Photos provided by LEARN Horse Rescue
Over the past few weeks, “Whisper,” a three-year-old Paint Horse stallion, has been making some incredible strides towards a dramatic recovery from severe malnutrition and first, second, and third degree burns that cover 60% of his back. Whisper and a Thoroughbred mare named Traveler are currently under the care of Elizabeth Steed and volunteers at LEARN Horse Rescue.
The two horses were turned over to the rescue organization after their removal from a farm in Berkeley, South Carolina, following a tip to animal control by a concerned citizen. According to recent reports, the horse’s owner has since been charged with multiple counts of animal cruelty.
Steed says in the 30 years she has been working in the horse rescue field, she has never come across such a disturbing cruelty case of this magnitude.
Caption: Whisper’s injuries when he first came to LEARN Horse Rescue.
“Berkeley County is a small rural county off of Charleston,” Steed says. “Their animal control office was contacted by someone who reported there was a horse that was very thin and possibly injured at a property. They went over to the house and found four horses that were living in substandard conditions at best. The fencing was made of metal and wire, which unfortunately, growing up in the country, I have seen a lot of. One of the animals was in a very small 60 ft. round pen, in the middle of a corn field with no shelter, and was standing in manure and hay up to his pasterns.”
“The horse is a three-year-old stallion, who is currently a .5 on the Henneke body scale. He must have had rain rot across his back, because his owner, a 49-year-old man, used some sort of chemical combination to treat it. It had to be a combination of something like kerosene and spent motor oil. Because of the chemicals, he had first, second, and third degree burns over more than 60% of his back. It was left untreated so the maggots and flies were all over him. There were thousands of maggots. There were so many that you could actually hear them. I’ve been doing this for 30 years, and I think I might have post-traumatic stress disorder from this case.”
Steed says she first heard about the horse by way of a local veterinarian, who was called in by animal control to assess the situation. After viewing pictures of the stallion, Steed recommended they consider euthanasia. However, the vet was convinced that the horse would be able to recover from his wounds, so Steed agreed to take him in.
“I told her that they should probably consider euthanizing him, because he was in such a bad state. But she insisted there was something about him and she thought he would make it, so we agreed to take him. They did convince the man to turn two of the horses over to our group, but he was adamant that he would not turn over the other two. It was very hard for me to leave there without them.”
“We decided that if at any point he was going to continue to suffer, and if we were just prolonging the inevitable, we would not continue to try to keep him alive. But the moment we put a lead rope on him, he had a strong bright eye. His bloodwork was almost normal, which is highly unusual for a starvation case of this magnitude. His wounds are healing so much faster than the vets ever believed they would.”
Steed spent the first five days and nights with Whisper herself. Currently, he is under the supervision of rescue volunteers on a 24 hour basis. Because of the rapid improvement Whisper has been making, he has been moved onto a regular diet and may not need the skin graft surgery that was originally anticipated.
“We have volunteers with him around the clock to monitor him all the time, because when a horse is that thin and injured they can go downhill very quickly. There is an area above his kidneys, where the third degree burn is still a little questionable, but it’s amazing that we may not need to do skin grafts.”
“He does have some lung damage from where the chemicals burns went over his back and down his side, so he has a very slight whinny. That’s why I call him Whisper.”
Caption: Whisper’s wounds are dramatically improving.
Despite the incredible ordeal this young stallion has been through, Steed says Whisper is very personable, affectionate, and has a “Dennis the Menace personality.” Because of their swift recovery, he and his barnmate, Traveler, will be up for adoption in about three to four months, and Steed will be accepting owner applications. She adds that Whisper will be gelded as soon as he is physically strong enough for the procedure.
“I believe animals pick their people, so the right person for them will come along,” she says. “He’s a wonderful guy and very personable. He’s always sticking his head out of his stall or trying to get me to rub his tail. He wants to be around people, which is amazing after everything he’s been through.”
Steed says cases like this one highlight the importance of increased education for local animal control, members of the public, current horse owners, and potential future horse owners, in an effort to put a stop to needless suffering and abuse.
The next step in Whisper’s journey is to find out more about his background and breeding. Members of the local community believe the horse is registered with the American Paint Horse Association. Steed hopes to work with the Association and members of the local horse community to find out more about what she believes to be a well-bred young animal.
“He is a medicine hat Paint with very distinctive markings,” she says. “I know APHA has a huge database, from work we have done with them in the past. We are hoping to work with them to find out a little bit about who this horse is and what breeder might have sold him as a colt. The man says he owned the horse for almost three years, so he would’ve been a weanling when he was sold. He is definitely well-bred. You can tell he’s not just a horse that came from someone’s backyard.”
“We ran the tattoo on the Thoroughbred mare that came in with him, and she is twelve-years-old. She has won over $100,000 and has Bold Ruler in her pedigree. She is a beautiful mover, 16.1 hands tall, and big-boned.”
If you might have any information about the background story of this three-year-old Paint stallion, you can contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
“We would like to find out who he really is, because he does have a story.”