Photo: Terri Cage Photography
A beautiful bay horse pranced about, the sun bringing out
hints of gold within his coat. He pricked his ears forward, his bright eyes
taking in the sights around him. This was a happy horse. A horse that was
loved, cherished, and well taken care of.
But at one point in his life, this horse had faced one of the worst situations
a horse could encounter. Starved and neglected, this young Thoroughbred had
once been mistrusting of humans. After all, they’d left him to become weak with
starvation as he developed a terrible case of rain rot, and their negligence
had led to the death of his dam.
This is the story of a horse named Spanky.
Registered with Jockey Club as Make Me Laugh, Spanky was born in Louisiana in
January of 2009. As a two-year-old, he sold for just $500 at the John Franks
Memorial Two-Year-Olds in Training Sale. But he never raced.
Instead, he ended up at Charles Ford’s farm in Many, Louisiana, where his life
would take a turn for the worse. Among nearly 80 other horses, the young horse
was neglected, leaving him to starve while more than 25 horses died on the
farm. Charles Ford has since pleaded guilty to ten counts of felony animal
cruelty; sentencing and a restitution hearing are set for November.
Spanky at the Many, Louisiana farm
In early January of 2012, the Louisiana Horse Rescue Association and Remember Me Rescue stepped in to help the animals. Spanky was among a handful of
horses that were brought to Remember Me Rescue in Burleson, Texas, where he was
rehabilitated and prepared for adoption.
“He really touched my heart at the Many farm,” co-founder of Remember Me, Donna
Keen, said. “He was so scared and timid, but as soon as I got close enough to
scratch him, he was my best friend.”
Two months later, Spanky was adopted by Elizabeth Felgendreher of Holly Oak Farm near Midway, Kentucky. In
far better condition than he had been when he first arrived at Remember Me,
Spanky made the long journey to Kentucky, where he joined his new family at Dietrich
and Elizabeth Felgrendreher’s farm.
It was never part of the plan for Elizabeth to adopt Spanky. But when she heard
about the rescue of the horses from Many, Louisiana and saw the pictures of the
needy horses, she couldn’t help but step in.
Spanky at Remember Me Rescue
“It was clear to me that each of them should have someone to love and care for
them well forever, given what they had already endured,” Elizabeth said. “I
thought about our own horses here on the farm, knowing how lucky they are to
have a life of bounty, and thinking they could ‘share’ a bit of their good
fortune with a ‘needy soul.’”
And so it was Spanky that she chose to adopt.
“Spanky’s sweet face and his gentle, timid appearance left no question in my
mind that he was the one I wanted,” Elizabeth said. “I imagined that Spanky was
a frightened little boy who was just beginning to learn that somebody cared
about him, and that he might actually be safe.”
Upon his arrival at Holly Oak, Elizabeth launched a Facebook fan page –
titled Spanky of the Bluegrass – for
the rescued Thoroughbred. Written in Spanky’s point of view, the page shares
Spanky’s adventures, chronicling his life on the farm and his new life.
“I can’t really remember exactly why and how the idea of the Facebook page
began,” Elizabeth said. “At the time, my cousin in Virginia was maintaining a
Facebook journal about her various farm animals and organic gardens. . . That’s
probably what motivated me to do the same for Spanky. I think I also wanted his
little life to have a recognizable time on earth, so to speak. I wanted someone
more than just me to care about the fact he had lived among us. I guess I
figured he might not become ‘rich and famous’ as a competition horse, but maybe
he could leave his mark by telling his tales of happiness.”
In the sixteen months that Spanky’s Facebook page has existed, it has
accumulated more than 500 likes. A number of loyal fans and supporters tune in
for his updates, leaving kind comments on his fun posts.
“The Facebook followers are great,” Elizabeth stated. “I feel like I know some
of them personally now. . . and I do (know some personally)! Even some local
horse people here in Kentucky who I have never met but know of are now
following the escapades of Spanky. I’m sure, as time rolls on, I’ll probably
meet these people at local events, because of Spanky! There’s even a jockey
from Arlington Park who follows the page, and Egyptian and Saudi Thoroughbred
people. Can you imagine that?!”
As Spanky’s Facebook page began, so did his life at Holly Oak, a life far
different than the one he had endured in Many, Louisiana.
Spanky shortly after arriving at Holly Oak Farm
Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Felgendreher
“Spanky was exactly the way I had imagined when he arrived here on the farm,”
Elizabeth said. “He came off the van cautiously, seeming as if he was gently
stepping into a new world where he needed to be careful not to offend anyone. .
. He seemed to appreciate any little thing we did for him. I spent a lot of
time with him, grooming, snuggling. . . He showed no signs of being greedy or
pushy. He was always grateful, in his timid way. He has always been the kind of
horse who comes forward to you when you approach his stall, not because he
wants out, but because he wants to greet you. He is still that way.”
Spanky settled in to his new home well and quickly became friends with the
other horses on the farm, which he often included in his Facebook updates. It
didn’t take long for him to transform into a beautiful, happy Thoroughbred with
a sleek bay coat and bright eyes.
“What was so wonderful about his transformation. . . was how his body responded
to the exercise and riding,” Elizabeth said. “He gained muscle mass and
developed the shape of an athletic dressage horse. His neck filled out and his
hindquarters grew to be delicious.”
The transformation in Spanky
Elizabeth began riding Spanky, teaching him dressage. Along the way, she found
that his gentle demeanor was the same under saddle.
“From the beginning, Spanky was a pleasant and willing horse to ride,”
Elizabeth stated. “It’s remarkable to think that the most training he probably
ever had was to be quickly broken for his two-year-old in training sale.”
Fourteen months after Spanky arrived at Holly Oak, he participated in his first
horse show, an all-Thoroughbred show at the Kentucky Horse Park. Although the show was intended to be an
opportunity for Spanky to gain experience, he did not just emerge with
experience, but also a blue ribbon in a dressage horse in-hand conformation
class. His show career had officially begun.
Spanky at his first horse show
Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Felgendreher
“The last time I asked Spanky, he told me that he wanted to continue learning
about dressage and go to more horse shows, particularly those special
Thoroughbred shows,” Elizabeth said. “If he ever indicates that he would rather
try something different, like jumping, I have a couple of friends here in
Kentucky who do combined training and would love to be part of that process.”
Spanky has clearly made a transformation since arriving at his new home last
spring. Although he may look like a different horse than he did early last
year, he is still the same horse – just with greater assurance.
“Spanky’s personality of gentleness and sweet curiosity has not changed over
the time he has been here,” Elizabeth stated. “He is more confident now, and
likes to be a ‘trickster.’ [It] seems like he has a sense of humor, pulling
pranks on me, primarily. He knows exactly how far he can go before someone gets
angry with him. He seems to have a different set of rules for me versus my
husband. Of course, I find this brilliant of him.”
Spanky romps in his paddock
Adopting Spanky has served as the perfect reminder for Elizabeth – a reminder
of why she does what she does. In Spanky, she has found a best friend.
“Spanky reminds me every day of my own childhood and the ‘why’ I ended up
spending a lifetime with horses,” Elizabeth stated. “It’s not the horse shows
or the prospect of finding fame or fortune. It’s the other stuff – the simple
daily interaction and accomplishments between the two of us. I suppose some
might find this as a self-indulgent waste of time, but I like to think of it as
sharing our best with each other.”
Be sure to like Spanky’s Facebook page, Spanky of the Bluegrass.