Tuesday, Jul. 23, 2024

From Rescue To Ribbons: Retiree Removed From Byrd’s Nest Flies Again—In Leadline

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Grace Maxwell was scrolling her social media one day in early February when she saw a picture of an emaciated Thoroughbred that made her breath catch in her throat. Though the gelding’s condition alone was horrific, what particularly caught her attention was the fact that “Loki” had just been removed by his owner from Byrd’s Retirement Farm, a non-profit facility located in Goochland County, Virginia.

Just a few years earlier, a friend of Maxwell’s had also retired her horse to “The Byrd’s Nest,” as it was also known, before it attained its non-profit status in 2022. Owned by Byrd Rareshide, a respected professional horsewoman and local judge, the facility seemed like the perfect equine retirement farm. But when a routine check-in revealed the horse had lost a significant amount of weight in a short window of time, Maxwell’s friend immediately removed him from Rareshide’s property and posted her concerns regarding his care on social media—only to receive backlash from Rareshide’s friends and supporters. 

After seeing the online response to her friend’s concerns, Maxwell had mixed emotions: While she knew some older horses, particularly those dealing with health issues, could lose weight rapidly, Maxwell never lost the sense that there was more to the story than she and her friend were being told.

Years later, when she saw the photos of Loki, whose body condition was scored at 1.5 of 9, she knew that her lingering concerns regarding neglect at Byrd’s Retirement Farm likely were justified. 

“I knew it was not just a one-time thing, and I’d seen this before,” Maxwell said. “It was happening then, it was happening now, and every moment in between.”

When Loki’s owner filed a formal complaint with Goochland county animal control on Feb. 3, local veterinarians were called in to assess the condition of the nearly two dozen animals living at the farm. Many of the horses had out-of-state owners, who paid monthly board and wholly entrusted their animal’s care to Rareshide. Maxwell wanted to help in any way possible. 

“I have a two-horse trailer and a flexible work schedule,” said Maxwell, who lives about 40 minutes away in Richmond, Virginia. “It can be hard to find a shipper who can drop everything to pick up one horse. So, I told the vets that if any of these owners needed their horses shipped to a clinic, or somewhere else, to give them my phone number.”

As news of potential neglect at Byrd’s Retirement Farm spread across social media, concerned owners reached out, and Maxwell was on site to assist in removing horses from the farm. Seeing the horses in person drove home to Maxwell just how serious the situation was—one local vet scored several horses between 1.5 and 2 on the body condition scale

Within days, Maxwell became even more involved with assisting the animals’ owners. She thoroughly documented the condition of each horse removed from the property and assisted with coordinating donations of grain, blankets and other supplies from local businesses. As horses left Byrd’s Retirement Farm, Maxwell kept a spreadsheet tracking horse, owner and the rehab facility to which the horse was sent. At the same time, Maxwell scoured the internet looking for contact information for owners whose horses were still on the property.

“I called to let them know horses had been removed from the farm where their horse was living at, and others there were in bad shape,” she said. “I would say, ‘I think you should check on your horse, and if you’re not happy, keep my number and call me day or night, and we will get your horse moved, if that’s your decision.’ ”

Within a few weeks, Maxwell had found all of the horses’ owners save one. “Poofy” had lived at Rareshide’s farm for over a decade, after retiring at age 13 due to a recurrent suspensory injury. Bred in Germany and shown in the young jumper classes there, he was later imported to the U.S., where he showed under the name Subliem. The Dutch Warmblood competed successfully to the 1.40-meter level before becoming a junior jumper and equitation mount. 

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“Poofy” in 2011, when he was competing as a children’s jumper. Sportfot Photo

But in February, vets scored his body condition at a 2 out of 9. His feet had been ravaged by chronic abscesses, and his incisors were worn nearly to nubs from him trying to chew bark off trees. Though his owners had religiously paid board on the gelding, they were no longer involved with horses otherwise. When Maxwell finally connected with them, they felt ill-equipped to get Poofy the help he would need to recover. Although she already owned two horses of her own, Maxwell offered to buy Poofy herself.

“When my husband came home, I told him, ‘Did you know you bought me a horse for Valentine’s Day?’ ” she recalled with a laugh. “I bought him for a dollar. We drove up there, and I didn’t even know which horse he was.”

When Maxwell officially met her new horse, the wooly coated bay wasn’t much to look at. But when she opened the stall door, an animal with a sweet, trusting face pricked his ears as he turned to greet her.

“These were horses that had a lot of love in their life at some point in time,” Maxwell said. “It was crazy to me to see horses in such terrible shape that just trusted people again, immediately. He was one of them.”

Maxwell would learn Poofy’s long, curly hair and chronic abscesses were the result of untreated Cushing’s. Radiographs revealed the abscesses had been so serious they had eroded sections of the coffin bone. Overall, his feet were in terrible condition; one hoof had split so severely it almost looked like there were two toes. Poofy also had a grade 3 heart murmur, a common side-effect of starvation. Maxwell was realistic about the 23-year-old gelding’s chances of recovery.

