On a desolate stretch of road slicing first through sugarcane fields and then everglades in the Homestead region of South Florida, it must have felt like burning hell last July to an ex-racehorse waiting for the next thing to go wrong in his young life.
Emaciated and scared, Prodigioso shifted his weight gingerly on four painful feet that oozed with thrush. His back pasterns were flayed open with deep burns, probably ripped by rope, and a painful looking burn was raw and ugly on his lower lip.
His right eye, freshly blinded, somehow, showed him shadows that must have scared him as he waited to find out if bad people were coming for him.
When the SPCA showed up with an emergency trailer, Prodigioso was afraid of everyone. He trembled as he exited the trailer and gingerly walked to a waiting stall at Thoroughbred nonprofit Florida TRAC.
“It took him a solid six months of just being a horse and gaining weight to regain his confidence,” recalls Celia Scarlett-Fawkes, vice president and intake director of the charity that serves ex-racehorses that run on Florida tracks.
New name: Pipe Dream
Sire: Southern Leader
Dam: Spirited Affair
Foal date: March 14, 2007
“It took quite a lot of time to get him to walk out of his stall door. He was newly blinded, we don’t know how. He could have run into a tree branch, we don’t know,” she says.
For eight months, Scarlett-Fawkes and her volunteers nursed Prodigioso back to health. And as he filled out, and his wounds healed, his faultless conformation and pretty way of moving were revealed. By the time his before/after photos were posted on Facebook, Scarlett-Fawkes realized she had a “pretty little mover” who attracted plenty of interest.
But once people learned the petite beauty was blind in one eye, most takers fell by the wayside.
Except for Niagara, Canada horseman Marilyn Lee-Hannah and her equestrian daughter Robin Hannah.
“When I first saw his picture, we were overflowing with horses. We have lesson horses, show horses, boarders, horses of all breeds, and we do rescues when we can,” Lee-Hannah says. “But I told my daughter about Prodigioso because he reminded me of a little horse we used to have, who I really loved, and she said, ‘Mom, we’re full. We already have too many horses.’ So I told her that he’s blind in one eye, and she said, ‘Well then, we have to have him.’ ”
The logic made sense to the softhearted horsemen who worried for a half-blind horse who was a dead-ringer for a favorite they used to own. That’s when they contacted Scarlett-Fawkes and offered him a home.
Well familiar with the Canadian equestrians and the good work they do at Sherwood Farm, Scarlett-Fawkes was thrilled when Lee-Hannah called. “The right person comes along for the right horse, and they are the perfect family for him,” she says.
Since his arrival on May 10 at his cooler northern home, Prodigioso has gamely learned to jump, and has proved to be the smartest mind they’ve ever worked with, Lee-Hannah says.
“He learns incredibly quick. He really wants to do everything you want him to do,” she adds. “Because of the vision thing, seeing new things and places is harder for him, but he’s calm, calm, and for a horse who’s only been jumping for a month and a half, he’s amazing.”
He is learning so fast that mother and daughter have dubbed him the whiz kid, and the weekend of Aug. 10, the stunning little beauty debuted at the Niagara Cup Series for green horses and handled the new environment with aplomb.
Tucking his knees to his chin, he beautifully jumped the 2-foot-9 jumps, all the while, trying his heart out for his new friends.
“I feel really humbled that a horse who has been so mistreated can still trust humans,” Lee-Hannah says. “It’s shameful what we do to them, and they still love us.”
Author’s note—This story was first published on Aug. 16, 2013.