Saving Theo: The Journey of a Tennessee Walking Horse

Candace Wade will be following firsthand the rehabilitation of a former “Big Lick” Tennessee Walking Horse. Today, she introduces us to Theo.

Theo, a former "Big Lick" Tennessee Walking Horse. Photo by Candace Wade.

Theo, a former “Big Lick” Tennessee Walking Horse. Photo by Candace Wade.

Theo hangs out in his stall, 23 hours of his day, standing on three feet of cushion and hay. He munches, drinks, poops and tries to grow a hoof. Being parked in a stall is nothing strange for him. Theo is an ex-“Big Lick” Tennessee Walking Horse. His story is not “old news — that doesn’t happen anymore.” He was rescued in Tennessee in September 2015.

With four feet compromised by what appeared to have been abusive shoeing and having what little remained of a front hoof packed with composite material, Theo, his rescuer and his farrier are fighting for his life. Theo was dumped on a rescue/rehab organization dolled up to look like a sound, usable horse — after eight years of performing “his job” in the show ring. He didn’t even have lunch money pinned to his jumper.

I met Theo a few weeks ago. On our first meeting I found that Theo nickers back when he hears his name at the barn door. He mumbles and strains to peer around the stall bars when the bag of apple-oat biscuits I brought for him rustles. He loves to be brushed. He loves any kind attention. He is willing and patient with the daily foot soaks, salves and treatments.

Theo and the author. Photo courtesy of Candace Wade.

Theo and the author. Photo courtesy of Candace Wade.

Theo eats well. His coat is lush and fuzzy for winter. He seems to enjoy the occasional short stroll to see the other horses that live outside. Theo will stand to breathe in your nose as long as you are willing to breathe into his. He has learned that hands near his face are gentle now in spite of indications of pressure scars on his nose and traces of scars from ear to ear near the poll. The scars at Theo’s ears look identical to scars created by the barbed wire “harness” used by some trainers, but — there’s no way to know for sure.  A riding crop terrifies Theo. Crops are kept out of sight now.

Trying to save Theo costs a lot in time and money. Let’s see: there’s Epsom salt soaks, shavings (twice what’s needed for a sound horse), Recovery, 707 Hoof Essentials, Platinum Performance, Save A Hoof Spray, Wunderbar, Gibson’s Stock dressing to shoot up by syringe into the crevices to keep infection out, therapeutic boots for the occasional turnout, Uncle Jimmy’s Squeezy buns (as a bribe in lieu of beatings, a barbed wire harness, etc.), hoof trimming and paid help with weekend soaks. Three hundred and fifty dollars a month is a guess on the light side. Add the usual food, hay and routine cleaning that are part of taking care of any horse.

Theo's severely damaged hoof. Photo by Candace Wade.

Theo’s severely damaged hoof. Photo by Candace Wade.

Theo seems content for now, but then what?  The hope for his life is not only based on whether he will ever grow another hoof. What will be his quality of days? Will Theo ever have the chance to be a horse — maybe for the first time in his life? Time will tell.

Today, Theo has nutritious food and sound care; he is touched with gentle hands and he has people willing to stand until their legs go shaky to breathe into his nose.

Theo’s predicament is not “old news — that doesn’t happen anymore.” Contrary to those who justify methods that create the “Big Lick,” physically and emotionally broken horses are still being produced by owners and trainers for a scrap of blue ribbon. Today, I wonder how many “Theos” will need to be rescued (at an “ouch-sized” unreimbursed cost) or end up in slaughter tomorrow.

Candace will continue to follow Theo’s recovery. All of Theo’s stories will be tagged #SAVING THEO and can be accessed by clicking the hashtag at the top of this page.

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