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New future for neglected horses

Macey has been receiving extra care and attention, to help her cope with her separation anxiety, which has been negatively impacting her wellbeing. Courtesy Shanny Bélisle

It’s been just over three weeks since Shanny Bélisle was able to bring home Chester, Lenny, and Macey, three horses who had been the subject of growing animal welfare concerns in the community. 

But now the animals are being prepared for a new – hopefully more comfortable – chapter of their lives, thanks to the work of Bélisle and her friends.

“I really hope for them to live a horse’s life. Not a life where they go do nothing in a field, even if they see the vet and farrier regularly,” said Bélisle. “I want their families to spend time with them, give them something to do.”

Bélisle first met the three horses in March 2022 in Kahnawake with her friend, Kiona Akohseràke Deer. The horses’ manes were matted, and their coats dried and hardened with mud. Chester, who is around 23, is the oldest of the horses. Macey is 12, and Lenny is her offspring, born around 7 years ago. 

“There was basically no food, only old mouldy hay with poop all over, and no water,” Bélisle said, explaining that the horses had tangled twines on their faces, which appeared to be makeshift halters. “That’s really dangerous, they could’ve gotten injured wearing those. My heart just sank.”

In early July, a community member posted a picture of the horses on social media, sparking outrage. The horses were removed from their previous owner and transported to Bélisle’s home. Since then, $3,835 has been raised for the animals from a GoFundMe campaign, which has entirely gone towards veterinary care.

“I feel a huge sense of relief for them, to know they’re going to be living a full life now with people who care about them. It’s all we wanted for them,” said Deer. “After the vet and farrier came, you could immediately see a difference in all of them. It was amazing to see, after so long of seeing them go without.”

The horses have several health issues. All three have chronic laminitis, an inflammation of the sensitive layers of tissues in their hooves, and Chester has fork rot, a painful condition where part of the hoof has started rotting due to standing in dirty wet ground for too long. Chester is also suffering from arthritis and may need pain management medication to ensure he’s comfortable for the rest of his life. 

Lenny had the most problems with her feet. She had been spotted lying down for a week around two months ago, which the farrier indicated was due to the pain she was experiencing in her profoundly overgrown hooves.

“Her feet are super crooked, she’ll need at least a year of regular trimming for her feet to get back to a normal shape. She might have lifelong damages from her feet getting to that point, causing long-lasting effects in her legs and tendons,” Bélisle explained. “She’s still young and we’re hoping that she’ll recover well, but only time will tell.”

The three horses will be separated – which caused some concern for community members who have seen the little family live together for so many years. But after seeking the opinion of multiple professional horse trainers and veterinarian advice, separating the horses is what’s best for their wellbeing, said Bélisle. 

The horses’ hooves were also all overgrown, with all three horses since being diagnosed with chronic laminitis. Courtesy Shanny Bélisle

“People have to understand that horses are not like us humans,” Bélisle said. 

Macey in particular needs to be separated, Bélisle said. She is deeply attached to Chester – Bélisle added that she has no problems being away from Lenny – and will charge and panic when she can’t see him, attacking Lenny if she’s in the way. 

The behaviour is not only highly dangerous, but it’s mentally troubling for Macey, with Bélisle noting that Macey is not happy in her current situation. Considering Chester is getting older, Macey needs to learn to live without him, and being separated from him will ultimately result in her anxiety decreasing as she learns independence. The process of training her to be without him will be done gradually.

“Be assured that it won’t be done drastically,” Bélisle said.

Chester and Macey already have families lined up to adopt them. Chester is going to be adopted by a young woman that simply wants a gentle giant to love, who plans to take him on smooth trail rides and ultimately retire him to her parents’ large farm. Macey will be adopted by a family who is keen to work with her and unlock her potential for connecting with humans, potentially looking at a future in zootherapy.

Lenny, the youngest of the group, is the only horse who currently does not have a family lined up – but Bélisle is considering keeping the mare. 

“I’m trying to convince myself to keep her because she’s my favourite, but a horse is a big responsibility and I already have two, so it’s not a decision I want to take lightly,” she said. “I also want to make sure I can provide everything that she needs.”

Community members can keep up with the horses’ journey via a public Facebook group named “Chester, Macey & Lenny – Rescue Journey” where Bélisle will continue to post regular updates about the horses’ health.

This article was originally published in print on Friday, August 11, in issue 32.32 of The Eastern Door.

Eve is a reporter with the Eastern Door. She has also covered harm reduction and social justice issues for the Montreal Gazette, The Breach, Filter Magazine, and more.

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Eve is a reporter with the Eastern Door. She has also covered harm reduction and social justice issues for the Montreal Gazette, The Breach, Filter Magazine, and more.