Idaho was stolen on September 26, 1997 from our pasture. Fifty-one weeks later we found and brought her home on September 17, 1998. This was a miracle in our life and for the people who journeyed the year with us. Countless letters have poured in with congratulations. Many of you thought we would never see our horse again. We often had the same thought. One constant remained in our search for Idaho, hope.
We always felt that if she had not been slaughtered or put to death somehow, that if we searched long enough she would be found. It would take time and a lot of it. We had people all over the USA, Canada and some other countries looking for Idaho The question that kept damping our spirits was if she was alive or not. We could not have kept going if we had not received on the Internet, letters from all over the world...daily.
Let me start at the beginning...
There were six horses stolen in surrounding counties about the same time Idaho was stolen. We learned this information only because of our hard work. Law enforcement agencies do not often communicate with each other across county lines concerning stolen horses. We were sure the thieves were aware of this because they had not stolen more than one horse from each county. All stolen horses were in a 40-50 mile radius of each other.
We have talked with many people who had horses stolen. Except for one person, all were families with pleasure horses without any connections with the world of horse-trading and sales.
In one case a young girl found a man in the pasture with her horse. She ran to her mom as the man walked to his car. The mother recorded the car's license. The man had a bucket, lead rope and halter in his hand. You ask; what could he do with a car? Cell Phones! He gets the horse and calls for the trailer. Who would suspect a car?
No charges were brought against this man because he did not do anything but trespass. Does it take a rocket scientist to figure out his intention?
During the year we contacted many horse traders, auctioneers, feed stores, and sale barns, etc. (There would have been more if we had the addresses) The Horse media published information about her and in some cases would write stories on horse thievery.
We went to many sales and put black and white flyers on windshields. We started with color flyers but that was very expensive and we ran out of money. One person donated 500 color copies for us! Another donated 2,000 black and white flyers.
We have found that sending flyers to many auctions is of little use. We are not saying that all auctions, owners and auctioneers fall in this category. Many of the flyers were taken down. It is our feeling that due to the cash flow generated by all of these stolen horses going through sales it is easier and more profitable for management to look the other way.
Our horse was actually bought by the owner of a sale barn in Tennessee. Upon finding out the horse was stolen, the owner called the thief to come get the horse so he could get his money back.
The barn owner knew about our horse as we had called sales, sent faxes and flyers the weeks following her theft. Our letters included pleas to help us put up flyers, print flyers, to create stolen horse sections on web pages, and to include our story in horse publications, etc.
Many people assisted us with our efforts. One person helped guide us in how to interact with the news media, law enforcement, and sales. Another person sent poems, quotes, and antidotes that were uncannily timely with our emotions. Others people were sneaking around pastures in other states looking for Idaho when we received tips far away. When we needed a background check on a "person of question" somewhere in the US, someone would find the information for us.
There were the letters from other theft victims like us. We remember having mixed feelings when one would be found...happy for the owners but sad it was not ours.
Now we are happy for us and sad for the ones not found. To all of you who are still looking, our hearts are with you. We will continue to assist you in your search and hope you too will feel the same happiness we did the day Idaho was found.
The response to Idaho's theft from total strangers has overwhelmed us. Through encouragement we also started our quest to educate the public about horse theft, prevention, recovery, identification, etc....a quest we continue today.
When Idaho was stolen, as in many crimes our trust in people was shattered. That combined with the loss that we felt affected our outlook on everyone. Our son was so scared that the people who took Idaho may come back and get him that he slept in our room for a long time. (We are happy to report that he went back to his own room)
We understand that with any crime there are normal reactions to be expected. We experienced many emotions except anger, at least not too much of it. I guess we used the anger through a positive outlet...looking for Idaho.
In the process of recovery the people on the net and the many who called were the ones who ultimately helped us back to being able to trust again. In this world not many want to take the time to help another, especially a stranger.
Each day another stranger was helping us. Many times we sat in front of the computer or on the phone just amazed at the help that poured in. Sometimes it came when we felt like giving up but we couldn't because we had to answer a letter or take care of something someone sent us.
These people's actions, no matter how big or small not only helped us find Idaho but also helped to repair our souls and trust in humanity.
An arrest in North Carolina of a man who had in his possession two stolen horses in Tennessee and a stolen trailer from Shelby, NC, where we live came as a major break. Though much persistence we finally got valuable information from the sheriff's department relating to that arrest.
Labor Day weekend Harold and I decided to take a spontaneous trip and headed to Nashville, Tennessee. My mother had died a couple of weeks before and we just needed to get away. We never made it to Nashville. We felt almost as if we were being lead in another direction and changed our plans while driving down the road.
We ended up in Cleveland, Tennessee on Sunday. As luck would have it we passed a rodeo sign with the name of the sale barn where Idaho was sold on September 29, 1997.
