Michigan rescue group helps save starving horses

By Lynn Moore
The Muskegon Chronicle

MUSKEGON, Mich. (AP) - The veterinarian believed the starving horse was close to death, lingering on the brink of this world and the next, when he summoned Nancy Smith.

The stallion had lost half his body weight. Barely able to stand on hooves painfully infected with thrush, the horse Smith would come to know as Chrome, had given up. At least that's what Smith believes.

She's convinced that had her horse rescue group, Points North Horse Rescue, not been called that day in late August, Chrome would have been lost.

"He was the one we thought was going to die," said Smith, a captain with the Muskegon County Sheriff's Mounted Unit. "He was on death's door."

A second stallion named Virgil, painfully thin after an estimated three months without food, was removed on an emergency basis that day. The veterinarian gave both stallions 24 to 48 hours to live, Smith said.

Two mares and a filly also removed the same day "were as bad as the first two," Smith told The Muskegon Chronicle. They were the second group of horses to be removed from the farm in Muskegon County's Cedar Creek Township. Four days earlier, the veterinarian who had been alerted by sheriff deputies asked for Smith's help removing two mares and a stallion.

On a scale of 1-9, with 1 emaciated and 9 morbidly obese, five of the eight horses were scored at a 1, she said. They were starving.

Court records show the breeding farm is owned by Krystal Lynn Smith, the elected supervisor for Cedar Creek Township. Smith, 39, has been charged with animal neglect, a misdemeanor that is punishable by up to a year in jail as well as a possible order prohibiting her from owning horses in the future.

Chrome, Virgil and Helga, one of the mares that were rescued in August, are owned by Krystal Smith.

A jury trial is scheduled for today.

Several phone messages seeking comment that were left on both Smith's personal phone and at township hall were never returned.

It was by far the largest horse rescue that Points North has conducted, Nancy Smith said. Previously, the most it had rescued at one time were three horses, she said.

More than two months after their rescue, all the rescued horses have gained more than 200 pounds each. Chrome, Virgil and Helga are thriving at local farms where they have been placed while Krystal Smith's criminal case winds through the courts. Most of the other rescued horses have been returned to their owners.

Most of the horses spent the first month and a half at the Muskegon County Fairgrounds, where they were quarantined and nursed back to health.

Chrome, the sickest horse, was 596 pounds when he was rescued. It was tough to leave the depressed, scared and emaciated stallion that first night, said Nancy Smith's husband and horse rescue partner, Rob Smith.

"(Nancy) said basically we're leaving this in God's hands," he said.

The young stallion was still alive when they returned the next day. But he wasn't drinking, and in fact went 36 hours without drinking - about the limit a horse can go without water, Nancy Smith said.

"He was the one we thought would die," she said. "He was on death's door."

They tried bottled water and flavored water, but Chrome wouldn't drink. They later discovered that his teeth had not been filed and were cutting into his mouth so severely that blood rushed out when a dentist flushed the stallion's mouth.

So it was a godsend when the rain came. A young dedicated 4-H Club member stood with Chrome for three hours in that rain. She stood with him as he ate soggy grass - consuming just enough water to keep him alive, Smith said.

Now on the mend, Chrome's personality is starting to show.

"He's very social and he loves people," Smith said. "He's actually the clown of the bunch."

Still not out of the woods is the young filly named Amarah.

She was born at Krystal Smith's farm where her mother had been sent to be bred. But the mare, unbeknownst to her owner in Florida, already was pregnant.

When Nancy Smith arrived to rescue the horses, young Amarah was in a corral with two stallions. "Deplorable" is how she described the setup.

At just 18 months, Amarah was pregnant - a very dangerous situation for a filly that young, Nancy Smith said.

"She's a little tear-jerker," she said. "This whole thing about her being bred is very scary."

Amarah's growth has been stunted and the filly affectionately called "chocolate pudding pie" stands at about half the height she should be. And because she's pregnant, she may never catch up.

"Everything about her looks like a weanling," Smith said, referring to a horse under a year old.

Delivery could prove fatal for both mother and baby. If she survives, Amarah will remain with the rescue organization. Her mother's owner in Florida doesn't want her.

It was a bit of a fluke that the horses were discovered, Nancy Smith said. There had been rumors something was wrong at the farm that no one could chase down, she said. Krystal Smith kept visitors away from the horses.

"She had everybody fooled that everything is just lovely," Nancy Smith said.

But then a visitor's child went wandering and when the visitor found the child, she discovered much more. That's when the Muskegon County Sheriff's Office was summoned.

Several of the horses have since been returned to their owners. Pumpkin, a mare, is being boarded with an agent of her owner, a veterinarian from the east side of the state. Murdock, a stallion since gelded, has returned to his owner in Virginia who had arranged and paid for his rehabilitation until he was well enough to travel. And Faith, Amarah's mother, has returned to Florida.

Mouse, a mare, has returned to her owner, a 14-year-old girl from Grant. The girl had bought Mouse from Krystal Smith and had sent the mare back to the farm to be trained. She had even brought feed to the farm for her horse, making it difficult for Nancy Smith to understand how the mare ended up starving.

Owners who thought they were sending their horses to a safe breeding farm were shocked. Even prior owners of horses that were removed called Nancy Smith following the rescues.

"They were very emotional," Smith said. "Some of the calls were an hour and a half."

Six more horses left at the farm are being monitored by the sheriff's department.

The rescues took a toll on Nancy and Rob Smith's horse rescue operation. Points North Horse Rescue used up its entire $2,000 savings within the first couple of weeks on such needs as dental care, hoof trimming, de-worming, food and hay.

They received big donations of feed and supplements that helped them get through initially.

One young woman from Flint drove across the state to deliver 400 pounds of feed.

"We actually started tearing up," Rob Smith said. "We've never asked for anything. We never asked for help."

But with winter coming, they will need to buy grain at a cost of at least $1,000 per month. They also will continue to have care and vet bills, including some big expenses for Amarah as she prepares to deliver her foal.

If anything good came out of the horses' suffering, it would be the groundswell of support from people willing to pitch in and help, Nancy Smith said.

"This opened up a whole new group of people willing to volunteer, willing to help," she said.

The Smiths already have their hands full. Their rescue sanctuary cares for 14 horses, some of which are used in therapy programs for humans with such conditions as autism. One is used by a deputy in the sheriff's mounted unit. Others are used by young 4-H members who don't have their own horses.

Some 4-H members recently held a fundraiser at the Fruitport Tractor Supply Co. for the rescued horses, complete with raffles and an animal costume competition.

Published: Wed, Dec 05, 2018