23 October 2011
The Internet - A Renewed Search in Retro
By 2004 I’d come across various equestrian websites on the Internet. On exploring them I found stolen horse sections. I couldn't believe it when I saw horses and ponies around the country still being taken. Up until then, I naively believed horse theft a rarity.
I decided to put my small 'retro search' of Ballymoss on a few of these newly discovered equine sites. I placed details on any horse tracing sites I could find, in the hope someone might recognise him. He could have been sold a number of times and obviously his name would have changed. Horse owners from the 1980s and 1990s would remember if they had owned a chestnut TB gelding. Ballymoss had distinctive markings which would always help identify him. During all our searches we never came across another horse with the same markings.
Possibily this retro search might help in some way.
Horsewatch UK - Other Owners' Experiences
From these websites, I noticed Horsewatch groups had been set up around the UK. The members,a police supported group, help provide equine crime prevention awareness programs, but reading these recent appeals and experiences of victim horse owners brought back our nightmares.
The first one I saw in Horsewatch, made in 2003, from was about thieves who stole a horse from a farm in Lincolnshire, a county in mid England. They left two freeze marked horses alone, just like the 'three' freeze marked horses in 'our' yard had been dumped in a field a hundred miles away. Horsewatch said...
'The owners are distraught by their loss. I often have to deal with devastated owners after a horse is stolen, and It’s never easy. But when a grown man breaks down, the ordeal he is suffering really hits home. We really want to get this horse back to them.' (To date this particular horse has not been listed as being recovered on the Stolen Horse Register).
One of the most wrenching stories concerned a family from Ireland whose donkeys were stolen. The grandmother had been given these pets from her loving husband. When he passed away she became even more attached to them. I don’t know if they ever found them.
I read a mother's appeal about her stolen shetland ponies. She was pretty strong and resiliant and could withstand most things, but when someone took her ponies, it floored her. Another victim who had to carry on with her full time work and look after her kids while trying to search for her animals. I’m not sure if she recovered them.
Recently I contacted a lady called Genine, whose advert I saw on a 'Stolen Horses' Facebook page. Her horse, a chestnut Saddler, had been taken from her home in Pretoria, South Africa in December 2008. She thanked me for my encouragement to keep up her search, “It’s a terrible thing to overcome!” Her FB appeal also includes, “Please help me find him and put an end to this heart ache and sleepless nights!”
The Horse Detectives
Some years ago I found an old video copy of a TV documentary called The Horse Dectectives. It had been made by Cutting Edge, British documentary makers who focus on social and policital issues and broadcast by Channel 4. I think my mother must have taped it when it first televised.
This film followed the painful searches of four families in
around 1994 whose horses or ponies had been stolen. Once again, I recognised the harrowing ordeal they went through. These normal, every day type of people had the same emotional reactions and similar symptoms of distress as we did. They made the documentary at the time the first Horsewatch groups were being established in England, something we did not have before.
An owner, who fortunately found her palamino mare with help from the Metropolitan Police Mounted Branch, after they had received an anonomous tip, said: "I didn't really expect to get her back. We’re quite amazed, but she's back. It's given me an insight into what it must be like for a family who loses a child." At this point the documentary commented: “Although the police had an idea who had stolen this horse they had insufficient evidence to prosecute.”
One young lady broke down crying while speaking to some dealers at a horse market, while in search of her family's brown pony called Ben. "He's been missing for a year. We've had him all his life, and we've got his mother at home. He's a third generation. It doesn't get any easier, for a year we've been doing this - we've been everywhere." This lady's mother, who also looked after and cared for Ben said: "The heartbreak just grows and grows. We're devastated.” And again, “It's like losing a child. People don't realize it; they don't know how cruel this is.”
The concerned owner of an albino pony called Skoobi Doo made a daunting journey to see the person in charge of a horse abattoir to enquire if possibility her pony could have gone through the slaughterhouse. It looked like he hadn't. The manager said people rang up about two or three times a month about stolen horses.
After their ponies had been missing for a year, Skoobi and Ben's owners consulted a clairvoyant, believing it was their only chance of finding them.
