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Barely Alive Pony Finds Happy Home

More than 150 emaciated horses rescued, one finds sanctuary at Duchess

  • Sway first got her name because of the dip in her back. Her new name at Duchess is Nellie. Jennifer Kunz/The HSUS

Nothing could have prepared law enforcement officials for what they found when they responded to reports of animal cruelty on two separate properties in North Dakota.

Barely alive
The scene was horrific—bodies of horses with their heads stuck through the fence, indicating they were trying desperately to reach the hay on the other side, and living horses who were covered in ringworm, full of internal parasites, and emaciated. Between the two properties, both owned by the same man, the bodies of 99 deceased horses and 157 sick, but alive, horses were found with little access to food or shelter amid brutal winter weather.

Team work
Immediately, organizations from all over the area came to the aid of the animals, including The Humane Society of the United States, whose North Dakota state director Karen Thunshelle delivered blankets to keep the horses protected in the blizzard conditions. Even the Sheriff’s Department and State Attorney’s staff volunteered to care for the animals.

Triple H Miniature Horse Rescue, a local equine rescue, took 119 horses and mules, including 29 of the horses who were in the worst condition. Most of them scored a one on the Henneke horse body condition scoring system, meaning their state was as bad as could be and still be alive. Sway, so-named by one of the vet techs during the rescue because of her extraordinarily swayed back, was one of them. As the weeks passed, the horses healed in the care of Alison Smith, founder of Triple H Miniature Horse Rescue, and volunteers. The sight of protruding hip bones and ribs faded, and the horses regained a healthy condition.

Just one remains
Over time, each of the horses at Triple H Miniature Horse Rescue were adopted, except one—Sway. At more than 20 years of age, with a back condition, and blind in one-eye, Sway was not a candidate for riding and was rarely considered by potential adopters. Thankfully, Sway's chance for a happy home came when Thunshelle, who assisted with the re-homing of many of the horses, coordinated with Duchess Sanctuary to provide sanctuary for her.

On July 21, Sway, now named Nellie, arrived at Duchess Sanctuary in Oregon. Just 13 hands tall, she is small in stature but has proven to have a big personality. She talks to staff and volunteers every morning at breakfast time and particularly enjoys grooming. The quick work and collaboration of multiple individuals and organizations made her bright future possible.

For more information about Nellie and other horses at Duchess Sanctuary, please contact Ranch Manager Jennifer Kunz: jkunz@humanesociety.org. Duchess Sanctuary is operated by The Fund for Animals in partnership with The Humane Society of the United States.

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