July 15, 2008
Lee Co. - Sometimes living behind bars has its advantages-two meals a day, plenty of quality hay and a person who handles every need.
"If you are around horses enough, you'll feel that relationship with them," says Norma Karst, a horse lover who takes care of 58 horses.
The horses know when she enters their barn with bowls of specially mixed feed for each one. The horse's name is on the bowl.
"These horses are my stars. They are our children," says Norma who acts like their concerned mother, checking them everyday as she pours feed in each stall and later returns with hay for them to eat.
Each stable has its own box fan to keep the horse cool during the summer and blow mosquitoes away. In winter, each horse has its own blanket, along with a bridle and rope that hangs next to the stable door.
"She a life-long servant to horses," says Laura Fokes, an equine field supervisor with the Georgia Department of Agriculture.
Two of the 58 horses have a bigger piece of her heart than the others. "This is Lady who came here about a month ago," says Norma proudly.
Most people would have though Lady was just another horse that lived the good life, but she isn't. A scar near her neck on her left side illustrates a tough time in her life. "She's had lots of dings and bruises around her body," says Norma.
A rather large scar stands out even though the flesh healed. "It came from either a bite or big scrape," says Norma. Regardless, Lady has the scars to show for it. "She was probably in a herd where there is a definite pecking order and another horse bit her."
Norma got bitten by an interest in horses long ago when, as a child, she rode them, took care of them and learned to read their eyes. You can tell a lot about a horse by looking at their eyes. She knows what to look for.
"It's almost like something supernatural happens sometimes when you look into their eyes," says Norma.
What do Lady's eyes reveal? "In her eyes you see a little uncertainty. The widening of the eye; the eye becomes bigger. You see more white in her eyes," says Norma who gently leads Lady back to her stable.
"Good girl," says Norma several times while walking her back.
Soon, she brings out the other horse that concerns her. "This is Gallagher," says Norma. "He's been here two weeks. He's a good boy."
Look closely and you can barely see Gallagher's ribs, quite an improvement in his condition since he arrived at Norma's Star K Stables two weeks ago.
"He's settle down quite a bit," says Norma.
The new arrivals have lived a rough life. Lady's owner, Judy Allen, felt so badly for her that she bought the horse at auction, and she never intended to buy a horse that day. Later that same day, Judy found Gallagher. His owner got to sick to care for the horse. Luckily for Lady and Gallagher, Judy bought them and sent the horses to Norma who has quite a reputation for rescuing horses.
"I will absolutely not turn down a horse in need, absolutely not. I just make room," says Norma who has been known to convert a horse stall into an intensive care unit.
It breaks Norma's heart to see horses abused, and more and more have become causalities of the economic down turn.
"We're seeing more cases of neglect," says Laura who believes it's because of a downturn in the national economy.
A horse can eat someone out of house, home and pocketbook. In the past year, the price of horse feed rose from 50¢ to $2.50 per pound. The price for a bale of hay jumped from $2.50 to $3.00 per bale. Last year's drought cut hay production, partially explaining the price jump. Fuel costs to get the feed and hay increased, as well.
"The cheapest part is buying the horse. Keeping the horse is quite expensive," says Laura.
Some horse owners find it difficult to adequately feed their animals, leaving the animals to fend for themselves.
Norma recommends horse owners to contact the Georgia Department of Agriculture or their local Humane Society as quickly as they can if they find it difficult to care for the animal.
"God gave us these creatures to care for," says Norma who wants owners to realize that horses, regardless of how big they are, need help from humans.
"Horses are very, very big and very vulnerable" says Norma-- who has a heart as big as a horse.