When someone telephoned Ben's family to say they thought they knew where he might be, the mother lost her composure and pleaded with the caller, "Can you give me an address so I can come out. We’re desperate. We’ve searched the country.” This particular lead did not turn out to be Ben, but a very similar looking pony. So the family had to continue their search while anxiously waiting and hoping for the call that could finally lead them to their beloved pet.
Skoobi Doo's owner said about the thieves: "They don't care, they've got no principles. If it only happened to them, if it was their family they were taking then it might come home to them, all they're thinking of is the quick easy money and it makes you feel so bitter." When asked later if she should give up as she still had not found her pony, she replied, "No. No, I'll never give up, never till I find out exactly what's happened to Skoobi."
Still searching for Ben, his owners said:"Ben was for life and we'll find him."
After six months of searching for her two stolen ponies one owner said: "I think the loss of a pony could undoubtedly ruin somebody's life, but if you have other responsibilities and a family, you can't let that happen. You don't stop looking, but you look in a different way, not so obsessively, for the family's sake you have to put it away." Fortunately for this family the film later showed them recovering their ponies after an anonomous tip-off. Showing the recovery of one of them, the owner said she hardly recognized her pony as the healthy and calm animal they had known. Holding her pony, she commented, "Well, she doesn't look the same pony, does she?" But the owner's relief was obvious, as she patted and kissed the nervy pony on its neck.
The documentary then finishes concluding with the words '... For all the other owners, the hunt continues.'
Trespassing - A Landowner's Anger
A few years ago I spoke to a landowner after hearing about what appeared to have been attempted horse theft on his property. It was totally unrelated, but his farm and yard were next to the place where Ballymoss had been stolen from years ago. The attempt was luckily intervened when a passing farmer spotted a strange vehicle and trailer on the property, so alerted the police and the owner. The landowner was still extremely angry his property had been trespassed on and an attempt made. His reaction was a common response of someone who has been violated by unlawful people with no rights to be on his land, let alone attempting to take his animals. Using motorway CCTV camera devices, the police apparently traced the vehicle's false number plates as far as Birmingham, a city over one hundred miles away. Obviously these perpetrators weren’t local.
Another occasion, I expressed to a farrier, who I had not seen for many years and who used to shoe Ballymoss, my resentment about the thieves who stole our horse. He agreed, and highlighted the difference between normal, decent, law abiding people and criminals when he replied, “you aren’t dealing with reasonable people.”
This is a fact--these thieves have a total disregard for the suffering they cause to the victims. Some are opportunists, others organized. E
ither way, they have no morals and no conscience.
Fortunately there have been heartwarming stories as well, restoring faith in human nature: This is an extract from the Horse.com, (on-line) dated October 12, 2009:
A horse that was stolen from his Eastern Illinois home more than a year ago has turned up in Springfield, Mo. The paint gelding, named Max, was reunited with his 14 year old owner this week. “Kaitlynn Bilskie never gave up hope in finding her barrel racing partner,” said her stepfather, Keith Caughran. “This has just been an amazing miracle.”
The family had posted a missing horse notice on netposse.com, the Web site for Stolen Horse International Inc. Horse enthusiasts around the country rallied in online forums, posting flyers at various horse events, in their search for Max. After realizing she bought a stolen horse, she let Max's rightful owner know she had him. The new owner declined the reward money. "You don't need to pay for something that's already yours." In return Max's owners set out to get her a replacement, another paint gelding-- a rescue horse.
Reaching a Good Home
Although Ballymoss would be too old to be alive today, (hypothetically his age would be about 40 years old now) I don't think It’s beyond the realms of possibility that after us, someone, somewhere owned, knew or looked after him, and they may see my small retro search on the internet, which includes his photos, and recognise him from the past. Hopefully they would contact me. I would be so grateful to hear anything. All information, of course, would be treated confidentially. We never sought to place any blame on a new owner, they would have been unaware of his past. With the power of the internet and a lucky coincidence it could happen.
Although neither proved conclusive, the probable sighting at Shrewsbury horse market shortly after the theft and the phone call in 1984 give a small amount of comfort and hope he may have survived and it’s possible, in theory, he lived into the 1990s. His age would have been around 26 years in 1995. (I've known some horses, around the time who lived into the late 1990s and even one into the early 2000s).
