I think any horse person that's been in the game for any extended amount of time has that horse. That horse that, as hard as they tried, they couldn't fix. Whether it was a training issue you just couldn't conquer that ultimately ended your relationship and shook your confidence to the core, or the old timer that you just couldn't find the fountain of youth for, it effects you. Hard. Sometimes you wonder why you even bother trying. Things could have been so much easier if you had just gotten into jazzercise or watercolor painting instead.
For those of you who are just reading my blog for the first time, in the interest of not repeating myself, here's the background story on how I came to acquire Oliver (it helps to read this first to fully understand the life this little horse came from): KJ Farms: Breeding Torture.
Of the group of four that came from Tom Timms, Oliver worried me the most. Shortly after I left Tom's place in Durand, I stopped to get gas and check on the babies in the trailer. I looked at those legs and feet and the reality of how bad Oliver's situation was hit me.
I took this picture through the slats on my trailer and sent it in a picture message to my farrier, Koren with the message: Can you save him?
She replied that she'd be waiting at my place when I got home.
Looking back at that those four words, Can you save him? I didn't realize then that Oliver's entire life would revolve around that simple question.
Koren is truly a godsend of a woman. She's as patient as she is talented, and when we got home and unloaded, she started where she could with Oliver. Considering he looked like this, I don't know how he managed to stay standing upright during the ordeal, but he made it happen. That alone should be a testament to the will to live and determination that kept this little horse alive for 4 years.
Oliver's hind legs were so severely deformed that he was virtually walking on his tiptoes. This caused his heels to grow continuously, which caused most of the tendons in his legs to contract. As imagined, any forceful stretching of these tendons was extremely painful, and in order to make any real progress, only millimeters at a time could be shaved off of his heels. Ever tried walking in 6" spike heels? That painfully stiff, upright feeling that shoots up the front and back of your legs, through your hips, and up into your lower back? That's what this horse dealt with on a daily basis.
On the other end of the spectrum, Oliver's front feet had grown into "elf shoes", and his heels had grown so far forward, we actually found them 2" in FRONT of where his toe SHOULD have ended, had he been trimmed properly. There was something about Oliver's front right fetlock that deeply troubled me, though I wasn't sure what it was yet. The vet was called.
Oliver's damage went far beyond his feet. He'd never seen any dewormer, vaccines, or dental care at all, and was still an intact stallion living with two mares. The torture of being forced to live side-by-side with those mares as they came into season monthly would have driven him crazy, had he not been in too much pain to mount them. His back legs would not have supported him, had he tried.
Oliver and the others got a bath the following day to try and wash off some of the urine and manure that caked their coats. He certainly wasn't the thinnest horse I'd ever brought home, that's for sure. However, in my book, throwing hay at a horse every now and then and keeping them locked in a pole barn doesn't constitute good horse ownership and I don't care how much advocating one wants to do, there's not a damn thing in this world you can tell me that will convince me that Tom Timms is a good horse owner. It would have been kinder to put a bullet in each one of their foreheads.
In this photo, please keep in mind, this ISN'T mud. They weren't outside, ever. This is the caked on manure and urine that Oliver slept on every night.
This picture is after Oliver's first hoof trimming, you can see how much was able to be taken off of the fronts after only one trim. The hinds are a different story.
The vet came out later that day after baths were given and looked at them, looked at me and said "What the hell did you bring home this time?" Doc knows I have a problem leaving a horse behind, and he also knows that when I can't fix one, I'm the first one to be man (or woman) enough to call him and tell him he needs to come help one cross to the other side. I needed his opinion on Oliver. That right front bothered me, and I sure as hell didn't want to force a horse to suffer when there was no visible light at the end of the tunnel. Doc did an evaluation of Oliver's legs and (this is a very important part): Found no heat or signs of permanent damage except what was in that front fetlock. We did not pull x-rays at that time, deciding to wait until later to make sure he'd make it being able to be adopted out. Oliver's prognosis was "That fetlock is ugly, but he's moving around alright on it, all things considered. He will probably make someone a nice walk, MAYBE trot, trail horse one day." Without x-rays, there's not much else he could have determined, but at that point, he had enough faith in Oliver that I felt a little better about my decision to put off euthanization a few more weeks as long as he kept improving.
