Rescue Pony Clinging To Life Undergoes Transformation That Leaves Owners Reeling

A lot of things have changed during the COVID-19 pandemic, but some heroes have put their safety on the line to save animals in need. The folks at Redwings Horse Sanctuary have spent their time in quarantine nurturing and rehabilitating hurt and abandoned horses, giving them transformations that will change their lives forever. Anguished animals don’t have the ability to help themselves on their own, so when an emaciated, abandoned pony was in dire need of help, the angels at RHS were there to save the day.

Though Redwings Horse Sanctuary, the UK’s largest horse sanctuary, closed its doors when the coronavirus lockdown hit in late 2019, that didn’t stop its heroes from continuing to rescue horses in distress.

@redwingsuk / Instagram

The non-profit mission began with the rescue of a pony named Sheba. “She was rescued from a dealer and her recovery inspired the formation of a sanctuary in 1984 dedicated to saving horses from a life of fear and neglect,” the RHS website states.

@redwingsuk / Instagram

So when a malnourished, “desperately weak” chocolate-brown foal was discovered abandoned in a field in March 2020, employees and volunteers at RHS welcomed her to the ranch with open arms.

Dax Ward

Abandoned near Diss in South Norfolk, the cob cross foal named Matilda was gravely unwell. Unbelievably, she had a body condition score of 0.5 out of five. An ideal score for a horse of her age is a three out of five.

Redwings Horse Sanctuary

Not only that, but Matilda’s coat was crawling with lice. As it turned out, she was suffering from drastic worm burden, AKA a small intestine infection caused by Ascaris lumbricoides, a species of nematode.

Anouk Guyer / University of Bern

Matilda probably got these awful parasites by grazing in the field. Though the nasty effects of worm burden are often mistaken for malnutrition (like a pot belly), Matilda happened to be suffering from both. She needed help, and there was no time to spare.

Miles Wolstenholme / Wikimedia Commons

She was filthy, surrounded by her own feces, scared, and in pain. Fortunately for her, RHS senior field officer Julie Harding and welfare veterinary surgeon Nicola Berryman were there to rescue her.

“Without immediate help it was clear she would not survive,” a Redwings Horse Sanctuary spokesperson said of Matilda’s condition. RHS even attempted to reach out to Matilda’s previous owner (who clearly didn’t deserve her), but they never responded.

Douglas Graham/Loudoun Now

With help from the RSPCA and the police, Julie and Nicola brought Matilda from the barren, muddy field to Redwings Horse Sanctuary’s specialist quarantine center, where she’d be rehabilitated and given lots of love.

Redwings Horse Sanctuary

“Tests showed Matilda had very low protein levels in her blood and was anaemic. We started treating her cautiously with a wormer and steroids to reduce any gut inflammation caused by the worm burden,” Nicola explained.

Stewart Animal Clinic

“And then with a careful feeding plan we were able to help her safely put on weight,” she continued. Even with her years of experience, Nicola was dumbfounded by how some people treat their animals. “Matilda is sadly a classic example of a pony we often see in our welfare work.” 

Redwings Horse Sanctuary

“The way she turned the corner quite quickly shows that if her owner had just given her the basic care she needed, such as worming, feeding and feet trimming, then she would never have got into the suffering state that she was in,” she said, heartbroken.

After getting Matilda to gain a bit of weight, they transferred her to Redwings’ South Norfolk headquarters, which contained their non-profit horse hospital. The vet team kept a close eye on her, watching her slowly become the beautiful, strapping pony she was meant to be.

But the folks at RHS felt Matilda needed a companion to keep her motivated and at ease. They kept a more mature pony, Mildred, by her side, who’s known as the headquarters’ resident “foster mama.”

Redwings Horse Sanctuary

Mildred took the frightened Matilda under her wing, and allowed her to socialize one-on-one before she was finally integrated into a herd of ponies her own age. Matilda’s recovery included many hurdles, as the process required both physical and emotional repair.

@redwingsuk / Instagram

“The Matilda who went into the lockdown is almost unrecognizable from the one that’s now leaving it. As well as looking very different, she’s really coming into her own character,” Nicola Berryman said. When they found Matilda, she was practically a shell…

Redwings Horse Sanctuary

“When she first arrived, she was very sad, showed no personality and didn’t want to interact with us at all. Now she’s starting to display quite a curious, cheeky side which is great to see,” Nicola continued.

