When Challenge arrived at the Harford County Humane Society a year ago, he was emaciated, his body was covered with sores and he could stand for only seconds at a time.
In a few days, about 25 staffers and volunteers who nursed his physical and psychological wounds of severe neglect will celebrate Challenge's second birthday in style, presenting the cinnamon-colored horse with a carrot cake. The party will be the main event at an open house Saturday at the 25-acre Humane Society headquarters in Fallston.
And if you think that's a little much for a horse, it seems to be a small payback for the abuse he suffered at the hands of his previous owners, said Humane Society officials.
"I don't think one person thought he would look so good," said Gene Rohrbaugh, one of the many people who volunteer time to tend to Challenge's wounds.
9- The horse, whose legs may never be strong
enough to support the weight of an adult rider, will remain at the Humane Society for now. Children may be allowed to ride him eventually, said Nina Meckel, the society's educational coordinator.
Meckel called Challenge her "baby doll" and pointed out the heart-shaped white marking on his forehead.
The story of Challenge, whose full name is Everlasting Challenge, will be told so people will realize what it takes to care for a horse or other large animal properly, officials said.
Challenge now weighs 821 pounds, up from about 300 pounds. He even has a bit of a "hay belly," the equine equivalent of a beer belly.
For the first two weeks after he came to the Humane Society, Challenge was on a 24-hour watch. His nurses took turns watching him at night, sleeping on cots in his barn.
His legs needed to be treated and wrapped to counteract swelling. His sores, including one so deep his hip bone had become exposed, needed medication. And he needed to be lifted every few hours by four to six people so he wouldn't crush his own organs like a beached whale.
"I knew the first night he was here how much it was going to take," said Patty Billings, the Humane Society director.
"It was a choice of either putting him down or giving it everything we had. He was a baby and it was worth a shot."
Fred and Mary Pollard of Edgewood have donated about $1,500 to pay for Challenge's veterinarian bills, food and other expenses.
Volunteers, such as 12-year-old Jonna Bennett, tended to the horse for countless hours. Some came as early as 5:30 a.m. Others came on their lunch hours or on the way home from work.
"We could not have done it without all the people who helped," Billings said.
Challenge seemed to sense that people were try to help him, Billings and others said.
"As much as he's gone through, he's just a very gentle animal," said Anne Thiessen, another Humane Society staffer.
"He would get real worried if someone wasn't around," Billings said.
Mr. Ed the talking horse, of course, had his own television show. Challenge, the once-starving horse, had a favorite show during his recovery: "Jake and the Fatman."
"He couldn't stand it if he couldn't see the TV," said Rohrbaugh, a retired Baltimore County police officer.
Humane Society officials would not identify Challenge's former owners. But they said the owners had other, apparently healthy, horses.
Pam Arney, one of three county animal control officers, had spotted Challenge while answering a complaint about a dog. She stopped in to see the horse every few days, but he only got worse.
He had been kicked and bitten by other horses. He had food but was too weak and "depressed" to eat, Arney said. And he had opened dozens of sores on his body from trying get up off a concrete floor.
Humane Society officials eventually got the horse's former owners to sign Challenge over to them. Taking the case to court, trying to prove cruelty allegations, would have taken months, the officials said.
"In his condition, there was no time," Meckel said.
While Challenge's former owners presumably knew how to care for horses, Billings said, officials occasionally see neglect cases where owners have simply taken on more than they can handle. Some are people who moved to the country and wanted a horse but didn't realize the time, effort and money needed to care for one properly.
"A lot of what we see is just ignorance," Meckel said.