September 2010: I met Zodiac at Days End Farm Horse Rescue in Lisbon, Maryland. The stakes-winning gelding retired from racing a year earlier with earnings of over $200,000 in 26 starts.
I walked into his stall and he gingerly turned his head to greet his visitor. The weight of his body was supported by an Anderson Sling, he was receiving round-the-clock intravenous fluids, and his legs were bandaged from top to bottom.
Zodiac's body score on the Henneke Scale was a 1, which is severely emaciated. He suffered from ulcers both in his digestive system and in his eyes, and the staff battled his lymphangitis with ice wraps and medicine. He ran sporadic low-grade fevers, and received blood plasma to aid in his recovery.
Days End took Zodiac and seven other Thoroughbreds into their care as the most critical starvation cases in a West Virginia cruelty case which resulted in the seizure of over 50 horses. I met the veterinarian who was caring for the horses, some local Animal Control officers, and the primary caregivers. They all knew their jobs very well and knew every lump and bump on the horses’ bodies. The volunteers of Days End worked day and night to care for these horses. A day sheet hung from each stall door, marked with notations from every visit to the stall: “Filled hay.” “One manure pile.” “Cleaned stall.” “Filled water. Drank half a bucket.”
One day later, I was at the World Equestrian Games, photographing some of the greatest equine athletes in the world. Six hours east, seven mighty Thoroughbreds fought their own daily battle for their lives and they never left my mind once while I was in Lexington.
November 2010: Once again, I was on the road to Kentucky, this time to photograph the Breeders' Cup. I stopped by Days End to pay a visit to Zodiac. He and the other Thoroughbreds were all showing improvement; most of the other horses were already on a turnout schedule and had shown great improvement in their weight and overall health.
Zodiac was still in his sling, but looked much better. He had gained weight, and did not look as drawn and gaunt as he did in September. So many horses could not have endured what Zodiac had been through, but there was something about this horse that would not quit.
All winter, I read updates on the Days End website, and Zodiac began to improve in leaps and bounds, literally. He was strong enough to stay out of his sling after a few months, and then there was the joyous video posted online of Zodiac taking his first walk outside (Video).
May 2011: Preakness weekend. The horse who greeted me on my latest visit had regained much of the fire and elegance that he had as a racehorse. Zodiac yawned and luxuriated as his personal grooming team readied him for his photo session. It was clear that the volunteers took great pride in showing off their horse, and Zodiac was basking in the attention.
Please visit Days End Farm's website or Facebook page for more information about the work they do for horses in need, like Zodiac, and so many others.