We stopped and asked directions to the barn, traveled there and put up flyers. We had a very strange feeling standing in that empty sale barn. Some very poor looking horses were in the paddocks out back. My heart went out to them. We talked with some male members of the family who live in the surrounding area, neighbors and neighbors of the last known owner. More flyers were posted in convenience stores, restaurants, etc. We then traveled to Chattanooga for the night. The next day on the way back we turned one exit too soon near Cleveland and stopped to ask directions.
We put another flyer up in that convenience store. One week later on Sunday we got a call from a person who saw the flyer. That person told us without a doubt they had seen our horse. They recognized the head immediately and continued to tell us that they had seen this horse in several horse shows and had even talked to family members who now owned the horse. The caller promised to ask around and find out the name of the current owner and any other pertinent information because they were sure of the identity of the horse.
They called back the next day with the name, address and phone number we needed. The caller said the horse had a spot on the left side. Idaho's spot was on the right side. I didn't make the call. Previous calls had caused such disappointment and I pondered awhile on this call. On the following Wednesday morning I received an e-mail from someone I had told about the tip.
It very simply said, "Debi, I wouldn't discount that lead...after all I get left and right mixed up, maybe they do too!"
I called the number immediately. The current owner's words are burned in my memory forever as I talked to her on the phone.
"This is your horse." She spoke knowingly. I could tell she didn't want it to be true.
We talked about color, personality traits, gait and many more things. She seemed convinced but I still wasn't. Could it really be after all this time we had finally located her? I sent her an e- mail flyer and waited for a call.
The lady had seemed nice on the other end of the phone. She had contacted an attorney after she received the flyer and was told not to talk to me again. I was trying to get her to let us come see the horse. Her 10-year-old child had been riding and showing the horse in horse shows. They seemed to have a real attachment to her and if it was our horse I found myself feeling very sorry for her. We needed to know if it was our horse and there was only one way to do that.
I finally got in touch with her again and we talked more. I do not think it would be appropriate to repeat the conversation that took place but I will say there were tears shed on both parts. They didn't want to lose the horse and we needed to see if it was our horse. Still, they would not give us permission to come see the horse.
Within minutes of talking to the woman I had called the authorities and the Tennessee State Cattle/Horse Livestock officer. He was already working this case and went to see the person who had sold the horse to this family. The minutes slowly ticked by and turned into hours.
Finally the officer called us late in the afternoon and asked us, "How soon can you get here?" The horse trader had identified the horse in the flyer as the horse he sold to this family.
We were so excited! We grabbed a toothbrush, change of underwear and took off. It is the first time in our lives that a list was not left for grandma to take care of the kids and clothes laid out for school, etc. We told them that whatever they needed, they would have to figure it out themselves this time.
We really had originally planned to let the family have some time with Idaho to say good-bye and we would pick her up on Monday. While traveling we had time to mull over everything that had transpired and realized we had possibly made a mistake.
We arrived in Athens, Tennessee around 10:30 that night. We met with the State officer and an officer from the Sheriff's department.
They had been to the home but did not see the horse, only a video. The horse was in an undisclosed place. We were informed that if this was indeed our horse we needed to remove her immediately and take her home the next day.
One big problem; we did not have our truck and trailer. We had driven our car because we didn't take time to hitch the trailer, gas up. This would have delayed our five-hour drive over the smoky mountains. We just wanted to be there as quick as we could.
We checked into a motel around 12:00 for what was the longest night I can ever remember. Neither of us slept a wink!
We felt like our skin was crawling and pins were sticking us all over. We talked and changed TV channels all night. We gave new meaning to channel surfing.
Would it be Idaho this time? We had seen so many horses that were not. We had learned not to get our hopes up but this time it was different and we knew it. What if this was not our horse? There was that chance. Could we withstand the unbearable disappointment that we knew would follow?
We could not truly let ourselves believe this was our horse until we saw her...yet we knew inside that it was. We were trying to keep ourselves from totally self-destructing if it were not. So many unanswered questions and feelings raced through our minds. We had mixed emotions in the worse kind of way.
The next day didn't go as smoothly as we had envisioned. We had to identify Idaho from the video. We didn't travel to the place she was living as we had visualized. We did not meet the family as we thought we would. The officers kept us in different rooms. We did not get the many questions answered that swirled through our heads. The time spent in the law enforcement facility was nothing like we had pictured.
We are very appreciative of the way the officers handled the difficult circumstances that unfolded in their facility that morning. We could never say thank you enough for getting our horse back in the high charged emotional situation our day turned in to. It may have been just another case to them but it was "a day to remember" forever for us.
Back to the video—The most emotional time since the day she disappeared was in an officer's office looking at that video. When we saw her on the small TV screen across a show ring, both of us at the same time shouted with excitement, "That's her!!!!"