That was what I needed. Faith. That was what Oliver needed, too.
Now I know when I'm in over my head, and trust me, these four babies were more than I'd ever undertaken in my life with horses. I also know when to ask for help. I knew that there was no way I'd be able to find someone to take Oliver and give him the kind of home he needed, and I didn't trust just anyone with their word to promise me that he'd never end up in an auction or on a truck bound for Canada. I don't trust people, and people like Tom who will charm you to death while starving his horses out back are part of the reason why. I bought horses and ponies at auction almost every weekend from liars and I've seen the things people will do and justify it in their minds, but Tom is by FAR the worst offender I've ever met. I called Lisa at Day Dreams Farm and asked if she'd take possession of Oliver as an owner surrender. That decision is one I stand behind to this day, I have no regrets. She agreed to accept Oliver and put out a call for help amongst her supporters for donations of hay, dewormer and other supplies to help with the needs of the babies. I agreed to keep Oliver as a foster as long as was needed until he was stable and had enough basic handling to be able to continue rehabilitation at another home.
Oliver and the others got started on our basic "fix what someone else screwed up" deworming and nutrition program, and along with visits from Koren every 2 weeks for a little more filing on the hinds and some trimming and re-shaping on the fronts, he slowly made progress.
Three weeks after arrival, Oliver looked like this:
While still much thinner than he should have been, he spent his days grazing and wandering the yard learning about everything he missed out on in life up until this point. He got dirty, he rolled in the grass, he ate, and he did all the "horse things" he'd spent the last 4 years denied of. He was still receiving regular visits from Koren and seemed to be making progress. His ground manners were developing and he was starting to become the star citizen I hope he'd be. At this point, we'd decided it was time to start searching for a foster that could give him more attention and work toward making him a productive member of society. I wrote an add for Oliver, and used his APHA registered name "Bettin On Boston" (remember, Oliver was the only one of the four with registration papers) and started spreading the word.
Shortly after his ads went up, Lisa received an email from a woman who provided us with some interesting information about Oliver. She was Oliver's original breeder, and had sold him with his mother, "Black Shadow's Bet" while he was still a nursing foal to Tom Timms. Tom had promised her they'd both have a great life at his farm, and that the mare, Joanie, would be added to his broodmare band. Tom lied. Joanie was up for sale all over the internet and is still on the KJ Farms website today. No one knows where she currently is, but all we can hope is that she isn't still suffering at Tom's hands the way her son did. This information means that Oliver DID at some point know what freedom felt like, before Tom shut him away in that dark, disgusting barn for years.
Not long after Oliver's ads went out, a woman on Craigslist was looking for a pasture pal/project horse in need. Through fate, she connected with Lisa and would later become one of the most important people in the little grey horse's life, ultimately giving Oliver his name. These are her words:
Oliver came into my life while on the hunt for a pasture pal for my gelding. My ad from Craigslist was answered within a couple days of posting it by Lisa from Day Dreams Farm. She had asked if I would consider adopting or fostering a horse that was located about 15 minutes away from where my facility was. After hearing the story of this horse, I contacted Jackie and told her I’d be interested in taking a look at the horse. Upon arrival to her facility, my first impression of the little grey horse was shock. I have never seen a horse in such horrible condition. To see a horse’s legs and ankles contorted the way they were due to lack of farrier care was something that made me realize there’s a whole ‘nother side to the horse world that I was unfamiliar with. I doubted my ability to take on this horse and looked at the other babies that had been rescued. Frankly, they all scared me. I looked at the little grey horse again and agreed to give him a foster home.
