A Lasting Valentine for Horses in Need
By Patricia Smith
Rehabilitating horses is an affair of the heart for Libby Schmittdiel, who is the driving force behind the locally-based Healing Hearts Equine Rescue organization.
Schmittdiel, who was formerly associated with the United States Equine Rescue League, started her own equine rescue last June. The organization is now a not-for-profit with a Board of Directors, which recently voted to make Schmittdiel's farm in Carthage the home of Healing Hearts.
"People ask me, 'How can you do it?' and I tell them I don't know how I can't do it," said Schmittdiel. "It's such an emotional tie, there is no way I couldn't help these horses. I love rehabilitating horses. It's the most rewarding thing I've ever done."
Four horses have been taken in by Schmittdiel to date. Two are now at foster homes. Two others recently arrived at the 25-acre farm, located on a rural, unpaved road outside of Carthage.
Aleeza, a 20-year-old Arabian mare rescued from an auction, arrived in October with lice and scars on her face from a too-tight halter that had been left on her. She was "untouchable" before Schmittdiel worked with her.
Aleeza was scared to death of the four-wheeler Schmittdiel uses to pick up manure in the paddocks. Now, Aleeza follows Schmittdiel like she is the Pied Piper as she drives the four-wheeler while giving the mare treats from the vehicle.
"It was a major breakthrough this week when Aleeza ate treats out of my hand while I was on the four-wheeler," said Schmittdiel.
The mare is still not too sure she enjoys being petted. Aleeza tolerates the affection, but with ears half-back and trepidation in her eyes.
"We initially got her into a trailer to move her here by putting food in a bucket to catch her," said Schmittdiel. "Aleeza was so starved that she scored .5-1 on body condition."
The scale ranges from one, representing extremely poor condition, to nine, which is considered obese.
"She came for food," said Schmittdiel. "It took us a long time to be able to touch her. You still can't touch her legs without her squealing."
Aleeza has scars on her lower back legs, which may suggest she was tied or hobbled at some point.
Understandably for a horse that has been starved, eating is an unexpected pleasure for Aleeza.
"She'll pick up her head and be so excited when she sees me coming with feed," said Schmittdiel. "She is so thankful to be fed, whereas my horse Tommy just expects it. This is why I love rehabilitating horses. The love you give them is returned ten-fold."
Still in quarantine in a paddock separated from the other horses is a 9-month-old quarter horse colt named Cute as a Button.
Button, a palomino with puppy-dog eyes and an in-your-lap personality, arrived Feb. 1, after escaping euthanization when his owner found out about Schmittdiel and surrendered Button to her for care the owner couldn't give.
Button had a respiratory problem that is now cleared up. The colt is also HYPP positive.
HYPP stands for hyperkalemic periodic paralysis, which is a genetic defect that traces back to the Quarter Horse Stallion Impressive. Any horse with Impressive lineage is susceptible to having the defect.
"It's usually a manageable condition through diet and exercise," said Dr. Tom Daniel, of Southern Pines Equine Associates, who donates his time to help Healing Hearts. "If diet and exercise doesn't control it, there is a medication for it."
Aleeza and Button may be up for foster adoption in the future, but not until their issues are resolved.
Two other horses from Healing Hearts have been placed in foster homes. Moose Tracks, a five-year-old thoroughbred off the track, is being trained to be an event horse by Colleen Williams, who lives in Pittsboro. Brownie Pie, a retired Morgan cross mare, has found a home in Lee County with Cynthia Peterson.
Economy Affecting Horses
Moore County Animal Control has picked up six horses over the last six months, according to animal control officer Frank Ringelberg. In addition, animal control has intervened in another 10 cases, helping owners who could no longer care for their horses.
"We're here to support owners and help them," said Ringelberg. "We work closely with Libby's group. It's a big help for the county animal control to have a local rescue that can take horses. Animal control can take horses in an emergency, but we have no facility to keep them. We have a good relationship with Healing Hearts Rescue. I personally support them whenever I can."
Schmittdiel has had the support of the community. Local feed stores and tack shops have donated or given discounts to support the rescue. Stephanie Jackson donates her farrier services. Dr. Maria DiGiovanni, of Carolina Equine, donates her dental services. And as previously mentioned, Daniel donates his veterinary services.
"The local equine rescue is a great resource," said Daniel. "I turn to Libby anytime there is talk of a horse in a bad situation. I hope that people get behind her. She services the local community, taking care of horses in our own backyard."
Schmittdiel says the biggest challenge she faces is spreading the word about Healing Hearts, although she is about to get a boost in that area.
Schmittdiel just found out this week that a network television show has selected Healing Hearts to be a part of a prime time show featuring animal sanctuaries.
"I'm very excited about the project," she said. "No further information can be disclosed at this time. As soon as we have a press release available, we will share the information."
Anyone interested in finding out more about Healing Hearts may attend an upcoming meeting Feb. 23 at 6:30 p.m. at 200 Old Dewberry Lane in Southern Pines. For further information, call either Schmittdiel at (910) 639-2482 or volunteer coordinator Ashley Deemer at (910) 315-1596. Donations are accepted on the Healing Hearts Web site at healingheartsequinerescue.org.
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