West Virginia Fine Art Photographer

Dancer

Warning. This post contains graphic content regarding my experiences with a horse starvation case in my hometown in 2013. This recollection is not filtered, and is not intended for immature audiences. Discretion is advised. 

The night she danced away with our hearts.

 

January 16th, 2013.

I will never forget this night. 12 of us, from all walks of life in a small Montana town gathered around a palomino mare covered in muck, blood and urine.A little mare whose kind soul was passed on to her colts, along with her gentle demeanor and kind temperament. A soul that never deserved this life. A mare who earned her right in the stirrup deep grass of the promised land. A mare whose soul touched so many.

Dancer

Three days prior, on January 13th, a group of us were notified of 16 starving horses. When we arrived at the pens, there were 11 horses in one pen, and 1 stallion in another. After searching the property, we found the missing weanlings. Standing over one of the weanlings, was a palomino mare.

She was mummering and nickering to her colt, nudging him with her muzzle as he laid lifeless on the cold hard ground.

She had been nursed to the bone, refusing to let her child starve, while she herself was starving. She was mummering and nickering to her colt, nudging him with her muzzle as he laid lifeless on the cold hard ground.  Her eyes were dull, but a tiny spark of life remained. Her hair was coarse and matted with muck, leaving her faint yellow hair brown and dingy looking.  Her mane and tail were matted from months of neglect, and every bone was protruding from her skin.

This kind mare, whose eyes spoke right to your soul, would quietly nicker to us when we would check on them and take care of the remaining horses over the next few days. She was never the first to greet you at the gate, because she was the weakest horse in the herd. But she would always let out a raspy, quiet nicker to you. I swear to this day she was the most grateful horse that we were there. It was almost as if every day she was saying thank you to all of us.

Fast forward to January 16th, 2013.

This mare, who lost her colt just days earlier, lay on the cold ground herself. Surrounded by 12 of us, a bunch of old hand me down horse blankets and straw, Dancer fought for hours to get back up. We were too late to save her foal, and too late to save her. She was too far gone.

We fought and got her up three times, each time she would stand for a few minutes and then go back down again. Right up until the end, she was fighting trying to keep moving forward. That night will haunt me forever, and to this day it is one of the hardest things to talk about.

Every time Dancer would try and stand up, her head would fall back down and crash against the frozen Montana ground. The sheer sound of her head connecting with the ground was enough to make anyone cringe. I did what anyone would do, I knelt next to her and I would catch her head as she came down to help prevent her from bashing her head against the ground and causing her poor body any more pain. Every time she would try to rise I would help her up, then help her back down. Every fiber in my body was exhausted. I was so tired, so sore- I smelt like shit, I had been peed on, bled on and laid on by this poor girl. Every single on of us were just flat exhausted, and so was Dancer.

After four hours of trying to help Dancer rise, we visited with the vet and decided it was time to euthanize her.  Dancer died in my arms that night, because I refused to let this girl die alone and scared. We stayed with her until the end, and this entire time; we never noticed who was watching.

Always watching

Along side the wood plank fence, sat three kids- all around 7 years old.  While we were fighting for this horse’s life, these three neighbor kids were watching, praying and hoping we could save their horse. One of the volunteers lived nearby, and their daughter was one of the girls watching and hoping.

When I saw these kids peering through the fence, my heart ached. “How could they stand to watch this?” I thought to myself. Feeling this pain, watching this horse die like this- this wasn’t a memory I had in my childhood.  Instantly I thought “Where are their parents? Why would the let these kids watch this” Later I found out that these kids were trying to feed these horses the whole time. They were begging their parents at the store to get carrots with the tops on them, apples, anything the horses might eat. And these kids would run down to the pens and bring the horses any grass, food, anything they could.

A horse starving to death like this is far from natural. In the wild, the horse would be eaten by a predator long before this stage. Natural selection would prevent her from dying like this- it would prevent any horse from dying like this. Starving to death- eating every branch from a sage brush, all the bark and leaves off of each and every tree and eating on every piece of wood in their corrals.  There was not one piece of vegetation left in this pasture.

As we worked to cover Dancer up, one of the mothers came up to me, and asked if I would speak to their daughter, that she was asking what happened and she just couldn’t answer her. As I walked over to this group of kids, not one of them older than 7, I had no idea what I was going to say to them.