He came to my place a couple days later. Our time together started off rough. The newly named Oliver had not been handled for four years prior to being rescued. He needed corrective trimming every 3 weeks due to not receiving any farrier care his entire life. He was difficult to trim not only because he was not used to standing for the farrier, but because of the pain that trimming caused him. He had virtually no manners and got increasingly difficult to work with as he gained muscle from walking around his hilly pasture and energy from a proper diet of grass, good hay, and grain. He was resistant at first to listening to me. He preferred to just run me over and strike out at me. I had worked with “problem” horses before, but never one that seemed so disconnected and distant from working and bonding with a human. He always looked through me. He wouldn’t even eat a treat out of my hand. I can only imagine this stems from the four years of isolation from humans he experienced growing up.
As the days and weeks went on, we began to trust each other more and more. I was able to do new things with him such as putting a saddle on, bridling him, walking him over tarps, and lunging. He wore a blanket for the first time when it started to get cold and stood in the cross ties patiently. His manners improved and he actually seemed to like the attention he was getting. I started saddling him and putting weight on him towards the end of my time with him, but our training didn’t go any further. Due to my gelding repeatedly attacking Oliver, I decided he needed to find a permanent home elsewhere. I had posted an ad on Horseclicks for Oliver in an effort to help Day Dreams find an adopter and got a response from Carie. She came out to see him, along with her husband and children, and they all fell in love with him. He was to be their daughter Ashley’s show pony. I was so grateful that this family had made the long drive to come see him and, within weeks, they became his life-long home. At that time, I had no idea that his life would only last one more year. I got to say goodbye to Oliver before he was put to sleep. It was amazing to see how much he grew and how beautiful he turned out to be. I thanked him for teaching me new things and connecting me with good people. I will never forget Oliver and can only wish that his life had lasted much longer than it did. I am so grateful that he got to experience the “good life” and felt the love of a little girl, as every horse deserves.
- Katie H.
After Oliver found himself a permanent home, I personally hauled him down to Carie and her family. Carie is truly a blessing in this world, and with her wonderful husband have raised four beautiful, respectful, well-mannered children. And you all know how I feel about kids. I actually like theirs! I delivered Oliver to their home on October 26, 2011, almost three months from bailing him out of his hell in Tom's barn. Little did I know that less than one year later, I'd be saying my final goodbyes to the little grey horse before laying him to rest and setting him free from a life full of pain.
Oliver spent his days with Carie's family romping in her huge, green pastures, and hanging out with his best friend, a standard donkey named Noah. Noah and Oliver adopted each other and were side-by-side every day. Oliver also got himself a little girl, Ashley. Ashley was nine years old when Oliver came to her and would be taken from her just two week after her tenth birthday. Thank you for that, Tom. I'm sure you really thought about the heart you'd be shattering when you tortured this little grey horse.
After Oliver's passing, I gave Carie and her family a few weeks to deal with their loss, and asked her to write her thoughts down for this blog. I knew it'd be a tough subject to address, and I wanted to be able to include the people who spent the most time with Oliver when sharing his story...
Oliver was so cooperative and was becoming very attached to us. The first time we lunged him, we were amazed at how responsive he was to our voice commands. November 2011, my daughter and I got a bit brave. She wanted to get on him and see if he would let her ride. He did, and without a flinch. It was almost as if his dream came true of having a child on his back that he could give rides to. A few rides later and my then 27 month old child was begging to ride him. Oliver treated him like a piece of glass for the moments he was up there. Never did I have to worry that this horse was going to hurt my children.
Spring came and my children would groom him and get him tacked up to ride. They would take turns walking and trotting him all over our property. They all loved it, even Oliver. The bond was built and my children finally had a horse to call their own. Almost every morning Oliver would be lying down with his donkey friend that he took under his wing. My children would go running outside so they could lay with him and pet his soft face and legs. They would even grab a hoof pick so they could pick his feet and make him clean for the day.
