How many lives does a mare have?
The painted horse named Magic galloped to the center of the NRS arena Tuesday morning.
Her rider, Saffron Smith, leapt from the saddle, her boots sinking in the soft, sandy soil, and quickly tied the legs of a goat. As Magic left the arena, a group of people quickly surrounded her – showering her with praise and caresses.
It was the first of three events Magic competed in as part of the Wise County Youth Fair – but it was much, much more. Just over a year ago, the thought of a healthy Magic competing in front of a crowd seemed like a dream.
“She was skin and bones,” said Scarlett Sears, Saffron’s mom. “She was on her deathbed.”
Magic lived in a dry dirt pasture in Alvord. She was extremely emaciated, her bones poking through her tan painted coat like poles holding up a teepee. She shared a space with a starved stallion and very young colt lucky to have survived birth due to famished conditions.
“I used to drive by this horse every day taking my son to school,” said Lei Ann Peace.
The mare had gotten pregnant from the same stallion several times over the years she’d lived there.
“She lost every one of them due to undernourishment,” Sears said. “It’s not her fault. She did everything she could.”
The colt was the first to survive in spite of the conditions. But soon after, the stud died.
“The stallion starved to death,” said Amanda Frye. “They put out a bale of hay, he gorged himself and died from colic.”
After Peace saw the stud dead, she reported the case of animal cruelty to the Wise County Sheriff’s Office.
“(Magic) could barely get up that day,” she said. “She was close to death, just like the stud. It was my mission that day to get them help.
“I called Sheriff (David) Walker, and by that afternoon he got the ball rolling.”
Frye, who owns and operates a ranch near Alvord, said the situation was about as bad as it can get.
“Horses are judged on the Henneke body scale of one to nine – one being extremely emaciated with little muscle tissue,” she said. “When I first saw her she was a one or a two. And worms were coming out of the colt the size of my thumb.”
Animal control siezed the animals, took them to a shelter and put them up for auction. Both were in bad shape. The starving colt even devoured half of its mom’s tail and part of her mane.
This is when Sears and Saffron came into Magic’s life.
“We went to the shelter to get the colt,” Sears said. “But he was 11 months old and only nine hands high. At that age he should have been 12 or 13 for a registered paint. He was stunted. Then we saw [Magic]. I wanted to bring her home because she was so sweet.”
Seventy-five dollars later they were bringing home the skittish, starved 14-year-old mare. The colt went to a horse rescue in Goldwaithe.
The first thing Smith and Sears had to do was get some weight back on her.
“She was on high-protein, high-fat feed for months,” Smith said. “We had to put 300 to 400 pounds on her before I could even get on her.”
This was after she’d already added 100 pounds during her short stay in the shelter. In fact, she’s still gaining weight as she continues to add muscle back to her once-emaciated frame. They had to be careful not to overfeed her.
“It’s been fun,” Smith said. “We’ve gone through lots of ups and downs working her. We’ve broken many lead ropes and halters. But she finally got to a point where she is calm enough. She’s never had any problems with me riding her.”
It was several months before she was able to carry a rider bareback.
“(My mom) didn’t think we could get a saddle on her at first,” Saffron said. “But one day when she was at work I got the horse saddled up. She got home, and I said ‘Let’s ride!'”
They were surprised to find that Magic had known another life before starvation. Paper proved she was well-bred, but her manners with a rider proved that someone, at some point, had given her some training.
“The goal was, a year later, to have her ready to ride at Youth Fair,” Sears said. “(Saffron) runs her day and night around the barrels at home.”
And sure enough, after coming back from the brink of starvation, the 14-year-old mare got a chance to compete in goat tying, pole bending and barrel racing. It’s the first time she’s ever been in a show setting.
“She definitely appreciates it, I know,” Saffron said. “She trusts us a lot now.
“I’ve always run barrels. I got a saddle for my first birthday, and she’s the fastest horse I’ve ever been on. She’s always ready to truck. I only go full speed with her in the round pen because that’s the only place I can control her. It takes her a little bit to get there, but she’s a fireball when she goes.”
Frye said Magic is a lesson.
“To see that they can learn to trust again shows that you don’t give up on a life just because they are a little banged up,” Frye said.
Peace teared up when she saw Magic at the arena. She didn’t worry about times or placing – she just savored Magic, enjoying her new life.