A year and a half ago, Zodiac was the most critically ill horse to ever come through the gates of the Woodbine, Md.-based Days End Horse Rescue. But thanks to the help from many, he has endured through the darkest of days and gained a second chance at life.
Maybe you’ve heard of this charming chestnut gelding, who raced successfully under the name Rhythmic Moves, but was later found starving at a supposed retirement farm. I’m happy to report that following a prolonged period of rehabilitation and recovery, Zodiac has settled into a permanent home at an eight-acre Maryland farm near Days End, and according to his new caretaker, he couldn’t be happier.
This blog will serve as an update on Zodic’s progress as well as a spotlight on Days End Rescue, the organization that saved his life.
It’s safe to say Zodiac’s nine years on earth have been a series of struggles and triumphs. On the racetrack, the gelding won three restricted stakes at Charles Town Races. A leg injury forced his retirement in the fall of 2009, however, and he exited racing with a respectable record of 7-2-3 from 26 starts and earnings of more than $230,000.
Zodiac was then sent to a farm in Berkeley County, W.V., for retirement. There, he and over 50 other horses--mostly Thoroughbreds--languished and slowly starved.
In September 2010, Animal Control stepped in and seized all the horses at the farm. Several had to be humanely euthanized, and eight of the most critically ill, including Zodiac, were brought to Days End Farm where expert staff and volunteers were waiting to begin emergency care and rehabilitation.
Zodiac upon his arrival at Days End; photos courtesy Days End Horse Rescue
Caroline Robertson, development director of Days End explained how the rescue is the only organization in Maryland that supports animal control officers. “We only take cruelty cases,” she said. “Part of the reason for that is because of our rehabilitation expertise, but also our court documentation expertise. We’re the only facility that has expert witnesses, so we do all the evidence collection, we work with the state’s attorneys, put together their cases, and then we go to court on the horse’s behalf; we’re their voices.”
Unfortunately, in Zodiac’s case, the case was settled before Days End and animal control could get involved. Mary O’Brien, owner of Hidden Meadows Equine Rescue where Zodiac and the other starving horses were discovered, pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor animal cruelty charge and was charged a mere $1,000 fine. She will not be allowed to own any animals for the next five years.
Another angle of Zodiac's body state after leaving Meadows Equine Rescue
Read more about the case here
After arriving at Days End, Zodiac, who was suffering from many different life threatening conditions brought on by his advanced emaciation and neglected state, spent nine weeks in an Anderson Sling receiving around-the-clock care before he could walk on his own.
“We’ve never had a horse that’s been that ill that hasn’t had the strength to stand on their own without the sling for that period of time,” explained Robertson.
Robertson said Zodiac wasn’t able to walk due to an infection in his lymphatic system, which caused a set-back in his rehabilitation since it affected all four legs. Workers at Days End gave the gelding regular leg massages in attempts to keep the blood flowing in his limbs. Each time they attempted to remove him from the body sling, Zodiac lost his balance and control of his muscles. Between his immobility and infection, Zodiac’s recovery was particularly grueling.
Zodiac in the sling in which he was placed for nine months
“He was septic and he coliced because he had stone dust in his belly,” said Robertson. “Because he was so emaciated when he got to us, his body had already gone beyond using muscle reserve and was actually using bone marrow reserve to survive. He also couldn’t even urinate on his own; he had to be catheterized.
“Everybody asked why we kept going…it’s because he just never gave up,” she continued. “As a horse person, you know when a horse tells you when he’s done and when you need to let them go. But Zodiac never did that…every time we thought it was his last night, the next morning, he was bright and was like, ‘I’m in it for another day.’ ”
To see a video of Zodiac’s journey from racing to retirement to rescue and rehabilitation, click here. Warning: You might cry.
Zodiac’s new owner, who has adopted a few other horses from Days End in the past, followed Zodiac’s recovery story via the internet and inquired about providing foster care for the gelding at Days End. The fostering process included visiting Zodiac every Saturday for several weeks, after which she decided to officially adopt him.
Due to his previous leg injury from racing, Zodiac will spend the rest of his days as a pasture pet, but that doesn’t mean he can’t still have fun.
Zodiac, relishing his second chance at life
“He’s been the easiest of all of my (OTTB’s) to integrate and have around,” said Zodiac’s owner, who wishes to remain anonymous.
Zodiac is currently kept in a paddock with two other Thoroughbred mares, “Classy” and “Willow.” Zodiac has had incredible patience with his new buddies, who took some time to get used to him and even chased him out of their run-in shed shortly after his arrival.
After a few months of adjustment, however, the trio couldn’t be more content with each other.
“The vet says he looks great,” said Zodiac’s owner, noting that one of the gelding's favorite activities is splashing around in the water trough with Willow. “He’s really blossomed and he’s just a wonderful horse. He’s never down or depressed. One morning when he was still separated from the other mares, he raced them along the fence. He’s always been very engaging, but self contained.”
Zodiac with Days End assistant barn manager Leslie Ryan
One of Zodiac’s quirks is that he’s not a morning horse. His owner has had to nudge him awake several times for his early morning feedings. “He’s also very particular about how he likes to eat,” said his owner. “He likes his food to be mushy with plenty of water mixed in. He also likes his nose to be wiped off after eating.”
The gelding is currently receiving three meals a day in order to get back to a normal weight, but that schedule will soon be reduced to two due to his progress. Zodiac’s owner reported that he will pay a visit to Days End for the organization’s Fall Festival fundraiser Sept. 29.
While Days End has an incredible support system in its numerous volunteers that dedicate their time each week to help horses like Zodiac, the rescue has struggled this year in terms of donations. “It looks like the economy has caught up with us this year; donations are down about 40%,” said Robertson. “Because adoptions are also down, we’re unable to take in new animals.”
If you would like to financially contribute to this wonderful facility, or if you live in the area and are interested in volunteering, visit the Days End website at www.defhr.org.
I’m interested to hear what you think of this story. How many of you had heard of Zodiac's journey prior to this blog? Anyone out there ever been to Days End? What did you think? Next time I’m in Maryland, I’m definitely going to check it out!
“Zodiac is a poignant example of the will to live and that miracles do happen”