OTTB Spotlight: Zodiac

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”

24 Comments

Leave a Comment:

mz

9th Circle of Hell: those who let animals suffer.

31 Jul 2012 4:26 PM
smartysgal

Wonderful story and touching video.  I'm amazed at this horse's courage and will to live despite being mistreated and nearly starved to death.  They say we can all learn something new every day.  Sometimes it takes a horse to teach us.

31 Jul 2012 8:51 PM
Criminal Type

I volunteered at Days End a few years ago, at the time they brought in the PG county horses. If I remember correctly, they were called the PG Eight. One was a stallion I believe was a Halo line horse. I also remember "Classy" and "Country" This was before they moved to the new farm. These people deserve a lot of credit for the hard work, time and care they give to these poor horses. I read about the seizure of the West Virginia horses and saw the news coverage. There was also a recent (within the past couple of years) seizure of a huge number of Arabians from a farm on Marylands eatern shore that was horrific. Over 100 horses. Some dead in the fields, some so bad they had to be euthenized immediatly.  Sad that these magestic animals were treated so badly. There are other farms in the area that need to have their horses taken away, I wont mention names but there have been a few who came to my horses barn after leaving this one particular farm that were starving and had major health and temperment issues. Thankfully they are all doing quiet well now and have loving new owners. Kudos to the staff at DEHR for the great service they do for these animals.

31 Jul 2012 9:00 PM
Karen in Indiana

mz, amen!

Esther, thank you for telling us about another organization doing wonderful work in the background. What they've done for this horse is amazing and I will be checking them out.

31 Jul 2012 10:13 PM
Krazymeerkats

You guys are fabulous and so amazing, what a special horse.  If no one has says Thank You in a while well Thank You for giving us Zodiac...

31 Jul 2012 10:17 PM
Jackie WV

May God Bless all the wonderful people that helped to save Zodiac's life!!  I still can't imagine a horse living in a sling for 9 months. His "will to live" had to be way beyond normal.  He looks so happy and healthy now!!  Great story Esther......thank you so much for sharing it.  I'm not far from Maryland, so I hope to someday pay a visit to Days End.

01 Aug 2012 10:48 AM
anita b

What a great article--didn't need to see the video for the tears to fall.

I have always known that if i were wealthy enough to own a thoroughbred--no more than 4.

Esther, when are you coming up to New York and the Finger Lakes horse rescue--the first one that a racetrack has been invilved with from day 1. I haven't been there either but would like to go one day. Anita Carter

01 Aug 2012 12:48 PM
ceil rock

The link to Days End doesn't work on my computer - had to Google. I thank God for people who do this work, not just for Thoroughbreds but for all horses. All horses deserve a decent life. I hope all of those who are so worried about our stallions in foreign countries will pitch in and help the horses in our country. There are so many deserving rescues out there who need our help.

01 Aug 2012 1:05 PM
Wrensflight

I am fortunate enough to have a wonderful OTTB mare in my family. She had ended up in a feed lot after her racing career and appeared to also be neglected by her previous owners. She came to me with a serious eye infection caused by a corneal scratch that was never treated, as well as the most severe case of mud fever that I have ever seen. I have also fostered other OTTB's and wish I had the space and finances to take in more. I always appreciate hearing about the rescues who work so hard to rehabilitate these wonderful animals. Thanks to all of you, especially Second Chance Ranch in Washington state, for making the effort to provide care and love to these unfortunate horses.

01 Aug 2012 4:15 PM
Old Old Cat

My daughter and one of her friends had volunteered at days end years ago.  Recently she got to compete at a local eventing show and I had a good time with the parents of one of the staff members who was showing the prospects for prospective adoption.  It is wonderful to know that there are such wonderful people in this world who truly care about horses.  

02 Aug 2012 2:07 PM
ksweatman9

These stories are always bittersweet for me. It warms my heart that there are survivors who overcome the abuse and hell they go through. I love the happy endings, too bad they number so few. Most animal abuse cases end in sadness. As an advocate for the humane treatment of all animals, I hope those responsible for starving these noble creatures met with some type of justice. It's never enough in my book. They are quite lucky I'm not the one meting out the penalty. Kudos to all who help horses like Zodiac, and Zodiac, you are a true champion of heart and spirit. May you live a long happy life.

02 Aug 2012 7:18 PM
cindybetty

Thanks for telling us this story. What s stunning horse Zodiac is. Thank you owner whoever you are for saving this horse. Because of this article I will be making a donation to Days End

03 Aug 2012 1:53 AM
yani

As a volunteer at Days End, of all the rescues we have had, I do believe Zodiac logged the most hours in a sling.  His heart and will to survive is what helped his rescuers pull him through.

