It took courage to begin a horse rescue sanctuary last year north of Rogersville in the Clinch Valley community not knowing if or how the community, or the Good Lord, would provide the resources they needed.
Since being approved for its nonprofit status in October of 2012, TEARS has taken in 30 unwanted, neglected, and in some case, starved horses.
Bird and Hull will tell you the fact they been able to manage the rescues, and save the lives of these horses with their limited resources, is nothing less than a miracle.
One of the worst cases was a horse rescued from a Mooresburg residence in late March. That horse was so close to death that Bird and Hull decided to name it “Courage.”
“The fact that Courage is alive and healthy today is nothing less than a miracle,” Hull said. “If you saw what we went through to save his life you’d understand why we call him our miracle horse.”
In his first month at TEARS, Courage could only stand for a short time before having to lie down.
And once he was down, Courage didn’t have the strength to get back up.
A horse can die if it lies flat for too long, and to save Courage’s life a neighbor brought a tractor over to hoist Courage back on his hoofs.
Later they built a sling to keep Courage upright when he was too weak to stand on his own.
During Courage’s recovery in early April, TEARS spent more than a week rescuing 13 horses from pastures on AFG Road, a process which was stifled by bad weather.
As a result of the AFG Road rescue, and the long hours spent caring for Courage, Bird missed too much work and lost her job as an electrician’s apprentice.
Bird said that saving Courage and the AFG horses was more important to her, and if she had her way she would make horse rescue her full-time job.
“How can it look bad that I chose to care for the horses over my job when this is what I am here for,” Bird said. “When the AFG horses needed us we had to do what we had to do.”
Hull said she believes most vets would have euthanized Courage after his rescue. The TEARS vet told Hull and Bird that as long as Courage continued eating he wouldn’t put him down.
They spent most of two months living in the barn with Courage, keeping him alive.
Feeding a starved horse is a long process of teaching its digestive system to work again and getting the body to gain weight.
During the process the body begins to renew itself and the horse loses all of its hair.
When Courage’s hair grew back it was almost bronze.
“He is a happy horse,” Hull said. “As you can see from the two pictures, he doesn’t even look like the same horse. He is amazing and inspires us to dig deeper within ourselves to make this work.”
Today Courage is almost completely recovered. They initially named him Courage because that’s what it took to save his life. If they had it to do over again they might have named him Miracle.
“That’s a good name, and we’re saving it for a future horse,” Hull said. “Probably the next time we need a miracle (to save a horse), that will be the name we give it.”
Success stories like Courage’s come with a price. Although TEARS has rescued 30 new horses, it has only adopted out four, and the cost for feed alone is about $400 per week in the summer and $800 per week in the winter.
When Bird and Hull moved to Hawkins County six years ago they became known as horse lovers who would take in neglected horses. They knew there was a demand for a horse rescue in Hawkins County because they were already rescuing horses and adopting them out before they received their nonprofit status in October.
But that was one or two horses at a time. They didn’t expect to bring in 30 horses in six months, most of which were referred by the Hawkins County Sheriff’s Office.
The Hawkins County Commission’s Budget Committee has approved a $3,000 contribution for TEARS in the proposed 2013-14 fiscal year budget, but the final decision will fall to the full commission.
Commissioner Danny Alvis, who is also vice president of the Hawkins County Humane Society describes TEARS as a “godsend” to Hawkins County.
“That mother and daughter, when you talk to them you can see where their heart is,” Alvis said. “It’s in caring for these horses, and I hope this $3,000 goes through. I’m not in favor of spending the taxpayers’ money on just anything, but this will be money well spent. That’s two fine people and their heart is in it.”
Alvis noted that the Humane Society doesn’t have the facilities, nor the resources, to care for neglected horses.
Hull said the $3,000 will be put to good use.
“I’ve got a lump in my throat just thinking about it,” Hull said. “It’s been a tough summer. Mollie lost her job, and Courage cost us so much money to save. We’ve got vet bills, and getting these horses farriered, and taking care of everything just financially got really tough.”
Hull added, “Some of these horses we’ve rescued were pregnant, so were not just taking in the horses that were starving. We’ve already had one horse birth, and we’ve got all these others that came to us pregnant, so we’ve got babies coming.”
TEARS has some small monthly supporters, but so far the sanctuary has been surviving on faith. As with Courage’s survival, Hull says the fact that TEARS has continued to meet the demand to this point is nothing short of a miracle.
“We do what we have to do to acquire what we have to acquire for them, and it’s kind of a miracle,” Hull said. “If we need hay we can make a phone call and somebody will come up with a load of hay. It seems to come through when we least expect it, whether it’s a $100 donation or a $200 donation, grain donations, or hay donations, it seems like every time we have a specific need, it shows up.”
Anyone interested in making a donation to TEARS can call (423) 272-6599 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.