By Robert Boswell
Publisher, Wild Pony Tales
Few of the rescues made by Debbie Ober who runs Chincoteague Pony Rescue have been easy. But the latest one has tested her organizational skills, stretched already thin finances and torn her heart out.
On April 28 she sent her husband, Tom, and two friends nearly 500 miles to Bristol, Tenn. pulling their rescue trailer only to discover a situation that Debbie admits may be too much for them to handle. It was the Ober’s 10th rescue mission since 2008 and the only one where conditions forced them to leave ponies in need of rescue behind.
To Debbie each foal is as precious as any newborn baby. Older ponies they have brought in from abusive situations get the tender loving care they need to return to good health.
“We have rescued 11 since September,” said Debbie, and now five have been adopted. Five of the rescues came from the auction/slaughter pens in Pennsylvania and Ohio.”
The latest rescue event began a month ago when Debbie got a telephone call from a nurse in Indiana. The nurse was trying to assist a patient in finding homes for her nine ponies, two with foals due anytime, on a property south of Bristol, Tennessee that were in trouble. The woman had encountered both health and financial setbacks and her home was in foreclosure. The owner survived five tornados this time last year, flood damage and had her truck repossessed. Her horse trailer was totaled in the tornados and recently sold for scrap which is how she has been feeding the ponies.
According to the nurse, who had met the owner when she sought medical care after a run-in with her lead stallion, had been turned down by 10 other horse rescues.
It took three weeks and many phone calls to get written permission to start rescue efforts of the herd and start the ownership transfer to the Ober rescue. Debbie was constantly on the phone, working online, trying to get it all lined up, and all along feeding and caring for the 21 ponies in her stable.
In addition, Debbie was posting on Facebook and the Chincoteague Pony Rescue site trying to raise money for the trip. Some donations came in to help with the $500 cost of the trip, but they do not have enough for a return trip, vet care and feed they will later need. The ponies, including a foal, left behind are keeping Debbie awake at night, driving her to spend every possible moment trying to raise the money and send Tom back to Tennessee.
To get the first trip under way, Debbie’s diligence finally paid off. Once the Obers had medical records, checked out registration and received transfers of ownership Debbie packed up the rescue trailer, making sure water, halters, bedding, lead ropes, insulated blankets, tranquilizers, Banamine for colic and heavy cotton ropes were all on board.
“In the time it took to take care of all the details,” said Tom, “two of the mares had foals, one a colt and one a filly.” Tom said this presented a new challenge, having to transport newborns on a 485 mile trip. So he built petitions in the trailer to keep the mares and their little ones separated. As with any rescue mission, said Tom, we needed to be prepared for the unknown.” And this time there were plenty of unknowns awaiting him.
Around 9 p.m. Saturday, April 28, Tom, with volunteers Wayne Morris and Vinnie Bianco, left for what would be a 10 hour trip. They arrived at the Tennessee location before light that Sunday morning. After a nap, awaiting daybreak, they began to check out the situation.
“The terrain of the area was very hilly and we had to park about 50 feet from the front gate of the pasture,” said Tom. “We found all the ponies together which included two stallions, one of which was very dominate and aggressive. There was no herd management in keeping the stallion separated from the mares and foals.”
Meanwhile, Debbie had spent a near sleepless night and is hearing just how bad it all was. There was no shelter, a very rocky pasture and a lot of hazards lying around such as pieces of barbed wire, broken glass, pieces of jagged metal and broken boards. “There was no sign of any hay or grain and the only water source was a small creek that ran through the pasture,” said Tom.
“Our main concern was the newborn which we named Bristol, just 24 hours old, lying in mud next to its mother, Shadow.” Tom continued, “The mare was in very poor condition and feeding a newborn, our concern was whether the foal was getting the nutrition it needed. The foal was very weak and could barely stand on its own.”
Tom said he lifted the first foal and put her on the trailer with its mother following. “She walked right on board without any problems at all. The other ponies appeared to be in good health, but I wanted to get the other foal and its mother on board.
“That foal was full of energy and was running around with the rest of the herd. After a little rodeo wrangling, I was able to catch the foal and load him on the trailer.”
Tom said he hoped his mother would follow but that was not about to happen. “The dominate stallion prevented our efforts in catching the mare. After four hours with no means of separating or containing the herd, we determined it was not worth the risk of injury to us or the ponies. It was my belief, that if the mare had been caught, that the stallion would have jumped the page wire fence, creating another problem.”
