This past Monday, the corn in Calhoun County was well out of the ground. On the outskirts of the small town of St. Matthews, wide fields of it swept toward the horizon. The bright green of the young stalks met with the crystal blue of the spring sky. Really, a beautiful sight.
But then, coming around a turn in Doodle Hill Road, the bucolic atmosphere ended abruptly.
What met the eye here, at a home in the 900 block, were several black Calhoun County Sheriff’s Department cars parked at the entrance to a dilapidated horse farm. Just inside the guarded gate, blue and white-canopied tents were set up with folding chairs, tables, and coolers. People milled about. Some talking; others working.
“Not in my 28 years of law enforcement have I ever seen anything like this,” said Calhoun County Sheriff Thomas Summers Jr.
Never miss a local story.
Twenty-nine Arabian horses have been taken into custody by the county here. A St. Matthews man, Ron Hevener, was arrested May 12 and has been charged with nine counts of ill treatment of animals.
Efforts to reach Hevener were unsuccessful earlier this week.
“He said there was a shortage of hay,” the sheriff reported. “I talked with other horse owners in the area and they said there was no shortage. But even if there was, you’d sell off part of your herd so you could accommodate the rest. You just can’t let them starve.”
For the two past months, authorities have made several visits to the farm.
The sheriff described one such trip.
“When we got out there, there was one horse on the ground. It couldn’t get up. It was dying. It had been left there a couple of days. We called a vet and had it put down.”
Another mare and a foal were also found dead.
The sheriff said horses were in “terrible condition.” He noted a lack of food, water, veterinary care and hoof care.
So, that’s the bad news.
Now, for the better.
“The horses are coming along real good,” the sheriff said.
That’s because a cadre of veterinarians, farriers, the state Humane Society, county animal control officers, sheriff’s deputies and members of a nonprofit organization called Arabian Rescue Mission Inc. are on the scene.
Local St. Matthews folk also are pitching in to take care of the horses.
On Monday, Sonya Parnell, who lives in Sandy Run, dropped off a big, round bale of hay, several bags of horse feed, lice dust and alfalfa pellets. “I have horses myself,” she said. “This is just horrible.”
Managing the rescue operation is 59-year-old Terry Figueroa. She’s from New Jersey and is founder of the Arabian Rescue Mission. “I got my first Arab in 1991. I love them so much and wanted to give back to the breed.”
Arabian horses hark back to ancient times. They are finely-boned. They have distinctive heads with small ears and large eyes, set wide apart. They are intelligent and known for their strength and stamina.
Figueroa said people in the United States began establishing herds of Arabs in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s.” Then, she said, in the ’80s and ’90s, with the Recession and financial constraints setting in, people found that they couldn’t take care of them anymore.
“People didn’t want to let go. They thought the market would change or their children would get interested in the horses. I think it’s the same concept as having to euthanize a pet. You don’t want to let go and you let the pet get far beyond where it should be.”
Figueroa travels the country rescuing Arab herds from dire straits.
“In early May,” she said, “I got a call from Sheriff Summers. He asked me if I would take charge of the herd. I said, ‘Absolutely.’ The sheriff brought me out here to see the horses. They were very skinny. Most were passive. They had lice. Their immune systems were compromised. Some had heart murmurs. They had rain rot – patches of skin and hair missing. Worms and thrush, a bacterial infection in the frog (inside) of the hoof.
“We went straight to work. The horses were all wormed. The vet took care of injuries. Farriers trimmed hooves. Blood tests were given to check for equine infectious anemia.”
And, of course, the horses were fed in a carefully orchestrated regimen required when animals are malnourished or starving.
Every bit of it hard and emotional work.
“In the moment,” Figueroa said, “when I’m doing my job, I can’t allow myself to feel. I go home and I cry, but you have to shut the emotions off to get the job done.”
“I come out here every day,” one local volunteer said. “I feed and water in the morning and then I feed and water again in the evening. It’s been rewarding but heartbreaking. At one point I had to get away from all the people and just cry.”
And as for the future of the horses?
Summers said Hevener will “go to court at some given time. The judge will make the determination of whether he gets the horses back or they can be adopted out.” No trial date was known late this week.
In the meantime, Figueroa has found foster homes for most of the Arabians and, pending the judge’s ruling, she hopes they will turn into permanent situations. She’s still looking for temporary homes for three stallions, two colts and a few mares.
Before I left the farm on Monday afternoon, I poked my head over a stall door where a foal slept peacefully. Its mother stood nearby, finishing a mouthful of hay.
It was a comforting sight, one that came only because of an enormous amount of effort by caring people who worked fast and worked hard.
“I’m amazed at the people who have come together and volunteered out here,” Figueroa said. “They are wonderful and I’m hoping that by Sunday all these horses will be off the property.”
Know of a story that needs telling? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
How to help
▪ Want to know more about fostering needs for the remaining horses? Contact Terry Figueroa, (973) 896-0781.
▪ Want to know more about helping the Arabian Rescue Mission’s efforts at the site? Visit the organization’s website at www.arabianrescuemission.org or go to a Facebook page dedicated to the rescue effort in St. Matthews – Arabian Rescue Mission in SC. Supplies of hay and feed may be donated to foster homes where horses been placed by calling Calhoun County Animal Control at (803) 874-2914.