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Two Horses and a Mule Find Sanctuary

Rescued equines on the mend at the Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch

The Humane Society of the United States / The Fund for Animals

  • Shenandoah, left, and Chili survived untold cruelty and neglect along with more than 120 other animals on a farm in Prichard, W. Va. All photos by Diane Miller

  • Phoenix, a speckled mule mare, was another survivor from the farm. She had gone "stall crazy," but is now calm and full of personality.

  • Chili, who like the others was fighting for her life, was named for her survival technique: Being "feisty." She's gentled some now that her needs are met at all times.

by Julie Hauserman

When two horses and a mule were rescued last spring from a West Virginia man who severely neglected them, they were thought to be unadoptable.

The mule had been locked in a stall in a falling-down barn with no food, no water, and no companionship. She had gone "stall crazy"—she was weaving violently in a tight circle over and over to try to comfort herself.

One of the mares was aggressive towards people and other animals. The other mare was terrified of people. Each bore their individual scars from the horror they were forced to endure.

Sanctuary for the weary

All three were loaded up and taken to the Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch, a sanctuary for rescued abused, neglected and abandoned animals in Murchison, Texas.

"One of the most wonderful things about Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch is that even dramatic behavioral issues will not prevent a horse from finding a place somewhere in one of the herds," said Diane Miller, director of the ranch.

Owned and operated by The Fund for Animals in partnership with The Humane Society of the United States, Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch is America's largest and most diverse animal sanctuary—a haven to more than 1,200 domestic and exotic animals rescued from abuse, research laboratories, circuses, zoos, captive hunting operations, factory farming, and government round-ups.

With more than 1,000 acres to roam, the animals can join the herd, work out conflicts, or just keep to themselves if that's what they choose. 

The trio bonds

On the long trip south, a beautiful thing happened—the traumatized equines bonded. Ranch staff had planned to unload the three anxious animals into individual areas. Instead, all three were unloaded into a spacious outdoor paddock and barn together.

And Miller thinks that with a little more attention, they may be able to be adopted into loving homes.

"They really are blossoming now that they realize there is plenty of food and there's nothing to fear or stress over," Miller said. "They are seeking out and receiving a lot more human interaction."

A calming effect

The animals' previous owner, Gary Belcher, pled guilty and was convicted of animal cruelty after authorities discovered 129 neglected horses, donkeys, mules, dogs and rabbits on his property in Prichard, W.Va. Skeletal horses roamed the fields, and many of the animals suffered from a variety of medical ailments including overgrown, infected hooves, parasite infestations, and untreated wounds.

The mule, now named "Phoenix," has stopped her anxious circling. "She is completely calm, and she's got tons of personality," Miller says.

The more aggressive mare, now named "Chili Pepper," because of her feisty personality, has gentled a bit. "She was fighting for her life," Miller says. "She wanted to ensure she'd get food along with the other horses."

The extremely wary mare, now named "Shenandoah," is learning to trust people again. "She's more reserved," Miller says. "You definitely have to work with her. She's shy and needs somebody to be patient."

At the Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch, Chili Pepper, Phoenix, and Shenandoah are all being housed in a special-needs paddock where they receive extra care and nutrition to help them build back muscles that were depleted by starvation.

Adoption candidates

If all goes well, they'll be candidates for adoption in The HSUS' newest equine program, the Doris Day Horse Rescue and Adoption Center, which is set to open early 2011. Thanks to a generous donation by the Doris Day Animal Foundation, the new center will serve as a model facility for the re-homing of horses. It will accommodate a maximum of 50 horses at a time.

Doris Day, founder of the foundation that bears her name, called the new facility "the culmination of a dream of mine."

"Cleveland Amory was a great friend and humanitarian, and we often talked about ways to help even more horses," Day has said. "Now, through the new Doris Day Horse Rescue and Adoption Center at Cleveland's ranch, horses will get the loving care, safety, and security that they deserve."

The Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch was originally founded to save 577 burros living in the Grand Canyon. Since then, it has grown to be a compassionate refuge for 1,200 animals. The HSUS works with horse rescue operations throughout the United States to provide support and coordination to assist in caring for and re-homing horses in need.

The new Doris Day facility will allow The HSUS to use state-of- the-art techniques to care for horses in need. And it will give equines like Chili Pepper, Phoenix, and Shenandoah a chance to find new homes where they will get to experience the loving care they deserve.

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