Redwings Horse Sanctuary

Though it’s awful to think this may be the first time Matilda has ever felt happy and healthy, it’s a blessing someone spotted her in that field. Now she has some real equine friends, as Redwings has taken in more than 50 horses, ponies and donkeys since the beginning of quarantine.

@redwingsuk / Instagram

Amazingly, the charity, which is fully funded by public donations, cares for over 1,500 rescued horses, ponies, donkeys, and mules across the UK, including Matilda. She’s now a part of the Redwings Horse Sanctuary family…

@redwingsuk / Instagram

And we can just picture her happily trotting with her pony friends. Following Redwings’ example, an organization R&R Ranch also caters to equine animals in need. They had their own breakout star, albeit of a much smaller variety…

@redwingsuk / Instagram

R&R Ranch Chestfield, Missouri, opened its stable doors in 2016 with one purpose in mind: to rescue and rehabilitate mini horses and ponies. While they agree that fluffy pint-sized horses are totally cute, some people mistreat these beautiful creatures.

R and R Ranch / Facebook

Parents and breeders jump on the mini horse bandwagon without understanding how to properly care for the animals. These equines need knowledgeable, prepared owners, ready to tackle their unique medical needs.

Culture Map Dallas

In January of 2019, they came across a Craigslist ad for a mini horse that immediately raised red flags. The post appealed to parents looking to give their kids a memorable Christmas present, but the poster forgot to include some glaring details.


At first glance, they noticed this mini horse was actually smaller than average. Based on the definition, to qualify as a mini horse, the creature must stand at 38 inches or lower. This tiny gal was especially little, so they suspected she had dwarfism.

R and R ranch Minis / Instagram

Dwarfism in mini horses means life-long specialized treatment for a myriad of health problems. The breeder had no idea his mini horse had dwarfism and likely would sell it to another uneducated owner.

Fox 8

So, they hopped in the car and drove the 6 hours to Iowa on a rescue mission to fetch the foal named Martha. When they arrived, she was in a worse state than they imagined. Quickly, they shelled out the $500 pricetag and headed for the vet.

R and R Ranch Minis / Facebook

On the ride home, they discovered that 10-week-old Martha was teeming with lice. The poor little thing was scared and clearly in tremendous discomfort. She was prescribed antibiotics to treat the parasites.

The Horse

Neglect caused Martha’s front legs to twist at a painful angle. This meant she had to be fitted with specialized acrylic shoes to start correcting the damage of her untreated growth problems.

R and R Ranch Minis / Facebook

Before Martha could join the other minis at the ranch, they had to take steps to transition her from, in their words, “dog-like to horse-like.” She was started on a foal milk diet, something that she should have been drinking from the start.

R and R Ranch Minis / Instagram

If you want to act like a horse, you’ve got to do what the horses do. The next step in Martha’s recovery involved some playdates. That’s right, Martha was set up with a fellow petite pony named Banks. By watching a natural, she picked up tips on how to horse around.

R and R Ranch Minis / Instagram

Still, you can’t deny chemistry. Martha and the rescue’s golden retriever were fast friends. After many reluctant tries, Martha finally clip-clopped around the track only when her canine BFF was racing beside her.

R and R Ranch Minis / Instagram

With the all-clear from the vet, Martha moved into the barn. Her constant lice baths, medication, and worm treatments paid off. On her quest to become one with her horse self, Martha was making incredible progress.

R and R Ranch Minis / Instagram

Martha was winning her race towards a healthy mini horse future, not to mention the hearts of everyone at the rescue. Just when she’d shown so much promise, they received some news that stopped everything in its tracks.

R and R Ranch Minis / Facebook

The results of Martha’s particular kind of dwarfism had come in, and the vet delivered the crushing news. Of all the different forms of dwarfism, skeletal atavism is the most fatal, and tragically, that was Martha’s diagnosis.

Equine Dwarfism

A diagnosis didn’t change one fact: Martha wasn’t your average mini horse. Her feisty spirit and willingness to tackle every challenge played a major part in the drastic improvements she’d made.

