When Deanna Chavis saw her horse Cheyenne lying still on its side in the yard of her Johns Island home, she knew no illness took down the steed.

“That horse was so healthy,” she said. “I knew she didn’t just drop dead.”

Chavis’ veterinarian confirmed her fears: Cheyenne had been shot.

Charleston County sheriff’s deputies responded to the Brownswood Road home on Wednesday and looked at the animal as it was being buried. Veterinarian Wilbur Wise had left at that point, and deputies indicated in their report that a slit found on the horse’s muzzle was not determined to be a bullet wound.

Not so, Wise said. “I’m sure it was shot,” he said. “It was definitely a bullet wound.”

Chavis and her husband got upset when they saw media reports on the incident indicating that no shooting had occurred. They not only wanted justice for their beloved 18-year-old horse, they wanted to make sure other horse owners and her neighbors were aware a shooter was out there.

Sheriff’s Maj. Jim Brady said animal control deputies continue to investigate the incident and they are consulting with Wise. While the injury appears consistent with a small-caliber round, “that determination has not been confirmed,” he said.

Deputies, however, have ruled out gunfire as the cause of another horse’s injuries that were reported to the sheriff’s office on Thursday on James Island’s Dills Bluff Road, Brady said.

Chavis, a trained veterinary technician, has no doubt a bullet caused Cheyenne’s wound, just below the horse’s eye. What’s more, she suspects Cheyenne was shot by accident, brought down by someone illegally hunting at night. The 1,200-pound horse went down some time between 2 and 7:30 a.m. that day, she said.

Chavis said several deer dine each day close to her home on the seven-acre property and she suspects someone decided to bag one but shot Cheyenne by mistake. She said some of her neighbors have recently complained about hearing gunfire near their homes at night.

“I don’t think this was any type of retaliation, and I don’t think it was done deliberately,” she said. “But that bullet could have gone right through our house. Whoever is doing this is not thinking because they are shooting toward people’s homes.”

Brady said the sheriff’s office hasn’t heard of a large problem with illegal hunting in the area, but he urged anyone with concerns or information about poaching to report it.

In the meantime, Chavis plans to design a bright vest to place around her 41-year-old horse, Gypsy Girl, to make sure it doesn’t suffer a similar fate.

Reach Glenn Smith at 937-5556 or Twitter.com/glennsmith5.