Beyond The Fence Line

Equine Rescue

The Bitter Battle


Tigger  Sassy

It was January of 2005.  I had been looking for a horse of my own.  My husband found himself a registered paint mare, Patches and my daughter a registered paint gelding, Warrior.

I found a smaller mare on the internet for $500.  She was a bay, very pretty little thing, 5 years old.

I called and made an appointment to go see her.  When I arrived I saw 2 horses standing near the gate, one came right up to me and let me touch his face.  He really caught my eye and my heart.  The mare I had come to see wouldn’t even come near me or the gate.   Their names were Brownie (mare) & Tigger (gelding).

 We walked back to the car and I talked with the owner.  I was really interested in the gelding and not the mare I had seen on the internet.  She said she wasn’t sure if they wanted to get rid of him but that if I did take them both she’d give me a deal.  I took them both.  Brownie was born May 4th 1999 and Tigger was born April 19, 1997

Because of snow storms I arrived sometime in February 2005 to pick them up.  I was walking from the trailer with a halter & lead and the women asked “You don’t think you’re going to lead them in do you?”  I was dumbfounded and didn’t know what to say but realized that they must have had no training whatsoever by her response.  I finally said “I thought I might.”

Instead we backed the trailer up to a small enclosure the owners had put them in before our arrival.  The 2 horses were very upset and nervous.  We did manage to get a halter on the gelding and managed to just pull him into the trailer.  We thought the mare would follow him in but no such luck.  We finally got her in without a halter on but did get her haltered after she was inside.  The guy I had hired to haul them said to me “I hope you got a good deal on these two.”  It took about 2 hours to get them loaded.

Upon our arrival home we opened the rear of the trailer and got the mare out.  She bolted.  The gelding was much better behaved but still a bit nervous.  The hauler was kind enough to help getting her back.  I was worried we’d never catch her as wild as she was.

 The two horses settled in very nicely.  I tied them both up and spent lots of time brushing and just talking to them.  I had my grandkids pet their heads and talk to them.  We were finally able to walk right up to Tigger.  Brownie was another story though, she was horrified of people.   

I used to take Tigger for walks down the long driveway, letting him graze here and there.  We formed a real bond and he ended up trusting me.  I saddled him up and my daughter sat on his back for a few moments until a car drove in and we were unsure how he would act around it, so she got off. 

I had a trainer out to start working with Brownie.   The trainer could get up to her in the pasture with time.  I then changed Brownie’s name to Sassy because she still didn’t want any part of people. 

I had decided to send Tigger off to a trainer and because of it I had to have a coggins test done.   I hadn’t had horses since the 1970’s so I didn’t know horses were supposed to have coggins before a purchase.  Back then we never did this test.  I was told by the previous owners that the horses had never left the farm so they never had coggins testing done on them.

I arrived home from work on Thursday afternoon for lunch and my husband was sitting on the swing on our front porch.  I knew something was terribly wrong by the look on his face.  He told me the news…..Tiggers test was positive for EIA.   I cried.  I was shaking; I didn’t know what to do.  I skipped work and went out to see Tigger.  He was a healthy, beautiful horse.  How could he have this disease? We received a call immediately from the State Vets that they needed to come out to test the other horses and see if any others were positive also.  The farm & entire herd was quarantined.  We made the appointment and the week wait for the results was the longest week of my life.  I kept thinking…who would it be that was also positive.  I kept thinking it maybe the registered paint named Warrior.  I never thought it would be anyone else.    

The day finally came and it was Sassy, Tiggers sister.  I think the next few days I was in a trance.  I don’t remember much of anything.  I spent as much time with the horses as I could. Tigger and I grew closer and closer.  I had someone come out and photograph us together.

It was a wonderful time for us.  I had several phone calls from the state veterinarians telling me what I had to do next.  The farm was quarantined and the horses couldn’t leave and none could be brought in.  We were supposed to get a sign stating the quarantine but it never happened.  The law stated we had to have 300 yards to keep positive horses from others and no matter how hard we tried the most we could come up with was about 275 yards.  It wasn’t enough, the state wouldn’t budge.   I started posting in a group I belonged to and I ended up being scrutinized for keeping the horses alive.  I received nasty emails but I also received comforting emails.  I asked many, many questions of the state vets that remain to this day unanswered.  Questions like what are the statistics this day of EIA positive horses?  How many horses have actually died from the disease and not the test?  Where are the records kept of actual cases in Wisconsin?  Why haven’t the internet sites been upgraded from years ago with current info?  To this day my questions have been unanswered.  I was told they don’t have the records.  How can they not have the records? Why wasn’t anyone ever sent out to test the blood of my horses and use it for studies to see just maybe if there would be something that could be done. 

I never did receive the results, the actual papers of the coggins test from any of the tests until I called several times and insisted on getting them.  I couldn’t understand why I didn’t get them.  I had asked for a re-test on Tigger but the vets said they ran both tests, the ELIZA and the AGID.

I searched all over the internet for something or someone that could help me.  I emailed many people.  Meanwhile, the state vets had to come out and freeze brand the horses, a certain mark for death.  It was quite the ordeal.  They tranquilized both horses, shaved their hair on their necks and branded them.  I began spending a lot of time with the two horses.  During this time I’d talk to them, cry, brush them, it seemed almost as if they knew something was horribly wrong.  They became gentler.

One time the other horses were too close and I was terrified and had to get them away quickly, after being with the two for 6 months and not having the disease passed on to them, I suddenly was worried about it.  I had so many mixed emotions my head was spinning.

