him running alongside my car. He then headed straight for the mare and filly across the road, and it was a miracle that I did not run into him. Amos caught him that time, but after an even more hairy escape in which the stallion gashed his shoulder, Amos finally decided to sell. I do not normally like buying horses from their neglectful owners. However, the price was low enough, I was fairly sure Amos would not be using the money to buy another animal, and I just could not leave the stallion tied to the barn any longer. With backup from friends and family, I got him to Saint Francis Horse Rescue, where he was gelded, rehabilitated, and adopted out to a wonderful family. His name is now "Diego," and he is a sweetheart.

...And then there were two left on the dairy farm...

One mare, one filly, no real care. In the summer, they were OK-- they at least had pasture and the drainage ditch. In the winter, they were crammed into a 15X7 pen made out of broken gates, fence panels and wire. A cracked, low-ceilinged calf hut was their only shelter. Amos continued to feed and water them only when he felt like it. Despite my efforts, with both Amos and with the cops, this situation went on and on and on. More than once I found them shivering, without food or water, and more than once I dropped off hay at the side of the road or snuck it into their pen.


 Finally, FINALLY Amos called me this winter and said he was ready to part with them. I won't bore you with the details of the negotiations that went on, but I will tell you they were tense, prolonged, and occasionally loud. With the incredible support of Mary of Saint Francis Horse Rescue, I finally got 'em home.

So here they are, safe at last! It was worth the all the previous three years of work just to see that filly dance and trot and buck with joy, so happy to have room to run. I am flabbergasted at how much they are eating and drinking. In the first 24 hours, they demolished four bales of hay. They drank 3 gallon gulps of water at a time and then slurped and splashed it everywhere, enjoying the strange and wonderful abundance. I've been very cautious with the grain, so as not to colic them, but they positively crave it.

The vet visited them the day after they arrived. Although they were not handleable enough to vaccinate safely, she pronounced their hearts and lungs healthy. Fecal tests are in progress to check for parasites. The vet also said that the mare's bad eye would not require any treatment, although it would never get better either.

The eye had been scratched at some point and never treated. The end result was that the eye healed itself as well as it could (not very well), leaving the mare partially blind on her left side. The vet says it was most likely the burdock covering her that caused the scratch. Neglect on top of neglect.

The vet says that the filly seems to have suffered no ill effects from the inbreeding. That's her above, in the red halter (which I very quickly replaced with a decent one). She's adorable, curious and coping pretty well, considering the fact that she's experiencing tons of things that are 100% new to her. She likes grain, but doesn't know how to eat it from your hand. She has no idea what apples or carrots are, and won't eat them. She won't eat from the manger, because she is frightened of the roof above it. Trying to lead her is like trying to fly an eight hundred pound kite in high winds. The best news is that although she's ribby underneath her winter coat, she's in decent shape overall.

The mare is probably in her early teens, although that estimate may change when we can get a better look at her teeth. You can feel all her ribs, and her back bone is too prominent underneath her fluff. She's had a hard life, and it shows. There are some big scars on her legs. Her hooves are not too long but are weird, as if they've been trimmed by someone with no knowledge. She is generally wary and quite protective of her filly, and is quick to pin her ears if she feels threatened. After spending several hours with her, she finally relaxed with me, even pressing her head into my hand for more petting. However, she was very defensive with the vet, even aiming a very nasty kick when we tried a quick needle poke. I suspect she will always be wary of new people-- and who can blame her, after what she's been through? According to Amos, she was broke to ride at some point (for those Mexican horse races) but I suspect her previous "training" is going to make things harder, not easier. Time will tell.

Eventually, after they are rehabilitated, these ladies will be up for adoption through Saint Francis Horse Rescue, which has helped me tremendously with advice and support (feel free to donate to them!). They will be using their usual adoption contracts.

For now though, they need TLC, which they are getting, and NAMES!

I have been told that I'm not very good at naming, so I'd love your input. What do you think of the name Ruffian (or Ruffi for short) for the filly? Ruffian was, of course, a famous racing mare who was also a dark bay. But maybe it isn't funny to reference her family's past as Mexican backyard racehorses.

How about the name Riven, for the mare? Something that is riven has been split apart. I think that describes how her eye looks (it's actually pretty cool, and I'll try to get pictures soon). I also think that it might describe her split life. In her past was neglect and abuse. In her future lies love and abundance. But I dunno, does it sound weird, or too negative?

Post your name suggestions in the comments below, or on the north horse Facebook page!
I will keep you updated on their progress, and posting lots more pictures.

I'd like to end by saying THANK YOU to a few people who helped tremendously in cleaning up this mess of neglect:

  • To Becky, who always volunteers to do things in the worst weather, and never complains.
  • To Erin, long-time supporter of this blog and of all animal rescues (even spur-of-the-moment llama rescues).
  • To Dr. Edders, for his skill with a blow dark gun and total patience.
  • To my readers, who have cheered me on and inspired me with their own rescues.
  • To my family and my husband, who support all my rescue projects.
  • To Lodi Vet, for all that they do.
  • To Mary, you especially, for all of your help and support, in many ways over many days.

Thank you all.