“I don’t think extraordinary measures are something that every horse person is obligated to do,” she said. “But I did feel, after everything he’d done, this horse was owed the last few months of his life to be with love and good care and a full belly and a soft bed to lay down in. I promised him I would never let him be hungry or forgotten again.”

Poofy getting his feet attended to in February 2023, just after Grace Maxwell took him from The Byrd’s Nest retirement farm, where he had been living for over a decade. Photo Courtesy Of Grace Maxwell

Poofy, along with nine other horses removed from Rareshide’s farm, was taken to Veterinary Rehabilitation Services of Virginia in Gordonsville, where Dr. Katherine Burke Johnson, DVM, CERP, supervised their careful refeeding program. Poofy stayed under Johnson’s care for a full month before moving to MacKenwick Farms, a boarding facility in Keswick, Virginia, closer to Maxwell’s home.

“[Dr. Johnson] ended up taking in 11 of the horses, and she only charged people base board,” Maxwell said. “She was certainly a hero of the whole thing.”

While Poofy began to gain weight, the terrible condition of his feet was still cause for great concern. After consulting with experts, Maxwell decided to see how he responded to routine trims, better nutrition and medication to manage his Cushing’s before pursuing more advanced treatments.

“Initially, I wasn’t sure if I was ever going to get him comfortable,” she said. “I’m normally one of those who wants to do all the things, all the time. But before we put him in specialty shoes for the rest of his life, I wanted to see if he could grow good foot on his own.”

As Poofy’s overall health improved, his personality began to shine as well. 

“He’s a little bit of the main character,” Maxwell said with a laugh. “If he is on the crossties, and you are not actively doing something with him, he will paw. When they turn him out, as soon as the halter comes off, he wants to rip off bucking and farting and carrying on.

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“To me, I think he’s feeling pretty good, and the quality of his life is good,” she added. “His feet, we’re still working on. But overall, he is comfortable and happy now. He looks really good.”

Although Poofy had been retired for over a decade, seeing him thrive with good care made Maxwell wonder if he might like one more opportunity to shine in the show ring. Her son Camp Maxwell, 3, had made his leadline debut at the historic Upperville Horse Show in Virginia while just an infant, but a lost paddock boot and a few other unexpected variables made the experience memorable for all the wrong reasons. Neither of Maxwell’s other horses—a 2-year-old stallion and a 5-year-old hunter prospect—would make an appropriate leadline mount for Camp. But she wondered if perhaps Poofy would.

Poofy returned to the show ring more than a decade after leaving it to carry Camp Maxwell, 3, to a fifth place in the leadline class at the Deep Run Hunt Club Horse Show (Va.). Sarah Black Photography Photo

“He has earned the right to say no to things at this point,” Grace said. “I figured I would throw some tack on him and see what he thinks about it, and if he pins his ears and hates it, we’ll stop there. If we put Camp on him before the show and he hates that, we’ll stop. I was ready to pull the plug at any stage.”

But at the Deep Run Hunt Club Horse Show (Virginia) in late June, Poofy proved that he was more than up the task of carrying the most precious of cargo. In the second leadline class of his career, Camp cheerfully refused to hold the reins, fully entrusting his veteran partner to do the work and earning a fifth-place ribbon.

“Poofy had his ears up and was very careful about where he put his feet,” Grace said. “He knew exactly what his job was. He was a trouper, and he seemed to really enjoy it.

“When we got back to the trailer, one of his fans brought him some soft treats, and she said, ‘He wants to go back to the ring—he thinks you forgot the jumping class,’ ” Grace continued. “The look on his face was like, ‘Did I just get out of the horse show by only walking around the ring a few times?! I seem to remember this being a lot more work.’ I think that horse would do leadline every weekend of his life now.”

Grace admitted that although she had always maintained owning two horses was her limit, Poofy is now officially part of her family.

“Every time Camp rides, at the end we stop and pet the horse and say, ‘thank you’,” she said. “I try to instill in him that it’s a privilege, and we have to be grateful to them for letting us do this. I’ve never had a horse I felt I could throw in a field for 10 years, then trust with my child. 

Camp Maxwell gives Poofy, held by Grace Maxwell, a thank-you pat after their leadline performance at Deep Run. Sarah Black Photography Photo

“This poor animal had every reason in the world to never want to do another thing for a human being ever again,” she added. “He would be justified, I think. But to see the generosity of these animals—to have a horse that has had something like that happen to them, yet you can still trust them with someone as precious as your own child—it is just amazing. He is the best boy.”

In response to multiple complaints, photos submitted by Maxwell and others, and eyewitness testimony, on Feb. 18, 2023, Rareshide was arrested and charged with 10 counts of animal cruelty; three additional charges were filed on March 3. Goochland County Commonwealth’s Attorney Mike Caudill is building the case against Rareshide; an indictment is expected in early August.


Do you know a horse or pony who has been rescued from a dangerous situation to become a healthy, trusted competition partner today? If you think you have a good candidate for “From Rescue To Ribbons,” let us know by emailing mwright@coth.com.

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