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     Early December 2014 was when it all started and the true heart of Sandhills Horse Rescue came into our lives.  Her body condition score was less than 1, a true walking skeleton, and her chance of survival, according to our veterinarian, was two-percent at best, and that was being generous. She was hours or days from death, but if she wanted to fight for her life, a group of friends were willing to fight alongside of her, for the duration, all the while acknowledging that if she were to truly suffer or give up the fight the responsible and humane decision would be made.

Her name is Hope, and this is her story…

Photo of Hope months prior to the neglect and starvation that almost took her life.  Photo contributed by an anonymous person who knew the previous owner.

     Hope was rescued, along with three other horses, from a farm in Scotland County, North Carolina by Animal Control in December 2014.  They were all evidence in a cruelty case, as Animal Control was trying desperately to get the county on-board with filing criminal charges against the owner.  Hope, who was in the worst condition, went home with one of the people who rescued her, Katie, an experienced horse-person who could provide around the clock care that was critical to Hope’s chance at life. The other two horses went to quality foster homes in the area.  Even with experienced rescuers and rehabilitators providing 24-hour care, the prognosis was not good and rehabilitating Hope would be a delicate process.     


     Although Hope had a will to live, she was desperately malnourished and there was a significant threat of re-feeding syndrome, which is a potentially fatal shift in fluids and electrolytes that occurs when feeding horses recovering from a period of starvation.  She was starved to a point where her muscles had atrophied, once the fat was gone, her body was eating away at her muscle to survive until it was close to depletion.  For the couple of weeks, she was at Katie’s farm, it was a daily struggle for Hope to fight exhaustion and remain standing. When she would stand she would try her best to be a “real horse” and call out to the other horses on the property, try to walk the distance to the fence-line, and forage for whatever should could find in the pasture.  It was a fine line that her caretakers tread for the first couple of months to feed her enough to increase her weight and strength, yet not feed too much that it would result in re-feeding syndrome. Hope was kept on a strict feeding regiment and monitored closely by her caretakers and veterinarian. Despite everyone’s best efforts to carefully reintroduce nutrition, the day after Christmas was the day her condition drastically changed for the worse and a group of friends and strangers joined forces to save her life. 

     December 26th, while in the pasture at Katie’s farm, Hope laid down and couldn’t get back up. Distressed and confused by her inability to stand, she thrashed and struggled throughout the night.  Her activity while on the ground caused her to develop what can only be described as severe bed sores as the fragile skin, caused by malnutrition and parasites, sloughed off exposing what little muscle she had and down to the bone in some places on her head, withers, pelvis, and lower legs. She wasn’t expected to survive the night.

     Two of Hope’s rescuers, Katie and Rachel, stayed with Hope throughout the night because they did not want her to die alone if that was going to be her fate.  Hope continued to eat, drink, and still had life in her eyes.  She would whinny every time Rachel or Katie would leave to warm themselves by the campfire as temperatures dipped into the low 20s.  Rachel and Katie took turns sleeping on the ground next to Hope in the pasture, as they watched monitored her and flipped her over every couple of hours to maintain motility in her gastrointestinal tract and circulation throughout her body, in the hopes of lessening the risk of any other complications.  This was an undertaking to say the least.  It was extremely cold and they had positioned Hope on a bed of hay for insulation from the ground and so she could eat no matter her position, covered her in horse blankets, which at one time included an electric blanket, and would offer her water when they re-positioned her… all to try to keep her warm, hydrated, and alive.