A Chance for 'Chance'
Three-year-old Saddlebred Chance now has the chance that many horses destined for slaughter aren’t lucky enough to have — a loving home and a new life.
Briana Atwell, of Eastwood, picked Chance out of a Pennsylvania kill pen auction two weeks ago, only minutes before the horse would have been knocking on slaughter’s door.
Chance is the second kill pen rescue for Atwell — the first was a pregnant gray mare, also a Saddlebred, named Coal. A friend had bailed her out of slaughter a couple of years ago, and Atwell then took her in.
“She took a risk with Coal, acting totally on impulse,” Atwell said. “Remembering that inspired me to do the same.”
Coal, Chance and many other horses in line for slaughter are saved each year with the help of Another Chance 4 Horses, a nonprofit equine rescue and re-homing facility located in Pennsylvania.
The initiative, called the Broker-Owned Program, involves AC4H staff evaluating the animals headed for the kill pen in the state and posting low-quality photos and videos on their website.
AC4H will then publicize the horses online through social media. People can either pay the full listed price to bail a horse out and take the horse home, or they can make a donation toward a horse to help offset the price.
Thanks to the publicity, many of the horses listed find homes easily, Atwell said — but not one animal who caught her eye on the list two weeks ago. He was headed for slaughter in only three days.
“By Saturday, he had no home offered, and very little money had been chipped in,” she said. “He was at the last-call stage. Sunday evening, he would be on the truck.”
At noon the
next day, a Massachusetts-based rescue paid his bail, but they couldn’t offer him a home. Atwell was sitting at her computer in agony.
Five minutes before the 8 p.m. deadline, “without any sort of thought, and without telling my husband,” Atwell emailed AC4H and said she’d take him.
Uncertainty and apprehension were running through Atwell’s mind throughout Saturday night.
“I had just gotten a horse from who knows where, knowing hardly anything about him,” she said. “My head was reeling.”
Within seconds of his arrival at Atwell’s 10-acre property, it was clear that Chance was terrified of people and his new surroundings, and he would flinch at any attempt to touch his legs, stomach or face she said.
A bucket of grain was a sight of horror for him — although he had no muscle mass and desperately needed nutrition, it took Atwell multiple tries to convince him to eat anything.
“I couldn’t imagine what he had been put through,” Atwell said. “He even thought a carrot was terrifying.”
But in only 10 days, Chance has made remarkable progress, eating regularly and allowing Atwell to catch him and touch his front legs.
Atwell knows that Chance is a project horse, and she acknowledges that he still has a long way to go — but she’s got the support team behind her to make it possible.
A key member of that team is Atwell’s working student Farrin Wallace, a junior at Pinecrest who helps Atwell with riding and barn work every day after school.
Calling Chance “good-natured and people-friendly,” she said the skittish horse now comes up to her readily and nuzzles her when she sits in his pasture.
She recalled one afternoon last week when Atwell’s 3-year-old daughter Hailey ran straight up to him full speed ahead — and Chance didn’t bat an eye.
“It was phenomenal, how totally OK with it he was,” Wallace said.
With four horses of her own to ride and care for, time management won’t be easy for Wallace as she starts working more with Chance — but she’s excited to help him grow, learn and progress.
“I’m giving up my social life, but it’s worth it,” she said.
Because Chance, like Coal, is a Saddlebred, Atwell believes his disposition and willingness to learn will speed up the training process, once he’s saddle-broken.
“The ones I’ve interacted with are so easygoing and levelheaded, so easy to train,” she said.
A spontaneous decision Chance might have been — but Atwell doesn’t regret this latest equine addition to the family. She said he’s helping fill the void left by her beloved Coal, who was put down after a sudden onset of EPM late last year.
“That horse was so special to me,” she said. “I couldn’t stop thinking about her the whole time I was looking at this guy on the AC4H website.”
Conveniently, husband Kevin brought home three troubled hunting dogs right after Atwell bought Chance — they now have a whole “petting zoo,” Atwell said.
“Since we rescued them all at the same time, he can’t say anything,” she said with a laugh.
“Chance will need a lot of groceries and a lot of time. He just has to grow mentally and physically and trust us before we start the training. He’ll let me know when he’s ready.”
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