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August 22, 2011

Charlie’s Story: Full Circle for an Abused Horse

Rescued from starvation by The HSUS, Charlie now has a loving family and is ready to nurture foster children

  • It was love at first kiss, Laurel Perrigo remembers, when she met the starving horse. She had to adopt him.  Matt Perrigo

  • Just months later, Charlie showed Laurel's daughter how willing he was to trust his new family.  Laurel Perrigo

  • He'd never been ridden, but Charlie was willing to try anything. Matt Perrigo

  • In fewer than 14 months, Charlie was ready for his first show. Perrigo knows he'll take to working with kids even more easily.  Matt Perrigo

by Julie Hauserman

Charlie, a starving horse when The HSUS rescued him nearly two years ago, is loved and well cared for in his new home. But he still gobbles up all his food as if he’s afraid he won’t get more any time soon.

It’s been quite a journey, helping Charlie to recover from abuse. And this fall, the gentle horse will come full circle—he will help foster children make their own transitions from trauma to wholeness. Meanwhile, he’s become living proof of the joys of adopting a rescued horse.

A striking 5-year-old Paint breed with unique coloring, Charlie was among 84 horribly neglected horses rescued by the Humane Society of the United States and the Cannon County Sheriff's Department from a 100-acre farm in Tennessee in 2009.

It started with a kiss

When Laurel Perrigo heard that volunteers were needed to care for the horses at a temporary shelter set up in fairgrounds outside Nashville, she didn’t hesitate. By chance, she was assigned to muck out stalls on the row where Charlie was.

“I had seven horses at home on our farm,” she said. “I wasn’t looking for another horse.”

“But Charlie was a charmer. Most of the horses were shy and leery of people; they would retreat into the corner of their stalls when approached. Not Charlie. He was curious.

When Perrigo curry-combed him, he leaned into her. Then, when she finished combing, he looked at her and “kissed her” with a nuzzle on her nose.

“That’s when Charlie wound his way into our hearts and into our family,” she says. “I had no idea when I went to volunteer that I would get a horse so special.”

After an evaluation, Perrigo was able to adopt Charlie and take him back to her farm to join her other horses, animals and family. Over time, he gained 200 pounds of muscle. He was easily trained for riding, and Perrigo even rode him in a horse show.

Make choosing your next horse twice as happy by adopting a rescued horse

A hard-luck horse helps hard-luck kids

Charlie will soon start visiting the same Tennessee county where he endured abuse—but this time, he’ll be at the 300-acre Son Valley Ranch, which gives foster children a weekend in the country where they learn to care for and ride horses, among other activities.

Perrigo, a mother of three, will be a camp counselor and will bring Charlie on the weekends to work with the campers.

“Many of these children have gone through hard times,” Perrigo says. “Charlie was discarded and left without any food. These kids may have been discarded by their families too. If they know that the horse has gone through hard times too, they feel that connection.”

“Working with a horse has such a calming effect,” she adds. “I think a lot of conversations will happen with Charlie around.”

Perrigo says she is looking forward to helping open new worlds for foster children who desperately need healing.

“A lot of these kids have never been on a horse before—or even left the city before. Charlie was rescued and he has a purposeful life now,” she says. “Hopefully, these kids can learn to trust and look at the life ahead of them, even though their parents may have made bad decisions".

Adopt a horse: Everybody wins

Since the rescue operation in Tennessee, The HSUS has helped with hundreds of abused and neglected horses in West Virginia, Arkansas, Texas, Maryland, and Wyoming. Many of the horses are now living in loving adoptive homes.

“Charlie’s story shows how rewarding it can be to adopt a rescue horse,” says Keith Dane, Director of Equine Protection for The HSUS. “These horses deserve a second chance at a good life, and Charlie’s certainly getting that second chance now.” And Perrigo has found a “sweetheart” of a horse, who, she writes, “is an absolute joy to ride.” Everybody wins.

Want to adopt a horse?

» Learn how to find an horse to adopt
» Meet the horses up for adoption at the Doris Day Horse Rescue and Adoption Center

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