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After being credited with bringing attention to 18 other neglected horses at a Lyme farm, Tucker the "hero pony" arrived at North Branford's All the Kings Horses Equine Rescue (ATKHER) in pitiful condition in April. While he's gone on to enjoy a life with a storybook ending, other horses still need help. Non-profit ATKHER is reaching out to the community for assistance. Photo from ATKHER Facebook)
After three horribly neglected horses arrived at non-profit All the Kings Horses Equine Rescue (ATKHER) in April, Mary Santagata and her extraordinary volunteers went into overdrive to help. Now, fundraising efforts are underway to help continue to care for all the animals supported by ATKHER.
Since 2010, Santagata and her supporters have helped rescue and rehome dozens of animals out of ATKHER's facility on Forest Road.
Among the three neglected horses Santagata gathered up in April was "hero pony," Tucker. On April 12, little guy made news after he escaped his neglected pen in Lyme and reached a distant neighboring home. Tucker managed the trip despite hoofs so overgrown his heels couldn't touch the ground. His startling appearance led neighbors to call animal control officers. They tracked down Tucker's home and found 18 other suffering members of his herd; as well as a small assortment of other farm animals at risk.
"Tucker was like a rocking horse. His heels never touched the ground," said Santagata. "And the neighbors weren't close. How many horses leave their yard that has other horses? He left his herd and got help. It was pretty crazy."
Santagata, who also works for CT Dept. of Agriculture, credits veterinarian Dr. Lara Gardner (Killingworth), contacted by the state to help respond to the Lyme horses, with making sure the horses found assistance and temporary homes. The owner of the horses turned over custody of the animals.
In April ATKHER was already at capacity with 14 animals under care at its North Branford barns. But that didn't stop Santagata from wanting to help the Lyme horses. She called Gardner to let her know ATKHER would help. Santagata ended up taking three of the worst cases among a herd with multiple issues.
"I said, 'Call me up with the ones that need to get out now; and I'll pick them up tonight,'" said Santagata. "We're overfull, so those three went directly to my personal house."
In addition to Tucker's overgrown hooves, which were properly trimmed by a farrier at ATKHER, "...he had foundered, "said Santagata, adding follow up medical attention indicates either Cushing's Syndrome or other metabolic issues. Despite his challenges, Tucker's show of heart quickly captured the hearts of those in the equine community. In one of ATKHER's most rapid and remarkable success stories, Tucker was recently adopted and now lives on pastural property with a beautiful barn Santagata describes as a "castle." Tucker also enjoys the companionship of another pony, Maxwell.
"The woman who ended up adopting him saw his picture in a story that just ran in Connecticut Horse Magazine," said Santagata. "They're neighbors to a family member of ours who's also an adopter. I've admired that barn for years and I was just so excited when I found out she wanted to take care of him."
ATKHER is still caring for the two other horses rescued from the neglectful situation in Lyme. Both arrived unkempt, thin and in a state of crisis. One horse, 15 year-old Pepper, had on-site surgery May 13 to remove an eye due to an aggressive Squamous Cell Carcinoma tumor. Santagata thanks a team of five from Fairfield Equine who performed the surgery.
"It was cancerous tumor that was very involved, so they couldn't save his eye, which had vision," said Santagata.
She said a horse in good care would have avoided that situation early on with a common procedure known as third eyelid removal.
While Pepper's aggressive carcinoma has been abated for now (chemo beads were implanted in the eye socket) "...his prognosis is not too good – it's probably coming back," said Santagata. "It could be six months, it could be ten years. But he is doing wonderfully right now. You can already see it in how he presents himself and how he's eating. He's happier."
The third rescued horse, Rain, is still under medical care for a lower leg wound that was submerged in mud.
"She has a horrific wound on her leg and all her infection was draining through her hoof wall," said Santagata. "She looks so much better now; and the wound looks better now that we're over five weeks into caring for it. Her situation was the most deadly if she didn't get better."
To help defray the costs of serving all of the animals in the care of ATKHER, Santagata recently launched a fundraising logo shirt sale (available to purchase through May 30). The unisex and ladies T-shirts, long-sleeve shirts and sweatshirts are available online here (a link is also posted on ATKHER's Facebook page). The black shirts feature the ATKHER graphic/logo on front and "Keep Calm and Rescue On" on back.
In addition, as the current number of ATKHER rescues are "...eating us out of house and barn," Santagata is encouraging supporters to "Buy a Bale" through a promotion organized by Meriden Feed & Supply. Call (203) 237-4414 to make a credit card purchase; hay bales will go directly to ATKHER.
"People can buy a bale of hay, for a little over seven dollars, and put it on a credit card," said Santagata.
Also set to support ATKHER is a Sunday, June 26 fundraising dinner from 6 p.m. – 9 p.m. at Grand Apizza North (North Haven). The restaurant is offering a full dinner (salad, specialty chicken dish, penne a la vodka and more) to each ticket holder. Tickets, $25, are available by contacting email@example.com
"They are contributing all the food for the meal, so 100 percent of the ticket sales will go to All the Kings Horses Equine Rescue," said Santagata.
Santagata said she's privileged to be part of a community making a difference in the lives of at-risk equines, such as responding to help horses in need in April.
"The community just got together," said Santagata. "There are at least two other rescues I know of who took some of the horses in, and the rest went to Lara Gardner's veterinary clinic (Gardner Equine) and her clients. Everyone stepped up."