LAPEL — Edgar had no name when he came to Molly Gunason's farm near Anderson.
The miniature horse — about the size of a Great Dane — was nameless, barely a year old and had a seemingly well-founded mistrust of people. The mini-horse was one of those 165 animals rescued in April from a Summitville farm. They were found starving, sick and matted with mud and manure. If they could walk, they moved among the dead bodies of more than 100 animals.
The couple who owned the farm, Daniel and Carrie Ault, of the 3000 block of County Road 1700 North, are facing more than 100 charges including cruelty to an animal and improper disposal of a dead animal. An October hearing is set in Madison Circuit Court 1.
The day after the discovery, Edgar went, along with 15 other hooved animals -- including mini-horses, ponies, sheep, and one llama — to Molly Gunason's farm. She had an extra barn where the refugees could be quarantined from her own adopted horses, cats, dogs, ducks --and one chicken. There, the mini-horse received a name.
“I took them because I could. You can’t turn your back on them,” said Molly, a horsewoman for 50 years.
To get Edgar to approach her, Molly took advantage of a horse’s natural curiosity.
“I sat in the pasture and ignored him while I hand-fed treats (alfalfa pellets) to the other horses. He’d stretch out his neck, but never near enough.”
Molly put in hours daily of careful feeding and grooming — she said she couldn’t have done it without the outpouring of feed and donations from the people of Madison County, horrified by the story. The other rescued animals were somewhat accustomed to people and halters. However, the nameless miniature horse had no trust of them. “He was as wild as a March hare,” said Molly.
It was six weeks before the mini-horse would take treats from her hand. After 10 weeks, the refugees were ready to be “rehomed,” but Edgar was still wild; his coat was still ugly.
He was just the kind of animal that Kay and Dave Mares prefer to take in. “Everyone wants pretty animals,” said Kay. “Give us the sickest, the unadoptable ones.”
All of the Mares' animals are adopted -- several saddle horses, two draft horses, goats, sheep, donkeys, cats, dogs, rabbits, and poultry. They came mostly from owners who could no longer care for them. The Mares, who live near Lapel, also buy neglected animals at auction that might otherwise be sold for slaughter.
Kay works full time with the animals along with a crew of experienced horsemen. When Dave comes home from a day as a critical-care physician at St. Vincent Anderson Regional Hospital, he finds it relaxing to pitch in with haying and feeding.
After Dave finished his training 12 years ago, the couple set up the horse farm they had always planned. Kay, who has worked with horses since childhood, said that to minister to an abused horse, “You take it slow. Deal with them quietly, on their terms, face-to face.”
Also helping feed and train their horses are their sons, Joe, 13, and Tom, 18, along with the other members of the Lapel Ruff Ryders 4-H Club.
Parades and 4-H
The first person to get a halter on Edgar was one of the club members, Abby Maxey.
“I coaxed him gently, with treats,” she said with a beaming smile. “Edgar is sweet. I love him.”
A 2013 graduate of Lapel High School, Abby has been around the Mares farm since she was in second grade. Starting college this fall, she plans to become an equine veterinarian.
Edgar also walked in the recent parades at the Lapel Village Fair and the Madison County 4-H Fair, where he proved gentle enough to be petted by children. “He was a trooper,” said Kay proudly.
The Mares family gets great satisfaction, said Kay, from “knowing the animals will never be in want again, and seeing them teach compassion to the kids.”
Today almost all of the 165 animals rescued are healthy and safe, according to Maleah Stringer, director of Anderson’s Animal Protection League, which worked to find new homes for the animals. Only two or three were too sick to save. All but two of the animals have been placed in adoptive homes, and there are applications for those animals, said Stringer.
Edgar is still regaining his health — he's regained 50 pounds. His black-spotted white coat and long brown mane and tail are almost smooth. His dark brown eyes are bright and curious. He trusts people. A vet says Edgar won’t suffer long-term damage. Kay’s goal for Edgar is to show him in the halter class at next year’s 4-H Fair.
As the Mares recently showed off the mini-horse at their farm, Edgar pressed his sturdy body against Kay’s leg, like a child seeking reassurance. She draped her arm over his neck.
“He’s become a pretty little man. We won’t sell him. He’s here for good.”
The Animal Protection League operates an emergency medical fund for animals. Online donations can be made through www.inapl.org or by going to Facebook and searching for the Animal Protection League. Checks designated for the fund can also be sent to Animal Protection League, 613 Dewey St., Anderson, IN 46016.