R and R Ranch Minis / Facebook

Saddled with the information that Martha’s life could be cut short, a solemnity spread throughout the barn. The rescue’s farrier, an equine hoof and foot specialist, countered the negative prognosis.

R and R Ranch Minis / Facebook

Based on the specialized care Martha received from R&R, her life expectancy was more promising than other cases of skeletal atavism. By continuing her hoof trimmings every two weeks, coupled with top-notch care, the farrier saw no reason for Martha to live anything but a long healthy life.

R and R Ranch and Minis / Facebook

It was almost as if Martha could comprehend her medical team’s hopeful vision for her future. When she was let out of her stable for her regular laps around the barn, she surprised everyone with a delightful new trick.

Despite the lack of music, Martha ushered in a brand new move to her wobbly lap routine: a killer moonwalk! Bolstered by the hysterical laughter from the rescue workers, Martha turned it in reverse and laid down her backward shuffle for her audience.


Needless to say, the rescue had to share Martha’s spunky footwork with the world. They posted her moonwalk video to Instagram and Facebook, and fans were instantly smitten with the mini horse packed with attitude.

R and R Ranch Minis / Facebook

R&R Ranch was pleased with Martha’s growing fanbase because it gave them the opportunity to highlight the real dangers of fad breeding. They welcomed the chance to educate others about the requirements and vet care needed to keep plucky little ponies happy and healthy.

R and R Ranch Minis / Facebook

Every mini horse deserves proper care, regardless of their dancing hooves. One couple took a massive risk when their horse was facing life-threatening injuries, all to save to their one-of-kind little equine. Martha’s not the only mini who’s had to face tough odds…

Skywalker Mini Horses

Shine the mini horse liked to greet his owners every day. When he was missing one morning, however, his owners immediately knew something was wrong.


“[Shine] didn’t meet me at the gate like he always does, and he was standing funny,” his owner, Jacque Corsentino, remembered. “I shined the flashlight on him, and he was covered in blood.”


Upon taking a closer look, Jacque found multiple facial wounds, a busted lip, and a severely bleeding leg. As far as she could tell, poor Shine had been attacked by a dog.


At that point, Shine’s owners weren’t sure he’d survive the ordeal.


Shine was first treated by a local vet, who said he was going to live—but his leg injury would likely affect him for the rest of his life.


Shine’s owners brought him to Dr. Britt Stubblefield, an expert on equine injuries, at Rocky Top Veterinary Service. That’s when they discovered some devastating news.

06-shine-the-mini-horseColorado State University

Shine actually had a fracture in his lower pastern bone and coffin bone, which would affect the function of his hoof and lower leg. He was then referred to a doctor at Colorado State University named Dr. Laurie Goodrich, but unfortunately, she didn’t have good news either.


They would need to amputate Shine’s leg entirely—a death sentence for horses. However, Dr. Goodrich had an idea: though she’d never done it before, Shine was a good candidate for a state-of-the-art prosthetic.


Prosthetics aren’t usually able to bear the weight of a fully grown horse, but for a little guy like Shine, it just might do the trick… and save his life!


“It’s the first one I’ve done, but I’ve always wanted to try,” Dr. Goodrich admitted. “We had no way of preserving that limb. So we had to take it off, and this was the only option to preserve his life.”


First, the doctor contacted OrthoPets to build a custom hoof. Since the company had worked with mini horses before, they were the perfect option for helping Shine.


Using a tread similar to a tire, the prosthetic was going to help Shine get back on his feet in no time… literally.


At last! Four months after first being hospitalized, Shine was home!


“We’ve come a long way since that horrible bloody morning when I found Shine standing in a pool of blood after being attacked,” his family explained in a Facebook post. “It’s been a long journey. Shine never gave up and neither could we.”


“This afternoon [we] will travel to CSU Vet Hospital to bring our baby home,” Shine’s owners continued. “We’ve missed him being on the ranch so very much. It was so worth the wait.”


Even better? Even though Shine was supposed to be a show horse, his calm demeanor and resilience has convinced his owners that he would make a wonderful therapy animal instead.


“He’s so comforting. You know when you have horrible days? Shine is my therapy,” Jacques explained. “I think he would make an amazing therapy horse for wounded warriors or kids with disabilities.”


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