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Quarter horse lost half his size before rescue

By Amy Robinson, A&E/Teen Editor
Photos courtesy of SARAH TEDROW
Pictured here on Valentine’s Day, approximately two weeks after he was seized, Otter’s ribs are starkly visible and his hindquarters sunken in from lack of food.
This photo taken June 3 shows the progress the 11-year-old quarter horse has made under the care of Sarah Tedrow, who owned him five years ago and has adopted him once again.

Seven years ago, Sarah Tedrow, of Charleston, purchased Otter, a quarter horse, from a friend in Ohio after losing another horse in the devastating Bridlewood Stables fire that killed 44 horses.

Two years later, she sold the 11-year-old horse, named for his love of water, to a family with a young daughter.

They kept him for two years until their daughter became interested in other pursuits, then sold him to a third party.

In February, Tedrow got Otter back in a most unexpected and heartbreaking way: He was one of three horses on the brink of death, saved when animal control seized them from their owners.

“Otter was probably the worst case out of all of them,” she said.

“It was an absolute miracle he was still on his feet. Everything about him on paper said he should have died.”

Once weighing in at nearly 1,400 pounds, Otter was a mere 750.

“[The vet] told me that he was the skinniest horse she’s ever seen in her entire career, and she’s been in practice for 24 years,” Tedrow said.

“She said she saw bones in his legs that she hadn’t seen since cadavers in med school. She didn’t know how he was still standing.”

While the rest of his body shrank, Otter’s head and legs, as well as those of the other two horses, swelled as his body desperately tried to get protein. The horses’ kidneys and livers were beginning to shut down, and the vet said it was the worst case of muscle atrophy she’d ever seen.

Otter’s weight loss was first brought to Tedrow’s attention in October when someone sent her pictures in which his ribs were showing. That was a big red flag.

“He’s humongous,” Tedrow said. “The entire time I owned him, I never saw his ribs. The entire time the people I sold him to owned him, you couldn’t see his ribs.

“With horses, you’ve got easy keepers and hard keepers,” she explained. “Easy keepers, it’s like they get fat on air. They just stay heavy. Otter was borderline easy easy; you didn’t have to feed him a lot.”

But he still needed enough food to sustain his weight and health.

It was easier in the summer, when the horses could supplement their feed with grass. But when fall and then winter came, the grass started dying.

Tedrow offered to buy him but was told he wasn’t for sale.

In early November, she began calling humane officers about the situation. When she saw new pictures of the horses showing further deterioration, she contacted Heart of Phoenix, an equine rescue in Wayne County.

She and some women from that group composed an email detailing the situation and attached the photos they had. Tedrow estimates she sent it to 15 people, including Kanawha/Charleston Humane Association Director Chelsea Staley.

“Within 15 minutes, Chelsea emailed me back,” she said. “She was on it.

“The very next day, they were seized.”

That was Jan. 29.

On the day of the seizure, the humane officers and vets who went to the barn found the critically ill horses and evidence of their neglect.

“When the horses were pulled, for four days they drank five times the amount they should drink a day. Usually, horses drink 10 to 15 gallons a day; these horses were drinking 50 to 60 gallons a day,” Tedrow said.

After the horses were seized, she adopted Otter. Today, you can hear her pride when she talks of Otter’s progress.

“He’s probably gained about 500 pounds,” she said. “Now when people see him, it’s to the point where the first thing they notice is not how skinny he is. Now they comment on how pretty he is, how he has a beautiful coat or his size.

“When he was skinny, it made him look smaller. He’s always been that big horse, but you didn’t notice it when he was so skinny.”

“With his attitude, he’s back to the way he was before,” she continued. When he was seized, “He was very lethargic. When he came into the barn, he walked with his head almost on the ground. He was very weak and wobbly; when we put him in the stall, it took him three days just to raise his head.

“He’s always been a very curious horse; he wants to see what’s going on and be in the middle of everything. It took him over a week just to stick his head out of the stall, to be curious about his surroundings.”

Despite all his progress, there is still a ways to go.

“He’s still got about 150 pounds before he even looks normal,” she said. “His ribs and hipbones are still showing, and his spine sticks out.”

“His feet were very rotten,” she added. “We’re still working on them; they have to grow out.

“We’ve dealt with lots of infection — a couple of abscesses in his feet and lots of thrush. He had pressure sores on his hipbones from where there was no fat and his skin was just pulled tight. Those have been hard to get to heal, but they’re now about a quarter of the size they were.”

Plus, she has to build up his muscle mass and muscle memory before she can begin any serious work with him.

“I rode him twice, but it was more just sitting on him and seeing the basic things he remembers,” she said. “I wasn’t working him, trying to make him sweat or build muscle. He’s just not ready for that.

“I hope by maybe the end of July, he’ll have filled in enough that we can start riding him again and build up his endurance. For two years, he just stood and walked around. We’ve got to start little by little and just build him up.”

Reach Amy Robinson at or 304-348-4881.


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