This is a story of survival. Shotgun, a 10 month old Quarter Horse Paint colt left lying in a puddle of mud with no food, no water, not care, no love. This is a story of human caring. Had it not been for that one person who stopped, he would be dead today. It took only one person seeing him lying there and that person not giving up until someone with authority came to help.
This is a story of love. The love of the volunteers at Roanoke Valley Horse Rescue (RVHR) who gave their time, some long sleepless nights, and some days of non-stop work to make sure that Shotgun had the best chance to live. This is a story of support. The outpouring of donations and concern from the community was inspiring.
On the night of April 30th at 9:00 pm a call was received from Franklin County (VA) Animal Control in regards to a young colt that had been down for an unspecified time. They were removing him from his owner and bringing him to RVHR for a chance to live. At 10:45 pm, in the dark of night, the animal control truck and trailer pulled into the RVHR driveway. This little colt was lifted up by an officer and staff member and carried to the Medical Barn where the in-house medical hoist had been prepared for him. After he had been safely situated in the hoist, staff members began to take over saving this little man’s life and he was given fresh water, grain and hay. He immediately began to eat the grain and hay as if he had never seen these things before. He would not drink his water so the staff started giving him water by hand and syringe. The emergency vet who had been called out to assist the horse with animal control had given him some IV fluids and vitamin and mineral injections prior to his transport. Needless to say, his chance of survival was minimal.
He was named Shotgun. Our Vice President at the time spent the first long night right by his side. After all the other volunteers had left, she could not do much but cry. It was just heartbreaking; he could not even hold his head up! She would give him a syringe full of water at a time, just to keep him hydrated. During the quiet of the night, she gently brushed his mane, tail and body, which was covered with mud and manure. He would look up at her with weak eyes as if to say “thank you”. The next morning, he was kept in the medical hoist until he had more strength. That afternoon, two volunteers walked him with unsteady legs slowly to the wash bay and gently gave him a shower. After a warm soothing shower, RVHR staff was able to assess his condition fully. There are no words to fully explain the condition this tiny colt was in. There was no fat or muscle on any part of his little body. All of his ribs and hip bones were visible. Shotgun was the lowest you could go on the Henneke Scale; he was a “1”.
After his shower, Shotgun was placed back into the hoist to rest his weak and tired legs. Shotgun remained in and out of the medical hoist for weeks to come. We took him out for short intervals and walked him but he was still extremely weak. He still was not drinking an adequate amount, so we began to give him milk replacement formula to help replenish his needed vitamins and minerals.
By May 4th, word had spread throughout the community regarding Shotgun. With the caring support of our local TV and radio stations, donations began to come in to help us take care of him; Grain supplements, bedding and needed medical items along with Gatorade. The staff began to supplement his fluid intake with Gatorade. He quickly made it known that his favorite flavors were grape and red Gatorade.
Once he began to become a little stronger, he was removed from the hoist and was able to lie down in his stall. The staff would let him lie down for 30 minutes at a time. He had to be physically picked up, as he still did not have the muscle to get up on his own. Since most of our volunteers are women, we needed to devise a way to help him them to raise him up. A hand hoist was made for him using two fleece lined saddle girths around his belly and handles on the top. This worked perfectly. Now the volunteers and staff were able to get him standing when he couldn’t do it alone. But, someone needed to be available at all times to get him back standing once he lay down. So someone was always here 24 hours a day.
On May 7th staffers noted edema of his lower hind legs. He was encouraged to move around more and he would be let out of his stall to roam the hallway of the Medical Barn. His favorite place to go was to the volunteer break room, where he knew his favorite Gatorade was.
Due to the edema in his legs, and some hair loss on his legs, 2 staff members spent over 4 hours of their day shaving his coat off of him in order to better access his body. It was a good decision to do so as he was found to have pressure areas and skin sores that had been covered by his hair. Now these could be treated.
Each day Shotgun was gaining strength. Everyone always made sure that he had fresh water, all the hay he wanted to eat and we were continuing to feed him 4 times a day. He only needed minimal assistance to get up. He could use his front legs, but had problems getting his hind legs under him. Staff would perform physical therapy exercises on his hind legs when he was lying down to help him regain muscle tone.
Then the day came four weeks after his arrival!!! Shotgun stood up on his own. There was laughter and tears in the barn that day. Once he was able to get up on his own, his survival chances could be raised. How his chance of survival was around 75%. He was doing it! He wanted to live, and he was a fighter. Staff members remained with him for the next 2 nights, just to make sure there were no problems. Finally, sleep for the sleep deprived volunteers.
As each day passed, Shotgun began to gain weight and move much better. His gait quickened and he began to make the morning feeding rounds with staff members for exercise. This also helped him to rebuild muscle as there were hills that he had to walk up and down. So things settled into a route of Shotgun making his morning rounds and then having free run of the Medical Barn. He had daily visitors who always came with treats. Yes, he was beginning to become rather spoiled.
He was given a stall mate, Princeton, another 11 month old colt who was very skittish of people, as he had come to RVHR under similar circumstances, although not as thin as Shotgun, thin none the less. The amazing thing was to watch Shotgun and Princeton together. Shotgun taught Princeton that he didn’t need to be afraid of people and Princeton was teaching Shotgun how to be a horse again, to eat on his own and stand on his own. Each day Shotgun was getting stronger and growing back muscles in a body that had none. Within the first 4 weeks he gained 80 lbs.
Unfortunately, only time will tell the extent of damage that the starvation has done to his little body. His growth has been stunted and more than likely, he will have medical issues in the future.
Shotgun’s past owner was found guilty of animal cruelty for nearly starving Shotgun to death. She was sentenced to 12 months in jail and the judge sent her directly to jail after the hearing. She was also fined $2500.00, the maximum for a cruelty charge. She was also prohibited from owning any animals, including dogs, cats or horses in the county in which she lives.
Shotgun’s story does not end here. Today he is strong and healthy and a permanent resident at RVHR. He spends his days now out in a paddock with the mares and their foals. He is beginning to be taught with the other yearlings his ground work and manners. He will be given all the love and care that he deserves for the rest of his days. If ever a horse had a right to be nasty, mean and belligerent, it would certainly be Shotgun but, he has the biggest, sweetest heart you could ever see in a horse.