I have always hoped Ballymoss reached a good home. That would be a lifetime of relief for me. But if he did not, I have only ever wanted to know good or bad, what happened to him, even if it means facing the worst case scenario. Above all though, I hope he didn’t suffer. I hope he had a good life.
The 'Not Knowing...'
I think the 'not knowing' what has happened is somehow mistaken by others as a peaceful, forgotton place, aided by the passing of time. This couldn't be further from the truth. The not knowing leaves you in suspension of closure or resolution.
We could and would have accepted his loss in any other way, through age, illness or accident, but to lose him the way we did and not know what happened to him has been unbearable. Even knowing something, anything, would be better than the silence.
I have tried to tell my story as accurately as possible. Emotionally, It’s from a personal perspective. At times while writing this I have hesitated to put certain aspects in, but then thought, “No, this is how it was, this is what happened, that's how bad it was.”
I asked my father how he would describe what we went through. He replied: "It affected everything. We were shattered by it." As with most families, we have had other losses, but this traumatized us badly.
I've read and heard horse owners say it would be their worst fear and nightmare if someone stole their horse. And yet it happened to us. We felt so desperate and helpless, and it’s only recently that I've realised and understood the deep trauma we went through.
The overall sadness of losing Ballymoss always remains-- time does not heal the wound. I still find it extremely painful to look at his photos. It’s a sharp reminder of all the happiness, well-being (for him and our family) and future the thieves took away from us by this caculated crime. All our endeavours and young dreams went with him. We lost a sense of purpose.
For us, it was also an isolating experience. Back then in the early Eighties we led our own search, shocked, confused and bewildered that it happened. Over the years it has sometimes felt very surreal Ballymoss, stolen from our lives and ultimately never found---did this really happen?
Nowadays, I do mention occasionally, someone took my horse. I prepare myself for people, who, untouched by anything like this don’t understand the umbrella of emotions, involved. It's almost like an invisable trauma. Most people's perceptions appear it seems to be a straightforward loss, perhaps rather unfortunate. But for most owners who have their horse or pony stolen, I know It’s so much more than that.
Perhaps my stolen horse story is fairly exceptional as it’s told retrospectively with my knowledge we never found our horse or what happened to him.This leaves you forever painfully wondering, giving you no peace of mind. Even though it happened over 25 years ago, like all life changing experiences, time does not seem relevant.
Hopefully telling all of this may highlight and help some readers understand the heartache involved with horsetheft and use this information as a cautionary measure to be aware and vigilant and to use theft deterrent methods.
I’m still involved with horses, they’re such wonderful animals. My two children think their equine friends great fun.
Stolen Horse International (NetPosse.com)
I was aware of Stolen Horse International, Inc. or SHI, and had thought of writing to its founder, Debi Metcalfe, to relay my experience. Fortuntely, Debi contacted me first (after seeing my messages on a horse forum) and I had a great sense of relief when someone finally told me, “I understand what you have been through” and “you are not alone in your experience.” Having been a victim of horsetheft herself and having worked with other victims, Debi said she knew of the emotional impact it has on a family. I can see what an enormous help Debi is to horse owners in America and elsewhere, who may have the same misfortune . SHI is the first port of call. Someone can advise, support and help families to restore their horse or pony.
Awareness and Prevention
In general there is far more awareness these days. But I would advise everyone not to be complacent and to take extra security measures. Have your horses freezemarked or the equivilent - it's the most
proven visable deterrent to stop thieves. Have your animals microchiped to help with legal identification and be proactive with signs on your gates, yards and property and all equipment, rugs and tack marked appropriately. It's not something that should or will happen to you, but it could. Again, be proactive and use deterrents.
British Horsewatch groups and Stolen Horse International (netposse) advocate the best ways to help protect your horses and equipment - follow their recommendations.
A dedication to all Equines - stolen, missing or otherwise
...and I whispered to the horse; "Trust no man in whose eye you don’tsee yourself reflected as an equal." - Don Vincenzo Giobbe
"Until one has loved an animal, part of his soul remains unawakened." - Author unknown