There was one thing that really bothered me, and it was something that I really did not want to face. Oliver was beautiful, his dapples shown, but there was one thing about him that was just awful. He was sore on his front right leg. We had to give him Dormosedan Gel in order to get his hooves trimmed. He just couldn’t stand to bare the weight on that hoof. We were told the joints were probably just fusing and that over some time he should be better. Well, he wasn’t. Late summer 2012, my five year old was trotting him in the pasture with me next to her. I thank God for His grace, because suddenly Oliver’s legs gave way falling face forward into the ground. He struggled and flipped his body as if he knew he could not let this little 30 pound girl fly off. He made it back up with my baby girl still in the saddle. She told me she would walk for a second, but that Oliver needs a rest. I just wanted to scream and cry.
My farrier told me he would talk to his vet and see if she would come out and do some x-rays of his legs. From the moment he told me that, pain set in my heart. I put off telling the kids and let them enjoy the rest of summer with the horse they could call their own. I made some phone calls behind closed doors and tried various things to make Oliver feel better. Deep down in my heart though, I knew his time was coming to an end. His four years of pain and neglect had a stronghold on him. He had grown almost a whole hand taller and filled out a lot causing more pain on his bones and joints. I decided I had to be the responsible owner and get the x-rays taken.
September 26, 2012, exactly eleven months after we had promised him he would have the best life from here on out, we received some of the worst news. The x-rays proved there was irreversible damage to every leg. The worst part, the front leg he had so much pain in, had been fractured years ago and now had severe arthritis all throughout the bone. I asked for the veterinarian’s opinion, she kindly told me it would be best to put him down. I hid from my children and cried till it hurt every muscle in my body. I cried because I knew how devastated all of my children would be to lose their horse.
I had to tell my children, but how?! They had already lost a sibling, an aunt, multiple close friends/grandparents, two rabbits, and two cats in 2012. Their favorite grandpa was days away from having surgery to remove cancer that was progressing quickly, and I was supposed to tell them that they would be losing the horse they love so dearly. When I told them, the one request I had was to not put him down the week of my daughters tenth birthday. The veterinarian agreed and we did all we could to make him happy and comfortable.
I wish the ending to this was a happy one, but it is not. Oliver lived a very sad and painful life, but I feel very blessed that we were chosen to be the ones to give him the best year of his entire life.
October 21, 2012, will play in my heart forever. I put my children to bed, all with tears in their eyes. There was one though that was hurting deep down in her heart. As my ten year old daughter lay in her bed weeping and thrashing around, I asked her if she wanted to bundle up and go out to the barn, for one last goodnight kiss. We spent a good couple of hours out there. She braided his mane, one last time. She fed him some grassy hay, one last time. She leaned on him and stroked his beautiful soft dapple grey coat, one last time. And finally, she gave him his last goodnight kiss he would ever have.
Lisa and I drove to Carie's home the next day to meet the vet and say our goodbyes to Oliver. Honestly, I'd seen the pictures and knew he'd changed and grown into a beautiful little horse, and to see him in person was truly a sight. He was a magnificent horse, from the knees up. He'd blossomed into a horse that I never expected could have come out of such a horrific situation and looked happy. but that growth and development was what led to his ultimate demise.
I was fortunate enough to get a copy of the veterinarian's evaluation of Oliver after the x-rays had been taken. (INSERT LINK TO VET REPORT). Her findings included MULTIPLE fractures, severe joint space narrowing, and severe arthritis of the right front fetlock, deformed right rear pastern joint, upper and lower ringbone on several legs, and multiple locations of subchondral bone cysts on both hinds, and calcification of the sesamoid ligaments on the hind legs. There's no realistic reason Oliver should have ever been sound enough to walk a straight line, let alone carry a rider, except as a testament to the incredible will to live in this little grey horse. The worst part in all of this is that we never felt any heat or swelling in those legs initially, the damage was SO OLD that any indications were gone and he'd suffered in silence in that pen in Tom's barn. Only once he matured physically did the problems arise. As sick as it sounds, his poor nutrition and health kept the physical problems in his legs at bay. He got better, his legs got worse.
