PERU – When Barb Smith came across the horse named Beau, she thought he was a dead horse walking.
The stallion was malnourished, sick and starving when Miami County Animal Control officers seized him from a couple who had been neglecting the animal for months.
“These people loved their animals, but they got so wacked out on drugs they weren’t thinking,” Smith said. “Beau was a walking skeleton. I thought he would just live out the summer and I’d have to put him down in the winter.”
But that didn’t happen. Smith took the horse to her own farm and began carefully monitoring his diet. She hired a farrier to come by and trim up his hooves.
Within a few months, Beau was gaining strength and putting on weight under Smith’s watchful care. Pretty soon, the horse was well enough for a family to adopt him.
Now, Smith said Beau gets treats nearly every day from his new family, and receives plenty of exercise from the kids taking him out for rides.
“He was thin and narrow and now he’s thick,” Smith said. “He’s a real dependable and reliable horse to be around.”
But Beau’s recovery had a price tag – a price tag the county didn’t pick up. Miami County’s animal control only funds the seizure, care and adoption of dogs.
That’s why Smith and Susan Kulla, director of the Miami County Animal Shelter, helped found the Miami County Horse Guardians.
The group of volunteers raises funds to help pay for the rehabilitation of horses seized in the county by animal control officers, and educates people about how to properly care for the animals.
“If a horse is starving, we take that horse right on the spot,” Kulla said. “But you can go through hundreds of dollars helping just one horse. Usually their feet are terrible and vets aren’t cheap.”
Before they founded Miami County Horse Guardians, Kulla and Smith paid to house and recuperate around eight horses out of their own pockets. It wasn’t cheap, but Kulla said it was the right thing to do.
“All I know is I’m an animal person, so I was going to do it,” she said.
Beau was the last horse they helped save with their own funds before deciding to form the group.
About a year-and-a-half ago, the Horse Guardians hosted their first fundraiser, which brought in around $2,000. Since then, they’ve sponsored a number of other small fundraisers like a silent auction and selling sweatshirts.
With that money, Smith and Kulla have nursed eight neglected horses back to life.
One of those horses Smith found in a barn completely packed with trash. She said they had to clear a path through the debris to get him outside and into a trailer.
Blood splattered the walls of the stable, where sharp nails stuck out and gashed the horse when it tried to move.
“Horses can’t get out of situations like this,” Smith said. “They’re trapped, and they can’t help themselves.”
By creating the Miami County Horse Guardians, Smith said she hopes horse owners who neglect or abuse their animals will know there are people in the county who will fight against that neglect and abuse.
And she said people are already getting the message.
“I hear, ‘They’ll get you in Miami County if you don’t take care of your horse,’” Smith said. “’You have to watch your p’s and q’s here.’”
But conscious cruelty is rarely the reason horses end up malnourished or sick. Smith said ignorance and bad information are what usually lead to those kinds of situations.
That was the case with Beau.
“He didn’t have to be like that,” she said. “It’s frustrating people think they can get a horse with no knowledge of how to take care of them … They’re big animals, and you don’t realize things can go wrong fast.”
That’s why one of the main goals of the group is to educate people about the ins and outs of raising and caring for the animals.
Right now, the Horse Guardians use Facebook as their primary source to get out information, but Kulla said they’ve discussed starting a newsletter or magazine to reach more people.
“It’s all about education. People just don’t know,” Smith said. “I really want this organization to be a tool for education. Yeah, we rescue horses, but we’re also trying to educate.”
Right now, the group helps with a very specific set of horses – ones that are seized by animal control within the county.
Smith said if the organization continues to grow, however, there’s a chance they would expand their services to help more animals.
“If I win the lottery, maybe we can expand,” she said. “But we’re focusing on our own county for now. We have to be able to save the ones that are in our own house … If we opened up our doors as a horse rescue right now, it would just take too much money and too much property.”
So far, Kulla said, the group has been successful thanks to the strong community of responsible horse owners in the county. She said they all wanted to see something like this.
“It’s a good thing,” she said. “There are a lot of good people involved with it, and these people know horses.”
Smith said it’s good to know people support the group, but in the end, saving a horse that’s nearly dead is its own payoff.
“Watching them come back to life is pretty rewarding,” she said. “It beats any trophy I’d ever get.”
Carson Gerber can be reached at 765-854-6739, email@example.com or on Twitter at @carsongerber1.