As I knelt down beside this group of kids, the little boy looked at me and very quietly asked me, “What is happening to Dream?” (The kids named her Dream, because it was their dream to ride her one day- little did they know this mare was an absolute amazing kids horse, and would had been an amazing ride for them)

This was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do in this life. As I looked at these three kids, while I was covered in mud, blood, urine and shit- I explained to them how important it is to take care of the animals in our lives. I explained that this woman didn’t care about her animals and didn’t care enough to take care of them. Animals that deserve our respect and love, animals that God created and asked us to watch over and tend to. When the little boy looked at me- and quietly asked “Did she go to heaven?” With tears in my eyes, I replied “Yes, she went to heaven- she’s with her baby now, eating all the grass she can find”. And only like kids can do, this little boy reminded me why I did this. His next question was “Can this happen to my snake if I don’t take care of him?” Without missing a beat, I replied “Of course it can, you have to take good care of all the animals you find in this world. Your snake, the kittens you find in the barns, the puppy your mom gets you, all the animals can die if they aren’t taken care of, and that will follow your conscience around forever!”.

Then as quick as I said that, he got up, ran as fast as he could to his house screaming “I have to feed my snake!!!”

As I stood up, I fully expected an ass chewing from the mothers that were standing there- since I just brought God into this talk about how this mare died. But instead, I was welcomed with hugs and thanks. Nobody was offended, because in our hearts we knew its true.

As I walked back to Dancer, laying lifeless covered in blankets and straw, I was just drained. The weight of everything had finally taken its toll. With all the other horses already placed in foster homes at this point, Dancer was the last horse.  For weeks after the incident, folks were coming up to all 12 of us and thanking us for our work. We were interviewed for the newspaper, and for the Northern Ag Network (A huge news resource for the region) and it took about six months for everything to die down.

The owner made threats to us, stalked me for a while until she finally was ran out of town. She had a serious mental disorder, and I pray she got the help she needed. I’ve never been so disappointed in Montana’s laws at the time for animal abuse, but it is what it is. Justice has a way of finding its way to its rightful homes- and cowboy justice goes a long ways.

You may be wondering why I shared this story with you. It’s morbid, descriptive and harsh. It isn’t sugar coated, sunshine and rainbows or even a happy ending. The horses owner never faced any type of sentencing with the issue…

So why share this? Because horses across our country are starving to death every year. It’s not a natural death, it’s not painless or kind. It is a torturous death, that should never been forgiven.

So. Seriously, why share this? Because I want every horse owner to see what this does to a horse. The sound their skulls make when they can’t get up and fall back down to the ground, the solid thud they make bashing against the ground, because they have no strength to slowly fall back down. The sound that echos with you for years after- an eerie, awful sound.

I want them to see the pain that mare felt nudging her foal- who laid lifeless on the ground, as she tried to coax him back up. I want them to see the choice they made that hurts this animal for months and months. If you can’t feed your horse, if you can’t afford to feed your horse, sell him. Put him down. Do whatever you have to do- to NOT STARVE HIM TO DEATH.

Do whatever you have to do, to keep him from dying a death like these horses, plus so many more did. Take responsibility for YOUR actions and have some respect and dignity for your horse. Re-home them, sell them, fuck EUTHANIZE them if you seriously can't feed them. Because I'd rather see a horse euthanized than starving to death.

Just whatever you do, don’t starve them to death.

There is a case in Minnesota right now that sparked my need to write this post, if you would like to follow this case, you can follow the link below.

Follow the Minnesota Hooved Animal Rescue for more details on the horse abuse case in Minnesota, March 2019. 

Dancer's Passing

The sunset as we were working to try and save Dancer's life. I can't remember who took this photo, but I am so grateful they did.

Dancer's Passing
Dancer before her abuse

A photo of this beautiful mare before she was sold to this awful human. This woman posing as a breeder, was purchasing brood mares (Mares used for producing offspring) and breeding them with her stallion, which was a top dollar barrel stud.  She was a beautiful mare, and my heart aches to this day for the family that raised this mare. It is your worst nightmare to see a case like this happen after you sell your horse.

Nobody would had ever guessed this woman was doing this to her horses...

Dancer before her abuse

This poor girl was so starved, every bone was protruding from her body.

Her foal from the previous year had passed almost immediately before we arrived, and she was still trying to coax him up when we got there.

After four hours of trying to save this girls life- after three days of vet care, supervision and love; she passed late on January 16th, 2013.

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Victoria Dellapaolera
Victoria is a Christian minister practicing spiritual healing and development in Williston, North Dakota. Victoria has worked with horses her entire life, and has learned many of her healing techniques from the horses. She graduated from West Virginia University in 2020 Magna Cum Laude with a bachelors degree in Human Services and Sports and Exercise Psychology; gaining her associates degree in Farm and Ranch Management and Equitation from Dawson Community College in Glendive, Montana in 2012.. Victoria received her shamanic rites in 2018, after spending the majority of her life with the spirit of the horse learning the basics of communication, healing, and intuition.
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