The horses’ owner allegedly starved them to the brink of death, while a fourth horse in his stable did die.
Stephanie Solomon, who is the director of the Knoxville-based "Hooves and Feathers" farm animal rescue organization told the Times News on Monday that the three horses may have only had hours to live when they were rescued on May 29.
"Hours — days maybe,” she said. “It needed to happen right that second."
A body score of one out of nine
The three surviving horses, which Solomon named Faith, Hope and Love, were taken to the University of Tennessee's College of Veterinary Medicine (UTCVM), where they were found to have a body score of one on a scale of one to nine.
Solomon said she can't estimate how long the horses were left without food, but it could have been weeks.
"I don't know what their body score was when he locked them up, but it takes a long time to starve an animal that large," Solomon said. "At a body score of one, they have not only used all their fat stores, but they have also used all their muscle stores as energy to stay alive. They were very weak and very unstable on their feet."
The fourth horse likely starved to death
"The horse that was already deceased had been dead for quite a while," Solomon said. "The smell was horrible, so I didn't even look at it. I really didn't want to."
On May 29, the Hawkins County Sheriff's Office responded to the property of Ershel Thurman Goble, 74, 1333 Old Route 66, Rogersville, on a request for a welfare check on four horses.
HCSO responds to welfare check request
When Deputy Eric Pease arrived at the residence that morning he met Goble, who accompanied Pease to a four-stall shedrow barn, with each horse locked in a separate stall.
Goble reportedly stated that he fed the horses three time per day, and that the one horse had died a couple of weeks ago and he hadn't had a chance to get it buried.
Based on a report by Agriculture Health Inspector John Hodges, however, Pease cited Goble into Hawkins County Sessions Court on four counts of animal cruelty.
Goble is scheduled to appear in Sessions Court on June 10.
Surrounded by healthy grass
What frustrated Solomon was the fact that Goble's barn where he kept the horses is located in a pasture of healthy grass.
Goble reportedly told Solomon he didn't let the horses out to graze because he doesn't have a gate at the entrance of the pasture to keep the horses in.
Hooves and Feathers responded to rescue the three surviving horses at the request of the HCSO.
A long road to recovery
Solomon noted that Faith, Hope and Love were in much better condition after two days at the UTCVM, but they have a long road to recovery ahead of them.
"You have to be really careful about re-feeding, and be really slow about reintroducing food back into their system," Solomon said. "We start with grass hay, and then we introduce a little bit of alfalfa hay, and they won't even get concentrated feed until Friday, and they will start out with a handful. It's 10 days of just hay. We go really slow so we don't shock the system, not cause re-feeding syndrome, and also you can cause organ failure by re-feeding too quickly."
She added, "They're all doing really well. They're loving their hay. All three are very sweet girls. They've just been lovely to be around."
Solomon is optimistic about their prospects for recovery.
It takes 3-5 months to re-feed from a body score of one, so it will be several months from now before they're really, truly healthy.
Hooves and Feathers operates on donations
When the horses are recovered, Hooves and Feathers will find them a home and adopt them out.
Hooves and Feathers is a nonprofit organization that operates solely on donations.
They also don't charge counties for rescuing animals.
UTCVM gives them an 11 percent discount on their medical bills, and Hooves and Feather will cover that as well.
"If he hadn't surrendered the horses to us we could have asked for restitution from him," Solomon noted. "But he did surrender the horses at the time of pickup, so I can't ask him for restitution."
Hooves and Feathers is asking for donations to help pay the vet bills for Hope, Faith and Love.
For more information about making donations, visit the organization’s website at https://www.hoovesandfeathers.org/ or visit its Facebook page.