CHERAW — Winston Churchill once said, “There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man.” For the dedicated team of horse rescuers at Palmetto Farms in Cheraw, no saying could ring truer.
Set on a picturesque farm of rolling hills and grassy fields, about two dozen horses spend their days recovering from abuse and neglect at Palmetto Farms.
Palmetto Farms got its start less than a year ago when it received a call about 14 horses living in horrible conditions in Chesterfield County.
“We got the call, and it started from there,” manager Sally Boss said. “My daughter was the first one out there and she begged us to do something.”
The place from where the first group of horses was rescued had no feed or fresh water. A dead horse was in the creek nearby.
Seeing the condition of the horses was enough to push Boss and her friend Kathy Hancock to do something to offer rescue and sanctuary to the large animals of Chesterfield County.
George, a chestnut gelding of unknown origin, is the rescue’s poster child. A small horse with a huge personality, George came to Palmetto Farms about 500 pounds underweight.
“He was so bad when we went to get him we didn’t think he’d make it.” Boss said. “We had to push him on the trailer just to get him here.”
A little more than a month later, George is a shinning example of what a bit of love and proper care can do. His hair is growing back, his ribs are almost covered with flesh and fat, and the sparkle is back in his eyes. He follows the staff around looking for love and attention; George will soon be ready to go to a new home.
“Somebody speaks for the dogs and the cats,” Hancock said. “Somebody needs to speak for the big animals.”
Since kicking things off last fall, Palmetto Farms has rescued about 30 horses from various stages of abuse, offering the neglected animals a safe place to heal and recover.
In South Carolina there has been a huge increase in calls to the Humane Society of South Carolina with calls about equine abuse and neglect.
“We get the most calls about dogs,” executive director Wayne Brennessel said, “followed by horses. We have seen a huge increase in the number of equine abuse and neglect cases in recent years.”
Since 2007, the state’s humane society has investigated nearly 300 cases of equine abuse and neglect. “We have seen the number of calls about horse go from one or two per month to four or five per month,” Brennessel said. “With the economy the way it is there are very few place for people to take their horses or to be able to sell them.”
Even with all the horses Palmetto Farms has taken in, the most interesting story is actually not a horse rescue but a people rescue.
A few months ago a call came in for the Palmetto Farms team to rescue a horse tied to a pole in a campground. When they arrived, Sally and Kathy found a chestnut Saddlebred named Dance in pretty bad shape, with ribs showing and very little food, indications of neglect.
Then they met Sue Griffith, Dance’s owner, and heard her story. Like many people, Griffith had fallen on hard times after losing two jobs, her home and the camper where she had been living with her son.
For Griffith and her son, Ryan, things deteriorated quickly. It wasn’t only Dance who lost weight, but also Sue and her son. They were cooking outside on a fire and living in a small trailer with no heat.
The family, including Dance, had reached the end of their rope until Palmetto Farms stepped in.
“We rescued them all,” Boss said.
The Palmetto Farms crew not only took Dance into their care, but also Griffith and her son.
The family is now living with friends and working on the farm helping with the daily chores, and regaining a sense of purpose and confidence.
“They have changed everything,” Griffith said. “Like Dance, I don’t trust people a whole, whole lot. And then they came along and they are awesome.
“They gave us purpose and a place and . confidence,” she said. “‘Cause after a while you feel like you are nothing.”
Following their recovery, horses at Palmetto Farms will either live out their days fed and well-cared for there or be adopted into approved homes.
As for Griffith and her family, finally stable and together, they can begin the healing process with each other.