....The prognosis is poor for recovery from these long standing changes. I feel strongly it was environment more than genetics that caused these crippling changes. No horse should have been forced to live on a deep, sinking, uneven surface to walk, stand, eat and lay. Or to be mismanaged with overgrown hooves multiplying the hyper-extensive forces on all the joints. And imprisoned as a young, growing horse not allowed to strengthen his joints, tendons, ligaments or muscle with exercise required for normal development. This horse endured years of torture, being forced to exist in pain as these changes took place.
I truly feel it is a blessing we have been given to be stewards over our pets. We have the ability to end suffering, something we are not allowed to do for our own loved ones. I believe Oliver is in pain that will not and cannot be made to improve or end with any amount of pain medication or surgery. My personal opinion is to end his suffering through humane euthanasia....I know Oliver's last year with your family has been heaven for him. I hope this letter will help you make an informed decision....
Oliver's increased size had caused his fragile legs to give out frequently. He'd be trotting across the field with his donkey friend, his legs would give out, and he'd fall flat on his face. Soon, he didn't move around the pasture more than at a walk, as if he were afraid he'd fall at any faster speed. The quality of his life was quickly diminishing and I thank Carie and her family for having the strength and selflessness to let Oliver go before he suffered any more than he had in the years before he found them.
I'm not a crier, by any means. I like to play it tough and "man up" in emotional situations. I don't cry, I hit things. I thought I was going to be okay when Lisa led Oliver out of the gate and over to the waiting truck that would remove his body. I scratched his forehead one last time and told him I was sorry I couldn't save him, that I knew I'd let him down, and I stepped back out of the way and off to the side and let him and Lisa pass.
Lisa always apologizes to the horses she has to euthanize. She takes their head in her hands, kisses their nose, and she tells them she's sorry. She apologizes for humanity, she apologizes that she couldn't fix them, she apologizes for being too late to make the difference that could have saved their lives. She is the last kind face they see when their eyes go dark and they take their last breath. Oliver was the same. I've seen dozens of horses make that transition to wherever it is they go when their time here is done, and usually I can deal with it. We're doing right by them and that's a little bit of comfort for me. I held it together pretty well until Oliver went down and I saw the back door of Carie's house open and Carie jog out across the driveway to where Oliver lay. She had taken the kids inside to do something else, anything else to avoid having to witness their horse go this way. She came over to Oliver, threw herself on his head and neck and sobbed "I'm sorry buddy, oh God, I'm so sorry".
I lost it.
Oliver should have never had to die. He was born a healthy, happy colt and had everything in the world going for him until the day Tom Timms purchased him. After that, he lived for four YEARS in a hell hole prison he should have never had to experience. No horse deserves that. Ever. Now a ten year old little girl is devastated, a family has to put their hearts back together and try and forgive the man that did this to their horse for no reason other than his own monetary gain.
Tom Timms is in Metamora these days, "training" Saddlebred horses out of a farm on Sutton Road for a doctor couple. Ironically, this farm was just featured on the front page of the Detroit Free Press
He's got a beautiful facility to run his house of horrors out of now, and I'm not even sure the doctor owners know enough to know what's really going on. He has 14 of his own horses there, and as far as I know, they're in no better shape than the babies were the day I pulled them out of his Durand facility. Animal Control says they're "not skinny enough" to get a warrant, and since he has hay they sometimes get, there's not much they can do.
Here's a picture of Doc's Gotta Be Gold, the ten year old sire of the palomino filly that came with Oliver, this was taken December 1, 2012 (yesterday). It's rather apparent that nothing much has changed in the way Tom Timms cares for his horses, but I guess this just isn't "skinny enough".
Oliver, I wish we could have saved you in time, I wish you never had to experience the things you did, and I wish you had known a lifetime full of love and affection instead of pain and suffering at the hands of the humans that are supposed to appreciate you as a gift from above.
I'm so sorry buddy, may you finally rest in peace.