LAS VEGAS — In May 2015, an injured thoroughbred mare was found roadside near Moapa Valley in southern Nevada. She had a broken cheekbone, cuts across her legs, and gaping wounds on her jaw and shoulder — the latter large enough to put an adult hand inside. Despite these injuries, she was otherwise well cared for.
When emergency veterinarians examined her more closely, they found a tattoo on the inside of her lip: #H06373
Those six numbers told a story. Race horses typically are tattooed for identification. After searching a national registry, the mare’s history began to unfold. Her name was Came True. She’d been bought for approximately $100,000 more than a decade earlier and had raced in California for a time. Her last rider: famed jockey Victor Espinoza.
When she was picked up by Clark County Animal Control in 2015, nobody claimed her. It was just weeks before Espinoza and American Pharoah won the Triple Crown.
How does a horse go from being sold at such a premium to being abandoned in the desert in Nevada?
That is a question volunteers at the Local Equine Assistance Network asked themselves a lot that summer as they rehabilitated Came True. Maybe she’d been abandoned for being old, or costing too much. Maybe she’d been unintentionally lost. Had she fallen from a trailer? A cliff? Was she attacked?
Her full story might never be known. And that’s OK, says Linda Florence, who manages public relations for LEAN: “We just know she bounced back.”
She was renamed Truly. LEAN fundraised thousands of dollars for medical expenses, much of it through a campaign called Every Dollar Counts that inspired animal lovers from across the country to send small amounts in support. It took more than a year and a half of surgeries, therapy and medicine, but eventually the horse was given a clean bill of health.
Truly now lives on a 40-acre farm in Fallon.
Thousands of animals are dropped off at shelters or picked up by animal control officers every year. The vast majority are dogs and cats briefly held (allowing owners to reclaim lost pets) before being put up for adoption or euthanized. When less common animals come through animal control, they can present a problem.
“The Animal Foundation (which takes in animals from Las Vegas, North Las Vegas and parts of unincorporated Clark County) doesn’t have the skill set or facilities. A horse is very different than a dog,” Florence said. “It can be dangerous.”
That’s why traditional shelters partner with specialized organizations like LEAN to assist with many of their animals.
“It’s really imperative that we have these relationships with groups that have the facilities and open spaces that are required for these kinds of animals,” says Kelly Leahy of the Animal Foundation.
LEAN focuses exclusively on animals that wind up in the care of municipalities. It does not take owner surrenders. According to LEAN President Kimberly Burton, this approach keeps nonprofit operations manageable financially, and that was where the greatest need lay.
Feed alone costs an average of $200 a month per horse, Burton estimates, and sometimes more if specialized feed is needed because of chewing problems. LEAN doesn’t have a physical location for housing animals. Instead, the volunteer group relies on private owners who offer stable space and time to care for them.
In five years, LEAN has rescued 63 horses. Currently, 13 are being fostered. Some, like Truly, have unknown or incomplete histories. Others have more straightforward ones — they were abandoned by owners who fell on hard times, or taken away by animal control because of neglect or abuse.
“Some people think because we have (wild) mustangs (in Nevada), you can just leave your horse out there and it’ll be fine,” Burton says. “That’s like taking your dog and dropping him off in the woods and saying, ‘Go live with the wolves now.’?”
Once ownership of an animal has been transferred from a shelter to LEAN, volunteers evaluate the horse to determine its medical needs, demeanor and capacity. Trainers are employed to work with the animals on any issues. For example, one horse would not let anyone touch its hind legs — a definite safety hazard.
Once deemed adoptable, horses are matched with their “forever homes” through an extensive process that includes a lengthy application, multiple interviews and physical interactions, and a home/stable visit. Burton says that beyond matching the obvious factors (like whether the horse will be ridden or be a companion animal, how often it will be ridden, what type of riding, who will be around it, etc.), they’re looking for an intangible connection.
“It’s hard to put into words,” she says, “but some horses just pick people. If there’s not a connection there, it’s not even worth it. It has to work as a team — horse and human.”
J.P. is a textbook example. He was nursed back to health after nearly starving to death, and quickly earned a reputation over three years of foster care as being headstrong. If he didn’t like you, he would let you know.
Then he met Jennifer Tyson.
“I’ve never had any problems with him,” Tyson said. “Not one. I had a bond with him.”
Tyson now works as a trainer for LEAN. She says her favorite aspect of the organization, beyond the support the board members and volunteers give her as a trainer, is how LEAN has brought together the entire horse community for a good cause. It typically only adopts to people within 100 miles of Las Vegas, and its fundraising and outreach efforts often are in collaboration with other local equine organizations such as the University of Las Vegas’ rodeo team.
“I like being part of this community and seeing the animals grow,” Tyson says.
“When you see a horse start in such deplorable shape,” she says, “and then you see the change in their body, the look in their eye . that makes the stressful moments worth it. It’s that split second when they let you know they’re OK.”
Information from: Las Vegas Sun, http://www.lasvegassun.com