The phonecall was an irritation that happened regularly: an old horse, no longer able to keep him, lost grazing - could you rescue him, and by the way "we actually want £500 for him".
I politely explained for the umpteenth time that we don’t buy rescue horses, otherwise every horse would be a rescue horse when someone wanted to get rid of it and they ran off. The next day brought another attempt. This time asking for £100 as the field owner wanted him gone. I still refused; he was a long distance away. The following day, the owner simply phoned to ask if we would just take him, as no one would buy him and he had to be gone by the weekend. The only other choice was to shoot him and that would cost them money.
I immediately embarked on a crusade to get the horse home before the deadline. I stayed up all night visiting horse message boards and e-mailing horse transporters to find a quote I could afford, as the horse was some distance away. By the following morning, I had several chancers (shippers) offering extortionate quotes, as I was “desperate.”
With the words that I will never forget – “You can’t shoot a horse called Wilber and especially not on a Saturday.” – I found my knight in shining armour, Kevin Scott, who had saved both the day and Wilber. Kevin set straight off and returned with him in a very posh lorry some hours later. He remarked how good and quiet he was, and it became apparent why very soon. The huge head with pink eyes and crusty lashes blinked at us with a very kind look and gentleness about him and I cried. This elderly horse had been left out to fend for himself without food. His feet had curled up so badly with laminitis that he couldn’t walk, but he couldn’t have done so anyway, because he had no muscle to support him had he tried.
On removing his rug, we discovered two season’s worth of hair, which actually prevented the rug from cutting in any further. His eyes were encrusted with gunge and there was blood where the skin had split. His chestnuts also bled. I truly expected him to die, but the following morning there he was, head dragging on the floor, but still standing. The first job was to get his feet cut back so he could stand properly. Our farrier said it had been a very long time since he had seen a horse in such a bad state, but he kindly chopped and filed to a point close to normality. The next problem was that by balancing his feet, his muscles were stretched painfully, as they had grown used to being where they were. His teeth had to be done next, just so he could benefit from his food. It was obvious that he had survived on very little, because his teeth were very long and not capable of chewing anymore. One thing was sure; he had the will to live, because he had been kept like this for a long time. He had a terrible cough and his eyes had to be bathed and special ointment used to keep them open.
We decided that if Wilber was going to live, then he needed his body parts working. My daughter had fallen for Wilber big time, because despite all that happened to him he really was the sweetest thing on legs, so she embarked on a ‘dragging’ routine. On the end of a lead rope was a head inches off the floor, attached to which was a coughing, corpse-like thing that you dragged several feet at a time and then dragged back for his lunch.
Kyra was trying to save Wilber, but it turned out he would save her.
A few days after Wilber’s arrival, I had to tell my daughter that her father had died. She was devastated. Despite her grief, she knew that “Wilberbeast” had to be cared for and she did this every waking moment. That horse mopped her tears with his mane without complaint and nuzzled her with his head. He simply couldn’t die too, because without Wilber, I don’t think Kyra would have survived.
We took it in turns to drag him further and further every day, to stretch and grow his muscles and to make his body kick back in. After a few weeks, he could manage a fair distance, stopping to graze before cooling his feet in the stream and then plodding back. I can remember being about a mile away from the farm and seeing rain clouds gather, and by the time we got back the storm had been and gone and we were drenched. But Wilber had his ears forward, so at last he was enjoying himself. He got a little happier every day, but no faster until the fateful day Sherry arrived. We now had three horses and Sherry, being a very upmarket Thoroughbred, got Wilber’s heart racing. Wilber still had to be rugged in July because he was still so ill he couldn’t maintain heat and you could watch the life drain out of him in a very short while. However, wherever Sherry went, Wilberbeast was close behind. He had to use his muscles and heart to keep up. I remember the first time he cantered, he squealed with delight. He could now go out as long as he was warm and came in at night, but every day he would be found lying down and I would get phone calls from neighbors to say he “wasn’t well.” He still plays dead most days. But he survived and the difference in him was miraculous. Those who sniggered behind our backs now stopped to ask about Wilber. A little boy who had lost his father through cancer came and rode him and even my daughter plodded about on him. He became quite famous because of how he had survived and also because of the rarity of a horse that looks like a giant Moomin.
The phone started ringing again with rescue horses. I started two lists to match up horses with people, but I would still get referred horses that were going to be put down if I couldn’t take them. These were nice horses with years of life that could give a lot of pleasure to someone deserving.
When we realized that we owned the most horses on the yard, we started talking about doing something. And then we just did it. We bought a twenty acre farm in southwest Wales with the biggest stable Wilber had ever seen and woods and streams, right on top of a mountain, so he could see fields wherever he looked. I’ve just bought an extra seven acres to accommodate the horses, cows, pigs, goats, geese, chickens, ducks, dogs and cats that have since joined Wilber’s herd. He is on top of the hill as I write this, with two rugs and his neck cover on, happily sleeping in the winter sun, surrounded by all his friends, just being happy.
We may have changed his life, but not as much as he changed ours. He lives as part of our permanent herd, freely and naturally.
The gentle "Wilberbeast" and the reason for what we do here at Trallwm Farm.