The two horses arrived safely at the horse rescue facility in Copperas Cove - and by early evening were settled in, munching hay and making themselves at home in their new surroundings.

The blind Appaloosa gelding and his sighted bay mare companion had plucked heartstrings across the nation after word spread of their plight in Ellis County.

Sheriff’s deputies who had become attached to the two horses after they were picked up as strays had helped spread that word, saying their one hope was to see the obviously bonded companions kept together in a forever home.

On Tuesday, that hope was realized as the gelding and mare were taken in by Habitat for Horses and transported to a place where they will know no want.

“They trailered beautifully the whole trip,” said Melissa Thompson, a volunteer and equine investigator with the nonprofit organization. “They were calm and relaxed and did well getting out of the trailer.”

A veterinarian was waiting for the two to arrive at Thompson’s foster facility to give them a preliminary checkover, with a more in-depth check planned for Thursday after they’ve had a little more time to settle into their new surroundings and routine, Thompson said.

Although it was already believed the gelding had no sight, Thompson said the vet confirmed a long-term loss of sight in both eyes - probably due to an infection. The vet was able to check their teeth, she said, saying the gelding is about 22 years old, with the mare about age 5.

The two are being kept together in a small pen initially to allow easier handling of the mare, who is shy around humans due to a lack of handling. Thompson said she and the other volunteers are already doing basic ground work with her.

Although scared, the mare let herself be haltered while still inside the trailer once they reached their destination, Thompson said. “She was shaking, but she never acted silly or stupid or did anything like try to hurt herself.”

Within five minutes of being haltered and being on a lead rope, the mare was letting herself be touched, a good foundation to begin building on, Thompson said.

“They wandered around the pen a bit to check it out and settled right in, now they’re eating,” Thompson said in a phone interview from her facility, Thomboy Farms Equestrian Center in Copperas Cove.

The two will stay in the smaller pen for several days before being moved into their own quarter-acre turnout paddock with stall, she said. “Bless their hearts, they’re doing really well.”

Thompson affirmed again the goal is to keep the two together, especially because of their bond.

“He actually does OK if you lead him away from her, but she spasses,” Thompson said. “It would be very, very hard on her not to be with him. She’s very bonded.”

The bond

In an earlier interview, sheriff’s deputies Carol Darling and Bud Brannon had noted the gelding would follow the mare around by putting his muzzle on her shoulder. Thompson agrees about how close the two horses are and remarked on how the “baby” had been taking care of the older horse.

She said she hopes to see the mare begin to relax from the stress and uncertainty she has experienced in her short life, much of which may stem from having to fend for not only herself but for her companion.

“I’ll know when she begins to relax - because she will actually lay down to sleep,” Thompson said. “I want to walk out there to their pen and see her resting and that’s when I’ll know she’s comfortable and trusting us.”

After coming into the sheriff’s office’s care, the two horses had been held 18 days, the number required by law, before being put up for auction.

No killers or other buyers were on hand Tuesday to make the required minimum bid of $230 (for food and other expenses incurred by the horses), so the sheriff’s office exercised its right under the law to donate the two into the care of a nonprofit.

“I think the very best possible outcome has happened,” Darling said. “I am overwhelmed by the amount of people in Ellis County and the state who care about horses that need help.

“These horses need help and people have stepped up from all over,” said Darling, who also received queries from out-of-state about the horses.

It’s not often the sheriff’s office ends up with strays, Brannon said, noting there were no bidders on the last two horses, either.

“That’s how we found out about these rescue groups,” he said.

More information about Habitat for Horses, a group that serves a several-state area, can be found on its Web site, Donations are welcome and can be made toward the horses’ care via the Web site or mailed to Habitat for Horses, Inc., P.O. Box 213, Hitchcock, TX 77563. The organization also has several levels of membership and a virtual sponsor program.

Thompson said she hopes to have photos of the gelding and mare posted online in the next several days, so people can follow their progress.

Going home

Even blind, the trusting Appaloosa let himself be fitted with a halter before carefully following a Habitat volunteer to Thompson’s large covered stock trailer, which she had backed up to the paddock’s gate to facilitate loading the horses.

As several of the deputies and other volunteers gently assisted the gelding by picking up and placing first one front hoof onto the trailer floor and then the other, he eased himself up and in, cautiously making his way.

Still in the paddock and watching, the mare nickered, calling out to her companion as he walked up into the trailer’s front section.

Rather than try to halter the skittish mare, the volunteers and deputies simply circled behind her, moving her by their presence toward the trailer and encouraging her with kind words and clucking sounds.

As if to leave the past behind her, the mare hesitated only a few moments before pricking her ears forward and jumping nimbly in to join her companion, waiting patiently at the trailer’s front for her to return to his side.

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