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November 4, 2011

Waldo: Once-Abused Horse Finds Friends, Freedom

After years in recovery from starvation and abuse, a horse now roams with the herd at Duchess Sanctuary

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

  • After years in recovery, Waldo (right) is free to roam with his friends in the herd. Jennifer Kunz/The HSUS

  • Waldo, when he first arrived at Duchess Sanctuary. The HSUS

  • Waldo had to be isolated from the other horses before his surgery and while he learned to trust people again. The HSUS

  • Waldo, finally safe and free on the Oregon range of Duchess Sanctuary. Jennifer Kunz/The HSUS

by Jennifer Kunz

Waldo hasn’t had an easy life. He first came to our Duchess Sanctuary in 2008 as one of 11 starved horses that someone had abandoned to fend for themselves on public land near Mollala, Ore. Emaciated and in awful condition, it took many weeks of care to restore Waldo’s physical health.

His mental healing continues today. We’ll never know what trauma the abandoned horses endured prior to their rescue, but I can only guess that it was awful, given their complete lack of trust in people when they arrived, and their severe reactions to pressure of any kind. When we first got near enough to touch Waldo, he would shudder and jump as if he’d been burned.

To make matters worse, Waldo came to us with a medical condition that meant he needed major surgery. Waldo was a cryptorchid, meaning only one testicle had descended, leaving the other up inside his abdomen. Castrating a cryptorchid requires a general anesthetic, meaning Waldo needed to be comfortable enough with people that we could sedate him before his surgery. We also needed to be able to handle him post-surgery to ensure his complete recovery. His condition also meant that Waldo lived alone in a paddock instead of out with the herd due to behaviors associated with being a stallion.

A turning point

It took months of working with Waldo to gain his trust, but earlier this year, he was finally ready. With a combined group effort from Duchess staff and veterinarians—Dr’s. Blake, Rach, Hendy, and Rainsberry—the surgery was a success. After surgery, Waldo was allowed to recover in his paddock for four weeks.

After his recovery, we began the slow process of reintegrating Waldo into the communal life in a herd. He met three geldings across a fence. Then the geldings joined Waldo in his pen. After that, the small group moved to another paddock with mares in the adjoining paddock. Then, we allowed Waldo to meet his new herd across the fence.

Finally, a safe place among the herd

After monitoring his progress and interactions with all of his future herdmates for many weeks, Waldo was turned out with his new herd in late summer. He now has more friends than he can count and the freedom to roam over many acres with all of them. He may never be the first horse to approach us in the pasture, but he’s no longer terrified and running the other direction. It’s taken almost three years to reach this point, but when I see Waldo nose-to-nose with another horse in the herd, I know our patience has paid off.

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