I just don't know how to explain that moment. All our hopes, all our work, all our prayers, all the times we had dreamed of this day and what it would be like and feel like. This was it! There she was in all of her glory on tape.... alive and well. The emotions poured out of us in tears and sobs that had been inside all these months.
We watched Idaho move around the ring. We watched her turn her head in that old familiar way. The movement of her body as she racked, the way she held her head and tail, all were the same. We watched her turn her body sideways when she stopped, something Idaho always did.
Her color was lighter and you could hardly see her spot on the side. Even if this horse had been dyed black we would have still known her. We held each other and wept. The search was over. Still something inside us wouldn't completely believe it until we could see her physically standing in front of us. We needed to awake from the dream like state we were experiencing and see her.
The sheriff's detective eventually had to take Idaho out of the facility she has lived for months and led her by a lead rope to a nearby church parking lot where we were waiting with other officers. With a quick glance at the sight coming up the gravel road we believed!
Harold whistled and she jerked her head to face him. Her body movements intensified. To see that head and tail held high was the most beautiful sight I had seen for such a long time. In minutes she stood before us. We just had to touch her all over. There was no doubt this horse was Idaho.
We, and many people, total strangers around the world, for the safe return of our horse, said so many prayers. We received letters of prayer daily. Who would have expected us to end up in a church parking lot when we regained custody of Idaho? A barn, a pasture, a sale barn etc., would have been much more likely settings.
As I was rubbing Idaho I looked just behind her at the church whose parking lot we were standing in. I felt then that truly all our prayers were answered and that maybe being in this parking lot was not such a coincidence.
The rest of the day was spent arranging transportation. The Lieutenant arranged a trailer to meet us at the church. Through the help of another man we were able to arrange transportation to Asheville, NC.
A friend who had trained Idaho and stabled her for us at times picked her up there and brought her home.
We knew from that first meeting that she knew us. She remained calm during the entire trip until we pulled into our yard. Idaho knew she was home! She danced around with excitement and it was all you could do to hold her to get her into the ring.
She whinnied! She Snorted! She pranced!
What a sight to see even in dim light because it was 9:00 PM. A little later we put her daughter in with her and they sniffed each other and talked a little; back to normal. Her best grooming buddy was grooming her over the fence shortly thereafter. The horse that had dominated the group quickly showed her dominance again...just like before.
Later that night I couldn't find Harold. I walked outside and found him in the riding ring talking to Idaho. I stood on the hill over the ring and felt such warmth as I observed them without them knowing. Where ever he went she followed. It was like they were stuck together...once again. I stood there for a long time honored to steal this moment from them.
We took her on our annual weekend mountain trip the next day with our horse club. Ironically, this trip in September of "97" was the last time my husband rode his trusty mount. One year later it was the first time he rode her again. We were so proud to have her with us.
She was in good shape. She was thinner than when she left but otherwise healthy.
The family who had Idaho since February had taken good care of her. She had been completely body clipped and her spot was cut really close, almost gone. Most of her color appeared gray instead of brown. She still has good muscle tone, which is a miracle also.
Her previous family said she was skin and bones when they bought her. Her 10-year-old rider had the best summer ever upon her back. We were so upset to have had to hurt the little girl so by taking away her friend.
Upon returning from the mountain trail-riding weekend we turned Idaho out with the rest of the horses and prepared for the usual chase and buck scene you see when a newcomer arrives. She remembered the short cut through the woods. The dominant mares paid her no attention. Her daughter and her buddy walked along side of her as she walked to a place in the pasture and started eating. No fanfare at all.
She remembered the trails we ride. After a ride around our neighborhood Idaho knew where to go to get her saddle off. She went straight to the correct door just like always.
As for the family who had our horse.... We are very thankful they found our horse and took her home. We are sorry that it turned out to be such a nightmare for them too. The parents had money and time tied up in Idaho. Their daughter lost her friend so quickly. She too loved the horse she called, “Lucy."
It was unfortunate for us all to have this thief march into our lives in September of "97." In the end everyone suffered. Our family, who spent countless hours and dollars to find her and the last owners who had their future dreams shattered will probably never get over this completely.
Most people never hear of the number of horses, stolen across the US.... daily, weekly, monthly. There are no formal statistics that I know of. One source says 40,000 to 55,000 are stolen each year. There is little publicity about such a huge business in the horse industry. We hope to change that.
Few stolen horse stories have a happy ending. When you hear of a horse being stolen instead of thinking like so many do, "That horse is gone. It will never be found."
Remember... Never underestimate the power of one "Bringing Horses Home".
Keep in mind...
... Idaho, knows she is home!
* "One source says 40,000 to 55,000 are stolen each year." - These numbers are based on a study done in the late 90's. There are no current numbers available.
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