A filly found so emaciated rescuers thought she was dead has launched the charity that rehabilitated her into the spotlight after her dramatic story went viral.
Five-year-old Heidi has been in the care of Here4Horses, which had to postpone its official launch when Covid-19 struck, since she was discovered lying in the mud as a three-year-old.
Wendy Suddes, who runs the charity, said she had a “complete mix of emotions” when Heidi’s story unexpectedly “went global”, before the new organisation’s website had even launched.
“We’ve suddenly found donations coming in from Australia and the US,” she said. “I think the images just caught people’s attention as they are truly shocking, and you don’t always get to see images of animals in the condition Heidi was in.”
The 13hh cob was found prone on a building site by a BHS volunteer, who was surprised to see she was still breathing.
“At that point a team from the RSPCA went in, as none of us local rescues have powers of entry, and they called the police,” said Wendy, who has been working with various rescue organisations for the past 15 years.
“At the same time a vet turned up, so did the knacker man — whoever owned the horse must also have thought she was dead and called him. He wasn’t sent away immediately either, as no one was sure if they would be able to get her to her feet.”
Rescuers were able to lift Heidi, and she was just about able to stand on her own.
“Although she had to be virtually carried to the lorry she managed to stay upright all the way to us,” Wendy said. “We do save some that can’t stand but you have to be realistic — usually if they manage to stand up, we will try and do what we can for them.”
Heidi was too worried to lie down for the first week in case she couldn’t get up again, Wendy said, and her carers “ended up having to put her on the floor” so she could rest.
“She was exhausted,” Wendy remembered. “Her blood albumen, the protein that gives you an indication of how ill they really are, was around 10 or 11 when it should be over 30.
“We decided to take blood from some of my healthy horses and she had plasma transfusions which made a big difference.”
Heidi was also treated for lice and worms as well as severe pressure sores, although “starvation was her main issue.”
She is now a fully-grown five-year-old who is a “proper leg-at-each-corner cob, she likes to strut her stuff and is quite a show off”, Wendy said.
She still has sensitive skin from the pressure sores, but after a bit more time to recover from her ordeal, she will be started for riding or driving this autumn.
Heidi is among 40 horses cared for by Here4Horses, which has been operating as a rescue fairly intensively for the past year and a half and registered this year for charity status.
As well as taking in horses, often working with other organisations such as the BHS and RSPCA, the Durham-based charity is also involved with education programmes for owners. Durham has been a particular blackspot for flygrazing and abandoned horses.
“We deal principally with cobs and thankfully, we only see cases as bad as Heidi’s once or twice a year, although I would say more are found dead,” Wendy said. “The situation has improved — around three years ago you would find 10 or 15 dead in a year and, without wanting to get too excited, we are seeing less horses on tethers as well.”
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Education programmes in the Durham area have included castration initiatives, and Wendy is also speaking to owners about whether they should be breeding their animals.
“We’re trying to say ‘if you really must breed coloured cobs, breed bigger ones’. A lot of the ones we see are 12hh to 13hh and are hard to home. If they were 14hh plus there would be a much bigger market and we wouldn’t have the horse crisis we do.”
To make a donation to Here4Horses to help towards the welfare of Heidi and other horses like her, visit the charity’s website.
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