SPCA rescue mare ribbons in Florida; hard won

Brittney Marshall and La Sheikh had a rough beginning. But through persistence and time, developed a trusting bond.

Brittney Marshall and La Sheikh had a rough beginning. But through persistence and time, developed a trusting bond.

In a squalid yard littered with empty grain bags starved a mare named La Sheikh.

The name alone might have seemed ironic, even pathetic, given the state of deprivation that drove the hungry animal to forage desperately in the short grass, her ribs protruding. She was far from living a royal life.

And the sad irony didn’t end there. The haggard 15-hand mare really was descended from royalty. Not way-down-the-family-tree nobility: both grandsires were pretty big. Storm Cat sired her father and Pulpit sired her mother. A.P. Indy was her sire’s grandfather. And the third branch of her family tree hung brightly with stars, including Secretariat, Seattle Slew, Northern Dancer and Bold Ruler.

La Sheikh
New name: Twizzler
Sire: Essence of Dubai
Dam: Southern Summer
Foal date: May 4, 2008
Yet, her life was nothing like theirs. After 26 starts in two years on the Florida circuit, she wound up in a crowded yard in the 17000 block of SW 184th in Miami-Dade County Florida.

By the time the authorizes accompanied the South Florida SPCA on a raid of the property in April 2013, La Sheikh looked like a bag lady living among the ruins of lives gone wrong. She was one of 11 horses seized that day. And as owner Elma James Burgess faced 11 counts of animal cruelty, she embarked on a topsy-turvy return to a better life.

“She was in pretty bad shape. Of the horses we seized that day she was one who was in one of the poorest conditions,” says South Florida SPCA’s Laurie Waggoner, director of ranch operations. “She was basically malnourished.”

La Sheikh, the granddaughter of Pulpit and Storm Cat, was rescued by the South Florida SPCA last April.

La Sheikh, the granddaughter of Pulpit and Storm Cat, was rescued by the South Florida SPCA last April.

Though La Sheikh bounced back physically, and in a couple months’ time proved cooperative under saddle, her new adoptive family soon found that an undiagnosed issue threatened the mare’s life.

Shortly after Dawn Marshall adopted the mare for her 14-yar-old daughter Brittney, the ex-racehorse started behaving erratically.

After first vigorously shaking her head, the mare would rear up and flip over backwards. She did this several times with young Brittney on her back, finally crushing the young rider’s helmet in the last spasmodic incident.

Of the 11 horses rescued in the Miami-Dade area of South Florida last April, La Sheikh was among the most emaciated.

Of the 11 horses rescued in the Miami-Dade area of South Florida last April, La Sheikh was among the most emaciated.

“We didn’t know what to do. We took her to the University of Pennsylvania School of veterinary medicine, and nobody could clinically determine what was wrong. A behavioral psychologist thought it was trauma, and a neurologist thought it might be brain damage,” Dawn Marshall says. Though the diagnosis was unclear, the solution was not: “Everybody said we should euthanize her as a dangerous horse.”

As the family debated what to do, Brittney was forbidden to ride the mare. And they agonized over the situation. “We all loved that mare. And one day my daughter begged me to ride her one more time, and it was a mother’s worst nightmare,” Dawn Marshall says. “I finally said OK, right or wrong.”

It was now the end of November the same year when Brittney took one last chance with the mare. It was a cool day after a long, hot summer, and the mare agreeably walked out to the riding ring.

Brittney Marshall says she never once believed the mare was trying to hurt her on purpose, and when she climbed into the saddle to begin a ride, she sang to her. She crooned renditions of My ABCs and Christmas songs. “She was really caught off guard, and I think it just relaxed her.”

It took patience and courage for Brittney Marshall to ride La Sheikh after a flipping episode crushed her helmet. These ribbons in Wellington, Fla. were hard won.

It took patience and courage for Brittney Marshall to ride La Sheikh after a flipping episode crushed her helmet. These ribbons in Wellington, Fla. were hard won.

To this day, mother and daughter are not sure what happened that caused La Sheikh to settle down. Brittney suspects the little horse, having been passed through several homes before she was rescued, had emotional difficulties.

