Firefighter adopts neglected horse

Wednesday, March 27, 2002

More than a decade ago, a friend gave Matt Mackley a year-old quarter horse who had become entangled in a barbed wire fence. Then 21 years old, for months Mackley nursed the horse's infected wounds in his parents' basement.

"They gave the horse to me because they pictured him for dead," he says. That horse is 12 years old now and competes in team roping.

After authorities took three starving and dehydrated horses away from their Jackson, Mo., owner earlier this month, the Cape Girardeau firefighter was one of more than 80 people who called to offer help. He now is the adoptive owner of one of the horses. Another person has adopted both of the others.

Both new owners were chosen because they had previous experience rescuing horses.

Mackley actually saw the three neglected horses in the Jackson field and thought they were must be very old. He phoned Charlotte Craig, Cape Girardeau health director, after seeing her loading up the horses on a TV report.

Calls came from all over Missouri, from Illinois and Tennessee. "There were so many callers, I just started going down the list," Craig says. "When the right homes were found I quit."

Many people with the best intentions wanted a horse for their children. "They simply were not horses for first-timers," Craig said. They required a "special needs home," she said.

Craig made pre-adoption home visits to both owners, and they were required to sign an agreement that sets out the conditions in which the horses must be maintained.

Mackley doesn't care if the 5-year-old horse, a paint, can be ridden or not. "She can be a yard ornament. She can just hang out in the field. She's a beautiful looking horse," he said.

Because the horse was prone to biting and kicking when brought in, Craig had nicknamed Mackley's her after a particularly formidable Confederate general. Sherman, his Union enemy, once called Forrest "the very devil."

Mackleys' children, 9-year-old Olivia and 7-year-old Ryan, decided Bedford Forrest would make a better Betty.

Mackley, who has been around horses all his life, plans to assess Betty's personality more slowly. "She seems sweet," he said, "but it's too early to tell."

Betty's 7-year-old mother, whom Craig nicknamed Little Sorrel, and Betty's 2-year-old sister, nicknamed Lucy, went to another owner somewhere in Southeast Missouri. That owner declined to be contacted.

Neither of the owners lives in or near Cape Girardeau. Their locations are not being divulged because owners whose animals have been taken away from them sometimes in the past have tracked down the animals and tried to reclaim them, says Donna Earnest, director of the Humane Society of Southeast Missouri.

She doubts the horses' previous owner, 55-year-old David Kinder, would do so. Kinder, who was sentenced to 100 hours of community service for animal neglect, said he could not afford to feed the horses and willingly handed them over.

Prosecuting Attorney Morley Swingle and Associate Circuit Judge Gary Kamp played key roles in rescuing the horses, Craig said, along with Donna and Mark Boardman of Flickerwood Farms in Fruitland, Mo., where the horses were boarded until adopted.

"There are so many places where people would have scoffed, laughed at or not had time," Craig said of the prosecutor and judge. "They never blinked an eye.

"Not only was it all in day's work but something they were happy to do."

The three horses' prospects are good, Earnest said.

"They've all been given a clean bill of health and should do nicely."

Mackley thinks Betty will need three to four months of good care to rebound. His prescription is "a lot of TLC and vanilla wafers."

Betty also is getting a promise. "She'll be taken care of forever," Mackley said.

335-6611, extension 182

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