Cheryl Rogers got a sad delivery at her Leesburg farm last week--six starving horses from West Virginia.
Rogers, who with her mother runs the Equine Rescue League, took in three Arabian fillies, one Belgian draft horse and an Arabian mare and her 6-day-old foal, victims of a family's hard times. That brought the number of horses in the Rogerses' care to 55.
Humane Society officials seized the new arrivals at a Morgan County farm, where they were found confined in small stalls and suffering from malnutrition, dehydration, overgrown hooves, lice and internal and external parasites. All of the horses were very weak.
"They need a lot of love and care," said Rogers, as she helped veterinarian Ray Hyde examine the fillies. "They were lacking the basics of life, like fresh air and adequate food and water. They had to put everything they had into survival."
Running the 68-acre Churchland Farm costs about $10,000 a month. The animals, all awaiting adoption, are in various stages of recovery from neglect and abuse. They have come from Prince William, Fairfax and Loudoun counties, and Pennsylvania and Maryland.
Hyde and Rogers said horses are neglected for two reasons: Their owners don't know how to care for them or try to care for too many horses at once. In this case, the owner had been warned several times, but she told officials at the Morgan County Humane Society that she was having personal and financial troubles and was unable to feed both her children and her animals.
Seven other horses from the Morgan County farm went to a similar rescue operation in Mount Airy, Md.--as part of a deal that no charges would be pressed. The woman was allowed to keep a few horses, and Humane Society officials said they will check on those animals periodically.
Rogers said the six new horses will require an additional $500 a month for high-protein feed, milk replacer pellets for the fillies and the new mother, hay, bedding and worm medicine. That's money the nine-year-old nonprofit group, which operates through donations, doesn't have, Rogers said.
In addition, she is worried that the drought will leave little hay and feed for winter. "There's no hay shortage yet," Rogers said. "But come January or February, we may be fed out." Still, she said she could not turn the animals away because they were in such bad shape.
Rogers pointed to the weakest filly, which she named Chloe. The filly's rib cage poked through her scruffy chestnut-colored coat, and her stomach was bloated by worms. Rogers said the 4-month-old filly should be more alert, more active and 100 pounds heavier, but she was found tied up in a stall with two other fillies, now named Shalmar and Faline.
"They're just a mess," she said. But within days, they were were trotting around the pasture and kicking their heels at each other.
A few stalls down, the Belgian mare, Katie Jean, moved her head back and forth between the hay-covered floor and her water bucket. "She hasn't stopped eating since she got here," said Rogers, who estimated her age at 8 or 9. In a 30-minute procedure, Hyde filed down her overgrown teeth and removed a half-inch-high tooth, known as a "hook," that made it difficult for her to chew.
At about 1,100 pounds, she was nearly 500 pounds underweight. Her diet now consists of eight to 10 quarts of pellet feed, four times a day, and unlimited hay and grass.
In the corner stall, marked "Warning--Quarantine," are the mother and her filly. The mother, Arabella, a flea-bitten gray whose light coat is flecked with brown, hovers over her filly, Ruby Slippers, named for her red color and her white socks.
The pair were found in a stall four inches deep in manure with nails sticking out of broken boards in the walls, said Rogers, who went with Humane Society officials to the house.
"I'm amazed this little thing didn't get infected and lived," Rogers said as the filly nuzzled her.
Rogers's mother, Pat, playfully pinched Ruby Slippers, as the filly skipped from one end of the stall toward her mother and began nursing. Already, the mare's milk is more nutritious as she eats about 12 pounds of grain a day.
The Morgan County owner and her family "were in over their head with too many animals," said Sue Jordan, the shelter manager of the Humane Society of Morgan County. "They just got in on bad times."
Pat Rogers got into the business when she attended an auction while she worked on a farm in Lucketts and didn't have the $7 it would have taken to save a horse named Bitsy from being sold for slaughter. She said she promised Bitsy she would save other horses. At Churchland Farm, which she and her daughter rent from the county for $651 a month, she likes to show off the success stories.
Pat Rogers keeps dozens of framed pictures of "before" and "after" photographs on the walls of a makeshift office between stalls.
Finding adoptive owners can be tough because there is an overpopulation of horses, much like dogs and cats. Before someone adopts a horse, the Rogerses run background checks and inspect the barn where it will live; they later follow up to see how the animal is cared for. The most important thing, they said, is sending the horse to an environment where it will be loved.
For information, contact the Equine Rescue League at 703-771-1240 or P.O. Box 4366. Leesburg, Va. 20177.
CAPTION: Cheryl Rogers, of the Loudoun Equine Rescue Center, looks at Katie Jean, a malnourished Belgian mare from a West Virginia farm.
CAPTION: Katie Jean, who recently arrived at Churchland, pokes her head out of the quarantine stable.
CAPTION: Chloe, a 4-month-old Arabian, grazes in the quarantined paddock at Churchland Farm in Leesburg. Chloe and several other horses who recently moved to the 68-acre farm were suffering from malnutrition, dehydration, overgrown hooves and lice. "The were lacking the basics of life," Rogers said.