The cream-colored mare was pacing, criss-crossing her pen in the cobweb-strewn barn. When they found her on an Ohio property in November 2022, our Animal Rescue Team immediately noticed her ruptured eye, which had scarred over.

Magnolia the horse being rescued.
Magnolia was found pacing in a dark barn.
Meredith Lee

Named Magnolia, the mare, 15 other horses, six goats and several cats and dogs were rescued from the property and transported to a safe location to receive veterinary care. Laura Koivula, the Humane Society of the United States’ director of animal crimes and investigations, began looking for organizations to take them in.

After a veterinary examination revealed Magnolia was also blind in her other eye, Koivula knew she needed a very specific home. Finding an adopter with experience caring for a blind horse would be difficult, Koivula says. Magnolia needed a permanent placement where she could learn her surroundings. This Old Horse—a Minnesota sanctuary for disabled and elderly horses—seemed like the perfect fit. Not only did they have experience caring for disabled horses, but they had a small herd of blind horses who could provide companionship.

In December of last year, This Old Horse welcomed Magnolia. Volunteers Karen Duncan and Heidi Oxford—who sponsor Magnolia’s ongoing care and help care for her themselves—say she was disengaged at first, standing turned away from people in her stall. After undergoing surgery to remove her ruptured eye, Magnolia seemed much more comfortable, says Duncan.

While on stall rest after her surgery, Magnolia was placed next to a small foal named Montana. Magnolia quickly took on a maternal role. Although they were physically separated, the pair stayed close. If Montana left the stall for exercise or for the stall to be cleaned, Magnolia would appear agitated until Montana returned, says Duncan. “Then all was right with the world again.”

Magnolia the horse with her new owner.
Magnolia now lives at This Old Horse in Minnesota and enjoys cuddles with volunteer Heidi Oxford.
Courtesy of Heidi Oxford

After her recovery period ended, Magnolia was ready to meet the sanctuary’s other blind horses. (Montana would go on to get adopted.)

Magnolia again found comfort in another horse, this time a blind chestnut mare named Barbie. She was a “loner” before meeting Magnolia, says Oxford: When the rest of the herd spent time together, Barbie was usually left by herself.

Today, Barbie and Magnolia spend nearly all their time together, standing side-by-side. Both Oxford and Duncan describe Barbie as a “security blanket” for Magnolia.

As the two volunteers continue to grow their own relationships with Magnolia, they hope she will become more confident. They’re already seeing progress: Magnolia is discovering activities she enjoys, including grazing in the field with Duncan and receiving deep tissue massages from Oxford. “I could not have asked for a better situation for her,” says Koivula.

Still, the volunteers take everything at Magnolia’s pace. “When you hear about what a long past they have, you don’t want to demand too much of them when they come here,” says Oxford. “You want them to be on vacation for the rest of their lives.”

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