BALDWYN – Phone calls mean bad news for Sheila Horton, but she gets them with increasing frequency.
When she answers, it’s always the same story: Someone has found a horse on the brink of death, and it needs to be rescued. No matter what time the phone rings, Horton said, she’ll jump into action.
“I get three to five calls a day on starving horses,” she said.
The calls come because Horton operates Have A Heart Horse Rescue and Animal Protection Agency, a not-for-profit group that provides a safe haven for abused and neglected equines.
It nurtures the creatures until they’re well and then finds each a home.
Launched in August 2007, the operation started small – just a few horses – but it quickly grew as word spread to county sheriffs and animal-rescue groups.
So far, Horton has taken in 43 horses, an average of about 2.5 for each month she’s been open.
She’d like to take more but hasn’t had the space. Have A Heart operates on a 20-acre pasture donated by Heath Coggins, owner of Baldwyn Hardware & Supply and Booneville Hardware & Supply. The land can comfortably hold a dozen horses, but Horton has squeezed in as many as 18 at a time.
All that will change next month when Horton moves her rescue organization to a 300-acre pasture in Carroll County. She’ll be able to handle as many as 100 horses and offer a permanent home to those unfit for adoption.
It will become a sanctuary, as well as a rehabilitation center, Horton said. And she will continue to cover Northeast Mississippi by maintaining a permanent presence here.
But money remains an obstacle. Not including veterinary bills, it costs about $2,000 a month to care for a dozen horses, Horton said. Most of it comes out of her own pocket and through donations.
It will cost eight times that amount or more if the operation grows to accommodate 100 equines.
“In our case, there have been times if she does rescue the horse, she’s got to feed that horse, continue to provide shots and medical care, she’s got to transport them or hire somebody to help her move these animals,” said Prentiss County Sheriff Randy Tolar, who works with Horton on animal abuse and animal neglect cases.
Tolar said there’s a real need for Have A Heart because there aren’t a lot of agencies willing to take abused horses. Most shelters accept only cats and dogs, but not large mammals.
“She’s probably had more come from outside Prentiss County than from here,” Tolar said. “But I have seen some of the horses she has rescued, and they were in pitiful, pitiful shape.”
It’s hard to discern how many horses live in Northeast Mississippi, because figures vary. But the Mississippi State University Extension Service estimated some 113,000 equines statewide in 2006.
Horton said she has accepted animals from throughout the region and is one of only a few places that rescues horses here. In Defense of Animals/Project Hope in Grenada is another.
On a sunny Tuesday morning at the Baldwyn ranch, Horton and four teenagers tended to their hoofed patients. Two of the teens are Horton’s grandsons, one is her nephew and the other is a family friend.
The boys joked and jostled each other but took obvious care with the horses.
Most of the equines looked healthy as they munched hay and pranced about. But some still displayed the signs of abuse – exposed ribs, bony haunches, startled movements. Horton said the animals will overcome, and then her eyes welled with tears.
“These guys wouldn’t be here if we weren’t here,” she said. “None of them would be here if we weren’t in the position to take them.”
Contact Emily Le Coz at (662) 678-1588 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Emily Le Coz/Daily Journal