This is the story of Whisper, his fight to survive and the people he has inspired through his courage and determination.
On March 2nd, 2012, Elizabeth Steed, founder of LEARN Horse Rescue, received two horses into the rescue that were removed from a farm in Berkeley County following a tip from a concerned citizen. Berkeley County Animal Control had received a call about a horse that was very thin and possibly injured. Animal Control went to the residence and found four horses in substandard conditions, at best. One of them, a paint horse, was in a small round pen in the middle of a corn field with no shelter and was standing in manure and hay up to his pasterns.
LEARN took in two of the horses, Traveler and Whisper. The worst of the four horses was a three year old paint stallion, soon to be named Whisper. He had severe rain rot and the owner had tried to treat it with kerosene and spent motor oil. He was a .5 on the Henneke Scale* and had 1st, 2nd and 3rd degree chemical burns to over 60% of his back and side. His wounds were left untreated and were infested with thousands of maggots. Elizabeth Steed stated that in her 30+ years of rescuing animals, this is the worst case she had encountered.
The initial thought was to euthanize the horse to end his suffering. The vet felt as though he could be saved so LEARN agreed to take him. His blood work was almost normal, which is very unusual for such a severe starvation case. Elizabeth felt there was more to this horse than skin and bones and so began his road to recovery. His pasture mate, Traveler, was also severely neglected and starved.
Elizabeth spent the first five days with Whisper around the clock. He was immediately hooked up to IV fluids and treatment began on his wounds. Water therapy and debridement sessions of his back and sides were a daily task for Elizabeth and the volunteers at LEARN. In addition to treatment with SSD Ointment, his wounds were covered with pads and he was fitted with a turn out sheet. Whisper required constant care due to his condition. A horse in such critical condition can go downhill very fast and without warning. Under Elizabeth's care Whisper began to improve at an unbelievable rate.
Whisper made a miraculous recovery. Today he weighs in at a healthy 1100 lbs. which is amazing since he arrived weighing only 640 lbs. His back and side have almost completely healed and luckily he did not have to undergo any kind of skin graft procedures, which was the initial thought. He has some very minor lung damage from the chemical vapors, which gave him a slight whinny during his recovery - hence the name Whisper. This is almost gone too - you can hear it a little as he is snoring during his daily naps after breakfast. He loves treats and isn't too shy about sticking his head out of his stall and reminding you of this fact. We would like to research his background one day. Looking at him, you can tell there is more to his story.
It's hard for many who visit the rescue to imagine Whisper as anything other than the handsome, healthy and often silly horse he is today. Other than a scar on his side and the need for night time turn out and day time turn in to avoid sunburn, he is just like any other horse. Except that he's not because both his physical and emotional recovery are what horse rescuer's hope for every rehabilitated horse. Whisper will live out his days at LEARN entertaining his "staff" and being pampered by his admirers.
Whisper's story is hard to read and his intake pictures difficult to look at however, his suffering will not be in vain. Hopefully his story will be a teachable moment for generations to come. As a society, we can take our anger and disgust for the responsible parties, coupled with our care and concern for these horses, and harness it for positive changes. We can use their plight as a “call to action”, lobbying for stronger large animal care laws, education for animal control officers and our youth, and minimum standards of care for equine in our state. This type of senseless suffering should be a thing of the past. We can do better, the animals certainly deserve better, and we need your help to continue the action we are called to provide.
*The Henneke Scoring System is a scientific method of evaluating a horse’s body condition regardless of breed, body type, sex or age. It is now widely used by law enforcement agencies as an objective method of scoring a horse’s body condition in horse cruelty cases. It rates the horses on a scale of 1 to 9. A score of 1 is considered poor or emaciated with no body fat. A 9 is extremely fat or obese. Horse veterinarians consider a body score of between 4 and 7 as acceptable. A 5 is considered ideal.
Unfortunately we frequently receive calls from animal control agencies throughout South Carolina who have seized horses in similar shape to Whisper's upon his arrival at the L.E.A.R.N. This happens far too often and puts quite a burden on horse rescue organizations who are mainly funded by private donations and small grants. We welcome the day when there are no more neglected horses needing our help. We would love to become unneccessary. Until that day, with the support of our community, we will continue to do our best to rehabilitate these deserving souls.