Stray horses at Ringgold shine a light on animal care challenges, changing times

Last week, residents of Catoosa County, Georgia, may have seen a herd of six horses and a mule making their way onto the roads near Ringgold.

It took about five hours and a community effort, but the horses were eventually rounded up and taken to Serendipity Farm & Rescue, said Tonja Wilkes, the founder of the association. In a telephone interview, she said the horses were not in good shape.

“Owning a horse is not like owning a dog,” Wilkes said, and she hopes more education about horse care — one of her nonprofit’s goals — will head off such abuses. situations. Many horse owners have been hit hard financially during the pandemic, and Wilkes said rising feed and fuel prices have made it difficult to own horses.

Wilkes said she works a lot with horses and their keepers, but her heart is with underserved children. Horses can heal people, she said, so her non-profit organization works with horses and people who need a second chance and provides free birthday parties for foster families and to other children in difficulty.

The roundup began near Apison, Tenn., on the Catoosa-Hamilton County line and ended on Salem Valley Road in Catoosa County. The horses were nearly hit several times by traffic, she said, until two horse trainers “well versed in roundups” helped bring them onto trailers and to the rescue farm.

Horses have hierarchical dynamics like wolves, Wilkes said, and the first thing the herding team did was identify who was at the top of the herd dynamic. It could be a male stallion, as it was in this case, but it could also be an alpha mare or a younger male colt who bullied the stallion from the leadership role, she said.

Trainers typically charge $1,400 for their work, but Wilkes said they lower their fees in this case.

The horses had health issues but had to be returned to their owners. As of Monday, one of the horses had been returned. The others weren’t cooperating.

“Our goal here isn’t to keep horses away from people, it’s to educate, so horses don’t get the end of the stick,” Wilkes said.

Horse owners need to know what healthy manure looks like and how to identify a smelly hoof — symptoms that can be treated early to prevent more serious illnesses, she said.

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Wilkes said Serendipity Farm & Rescue is accepting donations to help cover the costs of what has been dubbed the “Serendipity Seven” and the nonprofit’s other work. Wilkes said the organization depends on donations and receives no government support for its work.

“I just hope people learn to reach out before they’re in over their head,” she said.

Vicki Scoggins, who lives in LaFayette and owns seven horses, followed the situation on social media. She agreed that owning a horse is expensive.

When they received the stray horse report last Tuesday, Catoosa County Sheriff’s Office deputies went door to door trying to locate the owner. Scoggins said she would expect people to know their neighbors’ horses, but the area has grown recently.

“Salem Valley Road has a couple farms, and it’s become quite residential, and Apison has a couple farms, so they have acreage. I think you would know what your neighbor’s horses look like. It’s not big fields, it’s pretty close area,” Scoggins said. “They’ll be maybe a 20-acre farm, and right next to it a $500,000 house. Then they will know.”

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Some people don’t check the horses every day when they have food, but Scoggins said in the winter she has to buy four or five rolls of hay a month — at $40 a roll. Scoggins has also heard of people letting their horses roam before the grass comes because they can’t afford food.

Contact Andrew Wilkins at [email protected] or 423-757-6659. Follow him on Twitter @tweetatwilkins.

Boyd S. Abbott