He was in constant touch with Debbie who was in agony. She was already worn out from worry and lack of sleep. “I can’t sleep with him on the road,” she said. Now she was confronted with wrenching decisions.
To understand the drama taking place, you have to know that for Debbie taking care of the 21 ponies on the Ober farm, some rescues, some her own, is what she lives for. She spends hours feeding them, driving to get hay and grain, and trying to find the money to keep them going.
So Tom once again called Debbie, this time with news she did not want to hear. But Debbie agreed that the stallion would have to be removed before any further attempt in removing the rest of the herd.
Tom got the owner to go for feed for the rest of the herd and he soon left for home, pulling the trailer out of a difficult incline. But the trip home took a little longer than the one coming.
“We had the worst of the ponies on board which was our biggest concern,” said Tom.
Said Tom, “We headed home around noon Sunday, stopping every hour to check on Bristol and Shadow. Every time we stopped, Bristol was already standing up nursing. By the time we finished giving water to Shadow, Bristol was lying down and ready to ride.”
The three very tired travelers and their cargo arrived back at the rescue Sunday night at 10:30. “Shadow was led to her new stall as I carried Bristol off the trailer.” said Tom. Debbie had everything ready, a clean stall, water, just the right amount of hay and grain and all the love and attention they could handle.
Shadow’s condition upon arrival was poor. She was hundreds of pounds under weight and dehydrated trying to nurse her new filly. “With her white color, she looked like a skeleton,” said Debbie. “ Her long winter coat was stuck to her with mud from her pasture and could not come out on its own. I have been picking it off in clumps since her arrival.”
The ponies had no shelter in Tennessee. Said Debbie, “Her manure was like a cow pie, and she really didn’t pass much manure for 12 hours after she arrived, indicating lack of food and hay for who knows how long.” Shadow’s sire was born on Assateague Island and purchased at the 1989 Pony Auction. Shadow’s dam was also born on Assateague, but the year is unknown. Shadow is now 16 years old and has had an extensive show record as well as several foals.
“Debbie and I want to thank everyone who helped support this mission with donations needed for the transport,” said Tom. Shadow will need a lot of care to bring her back to a healthy condition. Vet care and feeding costs will continue. A special thanks to Wayne and Vinnie who volunteered to help on this mission.”
Since their arrival late on April 29, Shadow and Bristol are starting to thrive. “We had to start Shadow’s feeding program very slowly as to not cause her to colic from her starved state. The phrase “you can kill them with kindness” is just as it says. She now has a belly, but her return to good health will take another six months or more.” Continued Debbie, “Bristol is filling out and getting taller by the day. She runs and bucks in her stall enjoying every minute. She is a “one pony rodeo” and keeps me laughing constantly with her every discovery and her antics. She is 12 days old today, May 10.”
Debbie has been around horses since birth, as her mother was an avid horsewoman. She was active in 4-H and has been a horse owner nearly all her life, riding them in shows in her earlier years, and it would be a challenge to find anyone more suiting for managing a rescue than Debbie, and Tom who has also been around horses for years.
While feeling good about what they accomplished Debbie’s heart is really at the Tennessee farm. She is trying to find a way to remove the stallion from the pasture so they can load some of the remaining herd.
“Leaving the mare, Rainy, and her colt are eating at me the most,” says Debbie. “Shadow was the worst of the lot, so getting her was a priority. The others were in good condition. After talking to several other rescues, we are basically on our own. They will only act if the ponies all look like Shadow. It is sad that they have to suffer before getting any help from bigger rescues. What a crappy world we live in at times.”
Honestly said Debbie, I couldn’t afford to feed them all if they got back here at one time, but I would give it my best shot to try. I am going to continue to raise funds so that we can make another trip.
Had we not been called about the Tennessee ponies they would have been heading to auction or worse. It is a huge expense to bring them to Maryland, but it would have been a much higher price to have to purchase them from the kill/meat buyers.
The Obers have rescued 12 other ponies, nine of them sold at the Chincoteague Pony Auction. Four of the auction ponies are placed in forever homes and a total of seven are available for adoption.
Inquiries about donations or adoptions can be made by going to the Rescue website atwww.chincoteagueponyrescue.org or by emailing Debbie at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her cell is 410-829-3026 and messages may be left on her Facebook page. The mailing address is P.O. Box 125, Ridgely, MD 21660.