I found a place in Florida that could help me. They wrote my local vet a letter stating so and that if he would authorize the health certificate they would take the two horses.  It’s a sanctuary for all the EIA positive horses.  Its almost like a stables, or leasing farm but the horses can’t leave.  The sponsors are allowed to come in and care for and also ride the horse they sponsor.  It looked like a wonderful place.  My vet wouldn’t okay it but only because the state vets would not allow the move.  It was getting colder now and there were no flies anymore.  I couldn’t understand why they wouldn’t let me transport them now since there were no flies.  I was told it was too risky. 

After three long hard months of phone calls, emails, and shed tears, I just couldn’t take it any more, the worry, the tears, the emotional trauma was just too much.  All I wanted was that first ride on Tigger but it never happened. 

I made a few phone calls to figure out how to do this.  I asked for prices of everything.  I called the local vet and asked the cost of euthanasia.  If I went with that I had to have someone out to haul them away.  I called about that too.  The cost was more than I could afford since it was double.  The people that were going to pick up the bodies were the same people I ended up driving the horses to.  Sadly it was a rendering plant.  I talked to them several times before making my decision.  I cried over the phone to them.  They were very understanding and sympathetic.  They told me I could bring them and since it was two they would not charge me anything.  This is the only reason I chose this route. 

We set up the appointment to bring the horses to the plant on August 5th 2005.  My husband and I went and loaded the horses up the evening before.  I was devastated.  I couldn’t believe I was going to leave the horses in the trailer overnight I felt guilty.  They were very frightened, I gave them some hay and feed in the mangers of the horse trailer, I also gave them each a bucket of water.  We weren’t sure how or if they would load the next morning so we didn’t want to take the chance.  The state vets would be out to make sure we actually went through with it.  During this entire ordeal I thought often about running off with them.  I just wanted to take them and disappear.  After all, how many people pulling horse trailers ever really got stopped?  I don’t think I slept at all that evening.  I got up and went out by the horses very early; our appointment wasn’t until 10a.m. but I wanted to make sure they were okay.  I gave them some grain and offered them more water.  I had left the side windows open for ventilation.  When I arrived their heads popped out and they neighed to me.  I couldn’t hold the tears back, I talked to them and I can’t even remember what I was saying anymore.  I had to get pictures before we left, pictures of their “last ride”. 

The state vet soon arrived and so we were on our way.  I made snide remarks the entire way whenever I saw another horse.   All I could think of was that I was not allowed to transport them to a sanctuary that housed some EIA positive horses that were still living at the age of 34 but I could transport them to the rendering plant.  I just didn’t understand. 

We arrived at the plant early and some young ladies scurried around getting their horses away because I did tell them they needed to be 300 yards away.  They told me I was early; at this point I really didn’t care about anything.  I drove down the hay field to a small corral where some cows were.  I got Tigger out first.  He was very nervous; I talked with him for a second after tying him up and gave him a hug.  Then I got Sassy, the man at the plant said not to tie them up near each other.  He didn’t want one to see the other go through whatever it was that was about to happen.  So I tied Sassy up behind the big truck and said goodbye to her.  I told the guy “please don’t do anything until I’m gone.”  He said he’d wait until he couldn’t see my vehicle anymore.  I got in my car and drove away so fast.  I did look in the mirror and all I could see was Sassy looking at me drive off as if to say “aren’t you forgetting something?”  I cried so hard I could hardly see. 

It felt like only seconds until I got back to the farm.  I opened the trailer and began to clean up the mess from the overnight stay.  When I was finished I went to the pasture where they had lived just for a look.  It was sad not seeing them there grazing.  All that was left was a half eaten round bale of hay, their empty feed dishes, and the water tank.  I never wanted to leave the farm that day but when I finally did I never wanted to return.

The other horses were tested once again and once again the week wait seemed like an eternity.  The results finally came in and we had purchased some land to move away from the sad memories of this place.  We planned on doing it on the weekend but I couldn’t wait, I wanted to get the other survivors out of their as soon as possible.  At least we still had three healthy horses. 

Shortly after August 5th I received a response from one of the persons I had emailed.  This is what he had to say, if any of the results of the last three came back positive.

            I hope that your next round of Coggins tests will all be negative.  If a test is positive, my lab would be interested to work with your local vet to see if we can get a blood draw to isolate a representative strain of EIAV from your area.  We have few virus isolates to study, because positive horses are put down so quickly.      

            Sincerely, Ron Montelaro

Someday it is my dream to open a rescue for those EIA horses in Wisconsin like the one in Florida so that others don’t have to go through what I did.  Someday, someone will have more fight than I had and keep their horse alive so someone can do some testing.  After all, there will never be a cure or even a treatment without running some kind of test or research on a live horse with the disease.

I’m told that my horses may have never died or gotten sick from this disease and may have never given it away to another horse, since they were housed with three others and never passed it on.  This means the two were more than likely born with the disease and were inaparent carriers, meaning they never would have passed it along to another horse.  We will never know for sure.

 Below is a poem from my trainer that had been working with Sassy before they were put down.  


 When you look beyond the fence line and see that we're not there, Please remember that we'll never forget how much you really cared.

We appreciate all the love you put into our souls,

Often making us feel as though we were, once again, newborn foals. 

When you look beyond the fence line and see an empty space

We're hoping for thoughts of joy to replace those tears on your face.

 Although our time together was taken away too soon

We'll always be watching over you through the sun, the stars and the moon.

When you look beyond the fence line you should not feel all alone

For a part of you came with us the day we went to God's home

And although we didn't want us to, so soon, be put to rest

We assure you, dear friend, that our spirit and soul still feel the very best.

 When you look beyond the fence line and think of us for awhile

Remember all the fun we shared and those times we made you smile. 

Remember how we'd run the fields, but never run away

We'll never forget your gentle touch on our coats of bay.

 So, when you look beyond the fence line don't think we're far apart

For every time you think of us, we're right there in your heart.

-In loving memory of Tigger and Sassy

by Susan Tank