26 January 2011
Idaho was stolen on September 26, 1997, from our pasture. Fifty-one weeks later, we found and brought her home on September 17, 1998. Finding Idaho was a miracle for our lives and 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 we'd find her if she had not been slaughtered or put to death if we searched long enough. It would take time and a lot of it. We had people all over the USA, Canada, and other countries looking for Idaho. The question that kept damping our spirits as if she was alive or not. We could not have kept going if we had not received letters from all over the world daily on the Internet.
Let me start at the beginning...
About the same time Idaho was stolen from our farm, six horses were stolen in surrounding counties. We learned this information only because of our hard work. Law enforcement agencies do not often communicate 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 within a 40-50 mile radius. 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. The girl ran to her mom as the man walked to his car, and she 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, 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 very expensive color flyers and 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 removed at the auctions. We feel 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.
The owner of a Tennessee sale barn bought our horse. Upon finding out the horse was stolen, he called the thief to come to get the horse so he could get his money back.
The barn owner knew about our horse as we had called sales and sent faxes and flyers the weeks following her theft. Our letters included pleas to help us put up flyers, print them, create stolen horse sections on web pages, and have our story in horse publications, etc.
Many people assisted us with our efforts. One person helped guide us in interacting with the news media, law enforcement, and sales. Another person sent poems, quotes, and antidotes that were uncannily timely with our emotions. Other 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 in 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 ourselves 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 will feel the same happiness we did the day we found Idaho.
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 pursuit we continue today.
As in many crimes, our trust in people shattered the day Idaho was stolen. That, combined with our loss, affected our outlook on everyone. Our son was so scared that the people who took Idaho might return and get him that he slept in our room for a long time. (We are happy to report that he went back to his room)
We understand that any crime has normal reactions to be expected. We experienced many emotions except anger, at least not too much of it. We used the anger through a positive outlet, looking for Idaho.
In the recovery process, 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. We often sat in front of the computer or on the phone, amazed at the help pouring 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 significant break. We finally got valuable information from the Sheriff's department about that arrest through much persistence.
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 we were being led 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 advertising the sale barn where Idaho was sold on September 29, 1997.
We stopped and asked for directions to the barn, traveled there, and posted flyers. We had a bizarre feeling standing in that empty sale barn. Some very poor-looking horses were in the paddocks behind the barn. 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.
We posted more flyers 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 for directions.
We put another flyer up in that convenience store. One week later, on Sunday, we got a call from someone who saw the flyer. That person told us they had seen our horse. The woman recognized the head immediately! She continued to tell us that she had seen this horse in several horse shows and even talked to family members who now owned her.
The caller promised to ask around and find out the current owner's name and any other pertinent information because they were sure of the horse's identity.
They called back the next day with the needed name, address, and phone number. 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 a while on this call. The following Wednesday morning, I received an e-mail from someone I had told about the tip.
It simply said, "Debi, I wouldn't discount that lead; after all, I get left and right mixed up, and maybe they do too!"
I called the number immediately. The current owner's words 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 of Idaho's characteristics. She seemed convinced, but I still wasn't. Could it 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 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; if it was our horse, I felt 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, 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, the people who had her would not permit us to come to see the horse.
Within minutes of talking to the woman, I had called the authorities and the Tennessee State Cattle/Horse Livestock officer. The head of the Tennessee Livestock Division was working on the case before the tip. He 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, "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 and a change of underwear and took off. It was the first time in our lives that a list was not left for grandma to take care of the kids, clothes laid out for school, etc. We told them that whatever they needed, they would have to figure it out themselves this time.
We had initially planned to let the family have some time with Idaho to say goodbye, 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. The two informed us 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 and gas up. That 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 midnight for the longest night I could 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.
But 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 honestly 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 McMinn Couty Sheriff deputies and detectives 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 appreciate how the officers handled the difficult circumstances in their facility that morning. We could never say thank you enough for getting our horse back in the highly charged emotional situation our day turned into in minutes.
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, we both shouted with excitement, "That's her!!!!"
I don't know how to explain that moment. All our hopes, work, prayers, and times we had dreamed of this day and what it would be like and feel like was happening.
This time it was it! She was alive and well in all of her glory on tape. 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 down the arena fence and how she held her head and tail 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 entirely believe it until we could see Idaho physically standing in front of us. We needed to wake 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 had lived in for months. He led her by a lead rope to a nearby church parking lot where we were waiting with other officers. With a 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 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, said so many prayers for the safe return of our horse. 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 all our prayers were answered and that perhaps being in this parking lot was not such a coincidence.
Since we forgot to bring our truck and trailer, arranging transportation took hours. The Lieutenant set up a trailer to meet us at the church. With another man's help, we arranged transport to Asheville, NC.
A friend who had trained Idaho and stabled her for us sometimes 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!
We could not believe the sight, even in dim light, because it was 9:00 PM. We put her daughter, Montana, a little later in the paddock with her. They sniffed each other and talked a little; back to normal.
Her best grooming buddy was grooming her over the fence shortly after that. The horse that had dominated the group quickly showed her dominance again, just like before.
Later that night, I couldn't find Harold. I saw 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, Idaho 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 beloved horse. 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 entirely body-clipped, and her spot was almost gone, cut close to her skin. 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 hurt the little girl 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.
Idaho remembered the shortcut through the woods, and the dominant mares paid her no attention. Idaho's daughter and her buddy, Charlie Horse, walked alongside her. Idaho walked to a place in the pasture and started eating. There was no fanfare at all.
She remembered the trails we rode for years before the thief took her. After a ride around our neighborhood, Idaho knew where to get her saddle off. She went straight to the right door just like always, even though she was saddled at the hitching post.
As for the family who had our horse, we are very thankful they found Idaho and took her home. We are sorry that it was 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 spent countless hours searching for Idaho and thousands of dollars to find her. And the family who had her last, who had their future dreams shattered, will probably never get over this entirely, either.
Most people never hear of the number of horses stolen across the US daily, weekly, or monthly. I know no formal statistics except one source that says 40,000 to 55,000 horses are stolen yearly. There is little publicity about such a massive business in the horse industry. We hope to change that.
Few stolen horse stories have happy endings. When you hear of a stolen or missing horse, instead of thinking, "That horse is gone and will never be found, remember Idaho's miracle.
Keep in mind that mind, Idaho, knows she is home! We got our miracle, and we hope all other victims get theirs too.
Never underestimate the power of one "Bringing Horses Home."
In Memory of Idaho - 1985 to 2016
* "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.