Driving down a quiet country road near Dundalk, Ontario last summer, on her way to purchase some water troughs for her horse rescue operation, Laura McArthur spotted a horse lying down in a field. She kept driving at first, but a nagging feeling made her turn around and go back. What she discovered was both shocking and sickening.
Laura saw that the horse, a giant Percheron cross, was struggling to get up while a dog bit and chewed away at his back end and soft underbelly, literally eating his flesh. She sprang into action, hopping the fence and yelling at the dog. But the dog came at her, so she retreated.
In disbelief, Laura ran to the farm house and banged on the door. A Mennonite woman answered, surprised to see Laura so upset. “I told her what was going on in her field, and she said she knew the horse was down, and that the dog belonged to her family,” said Laura.
Confused, Laura asked the woman why nothing was being done to help the horse. “She said they had called the dead stock man, but that he wouldn’t come because the horse wasn’t dead.”
And so, it appeared, the horse was being left to die. Laura could not stand by and let that happen. She asked the woman to tie up the dog, and give her a bucket so that she could give the horse some water, on the scorching hot day. And then she called the SPCA to ask for advice.
“They told me that if I could get them to surrender the horse to me, I should,” Laura explained. So, she went back to the house and did just that, using the video camera on her phone to record the hasty transaction. The woman called her husband, who was working in the fields, and it was agreed that Laura could take possession of the horse.
It wasn’t as easy as calling in a trailer to rescue him though. The horse, named Barnie, was massive, and he couldn’t stand up. Upon speaking with the family’s teenaged daughter, Laura learned that he had had an accident in the barn. “She told me he had been in harness, walking into the barn and apparently the same dog jumped up and bit him. Barnie then fell over backwards onto a cow manure trench.” Since then, Barnie hadn’t been right; he appeared paralyzed in the back end.
Trying to decide what to do, Laura called a vet who met her there with painkillers. The prognosis was grim…euthanasia seemed the only answer, but Laura was adamant that Barnie could get better, that he wanted to get better. She insisted he be given the chance.
Barnie stayed put for two weeks, with the young daughter watching out for him, feeding and watering him, at Laura’s request. Laura, and a friend who lived nearby, who also happened to be a vet, went out to monitor his progress, treat his wounds and administer pain medication during that time.
And then it was time to try to get him on his feet. “He seemed strong enough, and seemed to want to get up, but he couldn’t do it on his own,” said Laura. It took four people using ropes to raise the big fellow, who would stand momentarily, then fall over.
It took some time and a lot of sweat, but they got Barnie onto a large trailer, stacking hay bales around him to keep him upright. They shipped him a few miles away, to Laura’s vet friend’s farm, where his recovery continued until he was strong enough to withstand the two-hour trip to Laura’s Silver Willow Farm near Mansfield, ON.
When he arrived, Barnie was put into a round pen with deep sand footing. He still had trouble getting up and down on his own, and Laura said she didn’t feel comfortable even standing beside him because he would fall over. “There were times when I questioned what I was doing,” she said, “but he continued to eat and drink well, and clearly didn’t want to give up.”
After a couple of months, Barnie’s wounds were healing, both from the dog bites and the ingrown halter that had to be cut off his head. He had also become steadier on his feet, so Laura decided to move him to a two-acre paddock with a shed, and a lady friend. “I put him in with a 25-year-old little mare, who has become his girlfriend,” she said.
Barnie remained on anti-inflammatories for six-months following his injury, and was eventually weaned off the painkillers. His gaits are not quite normal, said Laura, but otherwise, he is happy and healthy. This past spring, Laura’s long-time friend, Rick Parker, suggested that Barnie could use something to do, that as a working animal he might enjoy having a job again. Reluctantly, Laura agreed to harness him up. “I was nervous,” she said. “You never know what mental scars are left behind.”
Laura said Barnie was a little frightened initially when they put the harness on him, but that after receiving a little reassurance, he settled down and within 10 minutes he’d picked up his head, perked up his ears and happily set off trotting around the farm, looking quite pleased with himself.
Not long after, Rick, who, along with his wife Sue, was serving as head wrangler on a movie set, contacted Laura and asked if Barnie would like an acting gig. They needed a work horse type for a scene being shot at the Black Creek Pioneer Village for the movie Crimson Peak. And so, in June, Barnie made his first trip off the farm since his rescue to appear as an equine extra in the movie directed by Guillermo del Toro and staring Charlie Hunnam, Tom Hiddleston, Jessica Chastain, Burn Gorman and Mia Wasikowska, which will be released next October. Laura said he did well on the trip and coped with the atmosphere of the movie set impressively. “He was a little concerned at first,” she said. “His demeanor changed a little bit – his eyes got bigger – on the set around all the big boom mics and the hundreds of people, but he handled it well.”
Barnie’s next role – as the star attraction of Laura’s niece’s wedding – came at the end of August. As a surprise, Laura arranged, with Rick’s help, to have him hitched to a carriage to give the bride and groom a ride around the farm after the ceremony. “My niece got teary-eyed when she saw Barnie because she recognized him right away,” said Laura. “Knowing his past, she understood how special it was.”
Laura said that while it is usually her intention to rescue, rehab and re-home horses, Barnie has earned a place at her home forever. Of all the horses in the field, she said, Barnie is always the first to come say hello when he sees her. He is clearly happy to be alive. Recalling the day they met, Laura said, “It was a lucky day for Barnie and a lucky day for me too.
You can learn more about Laura’s rescue operation at www.SilverWillowFarmRescue.com