But over time, with careful backyard training, and lots of singing, Brittney and La Sheikh developed a bond so trusting that last month the pair was able to participate in their first horse show.

On April 5, Brittney and La Sheikh, who she renamed Twizzler, showed for the first time at a small schooling show in Wellington. They earned a second- and third-place ribbon, and a blue ribbon for riding clear in a third test.

After the show, with tears in her eyes, Brittney told her mother the reason she was crying: “Everybody wanted to put her down, and I can’t believe we just placed!”

13 responses to “SPCA rescue mare ribbons in Florida; hard won”

  1. Susie

    I had the great pleasure of meeting and working with La Sheik the hen she first came in as a rescue. You could see how classic and beautiful she was even in a frail state. So very happy for Twizzler and Brittney:-) what a wonderful story if rescue and perseverance and hope. Way to go to Brittney and her family

  2. jon

    They know who they want to be their person.

  3. Patricia

    I am sure the vets at U Penn thought of this, but as a life-long horse owner I must comment that what comes to my mind as Twizzler’s problem might possibly be EPM. I’ve had two horses diagnosed with it, and seen many more. EPM can have a waxing and waning course…….the horse will go through periods of exacerbations and be symptomatic……then symptoms will subside for a period of time. Has she been tested for EPM? There are meds that can help

    1. Dawn Marshall

      Hi

      Thanks for the comment. We actually have another horse that had two episodes of EPM, we know it well unfortunately. She was tested for everything under the sun. Fortunately, ever since last November when something just clicked with her (my daughter is convinced that when Twizzler realized that she didn’t get beaten on abandoned for her behavior and stepping on Brittney’s head that she knew she had a permanent home and she just changed). All we know is that she is the beautiful mare we have today and love her dearly. She does not even shake her head anymore…just kisses her mommy…Brittney!!!

  4. Pam

    Great story. What a wonderful pair Brittney and Twizzler are. Brave daughter, brave mom! Wishing you many years of happy riding.

  5. cheri vaughan

    WONDERFUL, WONDERFUL AND MORE WONDERFUL!!!! Great story!!

  6. Steve Carranza

    You go Britney! You’ll never how close these two are till you see them together

  7. Crystal Foss

    Brittney and Dawn are lovely, compassionate and a true example of true horsewomen! They persevered and were triumphant in finding a way when others said there was none! They didn’t give up on Twizzer/La Sheikh but loved her through the brokenness not that she created but man did against her! They understood it wasn’t her fault and she wasn’t being malicious or crazy, she was just reacting out of protection and self-preservation from the past experiences she had with not so nice people! Kinda like humans do! I sure wish there were more owners / partners out there who choose to take in a horse for their own good pleasure and treat it proper…Love and Oats! Smiles always for the horses,Crystal Foss

  8. SpotOn

    Wonderful! Dawn I am so glad you didnt listen and gave Twizzler(LOVE IT!) and Brittney a chance to bond.

  9. Michelle

    I am so glad Dawn didn’t listen to those who wanted to put the mare down and saw that she could be rehabilitated. Congratulations to the whole family and especially Brittney for having the courage to climb back on and go on to win! Hope there are many more wins for you and Twizzler!

    1. dawn marshall

      Thanks Michelle,

      Amazingly the only win Brittney cared about was getting her to the show and proving that she could overcome her adversity. The ribbons were just a shock to us all. Twizzler truly loves to jump and truly loves Brittney and their path is destined for greatness but the best part was teaching Twizzler that loving her could negate any harm that someone else had done to her. I can’t thank Susan enough for putting this out there!!

  10. Dawn Marshall

    Thanks for giving us a chance to put this article out there as I am the mother of Brittney. Most wanted to put her down for her erratic behavior, only few supported us. If anything comes out of this article it is that we hope more and more people learn that patience and love can cure even the unthinkable and no horse should be discarded.

  11. Colmel

    Such a pretty little mare! Susan, you are a champ at putting tears into one’s eyes. What a terrific story of perseverance and love. Congratulations to everyone who gave this mare a chance.

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