04 Aug 2012 6:10 PM
vickieT

I spent a week at Days End caring for Zodiac and his companions on behalf of the ASPCA. Days End is an amazing place with a dedicated staff. I encourage all thoroubred owners/breeders to think about and plan for the whole life of the animals they create and benefit from. They are not disposable units to be thrown out once they can no longer generate a profit. Zodi is one of the most amazing creatures I've ever met. Through long nights of compresses on the blown veins in his neck, eye medicines for corneal ulcers, leg wraps, the sling, wounds where the sling rubbed him or he hurt himself on the times he went down--he never ever gave up. We worked 12 hour shifts caring for him and his companions, especially the mare Yogi who was also very critical. I worked the night shift and spent many hours helping him eat (the Zodiac spin! to get him to move just a little to help the swelling in his legs). I cry every time I see pictures of him healthy and thriving after all he went through.

04 Aug 2012 6:43 PM
joanne carey-vert

What a beautiful transformation. I have volunteered at DEFHR and have seen firsthand the day in and day out of equine neglect.  The first day of work just caused me to break down and cry to see so many abuse cases, especially of young horses that were in their prime on the track just months prior. I own (support) the most loving, compassionate, kind, gentle giant thoroughbred, and pray that OTTB find loving homes and support.

04 Aug 2012 10:41 PM
Mike Relva

Esther thanks for all the great articles.Best wishes to Zodiac and continued good luck for him and others.

05 Aug 2012 1:51 PM
ChristieLaneCraven

I've been to Days End before.  The place and people are amazing.  They have taken some cases that looked hopeless and made miracles happen.  I highly recommend a visit or to volunteer there is you are anywhere near the area!  Also the website is http://www.defhr.org/  for those having trouble with the link.  

05 Aug 2012 2:19 PM
smarie

Mary O'Brien belongs in prison, period. She should never, ever be allowed to get near a horse again. I donate to several horse/animal rescue organizations around the country and they get plenty of Thoroughbreds who have been dumped once their usefulness has been declared over according to unfeeling, uncaring human beings. I have seen thinner horses than Zodiac unfortunately. It is hard to believe how cruel people can be. You can be sure that those who starve animals aren't missing any meals themselves. Laws regarding animal cruelty are far too lax and far too often unenforced. So many people look the other way. We need to get animal protection and anti-cruelty laws strengthened in this country and then see to it that they are enforced! I thank God for people like those at Days End and for all those who step up and do what is right for animals. This was a wonderful article and I look forward to reading more about Zodiac and Days End.

06 Aug 2012 1:58 PM
Jane Gordineer

What a great story!  The will to live!!  I cannot believe anyone would treat this beautiful creature like this.  So glad he is doing well, thanks to wonderful people like Days End Rescue!  Keep up the good work!!

08 Aug 2012 7:46 PM
Blind Luck

I don't understand why someone would keep an animal and not feed it.  It is just unimaginamal how someone could watch them decline so and be able to sleep at night.  I really admire folks like Days End.  Keep up your great work,

09 Aug 2012 9:48 AM
Diana Baker

I am beyond thrilled to see Zodiac featured here.  I was one of the people who helped identify the Thoroughbreds (alive and dead) for Animal Control once they were seized.  I'd also tried to get the "rescue" closed down since the day it opened its doors.  When a friend and I visited Zodiac and the other critically ill horses ar Day's End a week or so after they were sent there, he was so sick and depressed, in the sling...  I don't think I've ever seen a horse closer to death.  Day's End has done a miraculous job with Zodiac and the other Thoroughbreds the took in that September.   Thank you Day's End.

09 Aug 2012 3:21 PM
Jean in Chicago

 What an amazing difference in his 'before'  and 'after' pictures!  To see him go from death's door to dancing in his pasture is beyond remarkable.  

 I sometimes wonder if the 'rescue' people who mistreat and starve the animals they're theoretically caring for are just plain evil or if some of them are 'hoarders' who keeping taking in so many animals that  they reach a point where nobody gets proper care and enough food.  I can't even guess how much land and money it would take to care for 100 horses!

 Every rescue organization in the country (dogs, cats & horses) is strained to the limit.  All we can do is work to curtail the breeding of 'unwanted' animals and thank God for the people fighting emotional burn out as they care for the animals.

14 Aug 2012 3:38 PM
Redonhead

I would go without food for myself just so I can feed my Furkids b 4 I would let them go without. There is no greater lov than that of a horse. I use to work with Harness Racing Horse at The Hanover Shoe Farms in PA. My favorite part was coming into the barn early in the morning to c a new born foal. I would give anything to have my own horse once again.

14 Aug 2012 6:48 PM
Tiz Herself

Absolutely heartbreaking and heartwarming at the same time - call me names, do whatever you will to me, but the second a horse is injured or mistreated that hits me more like a punch in the gut. Thank you Days End and everyone involved in Zodiac's care and for giving him a second chance at life!

BTW if you want a Days End Alberta division would be honoured to be part of that!

23 Aug 2012 9:00 AM

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