Courageous Mare Uses Own Body to Shield Foal From Fire

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Bella on the day she arrived at the Humane Society of North Texas. HSNT photo.

During the early morning hours of April 6th, 2014, a North Texas family awoke to every horse owner’s worst nightmare. A heating lamp located within their barn had shorted out and sparked an electrical fire that quickly engulfed the entire building. Trapped inside was their beloved pony, “Bella,” and her new foal, “Butterscotch.”

The pair narrowly escaped but sustained life-threatening injuries as a result of the blaze. Of the two, Bella fared the worst enduring serious burns over the majority of her body. In addition, the damaging effects of smoke inhalation was a major concern.

Due to the extreme nature of the ponies’ injuries, the family reached out to the Humane Society of North Texas in hopes they could save Bella and Butterscotch.

“When we arrived, it was clear that Bella’s prognosis was bleak,” says a HSNT representative. “She suffered severe burns to the majority of her body and the billowing smoke she had inhaled had scorched her lungs. We rushed the pair to the care of an equine specialist, fearing the worst.”

Bella and Butterscotch just five days at HSNT. HSNT photo.

“Just two weeks later, Bella has made amazing progress thanks to the meticulous, around-the-clock medical care provided by our dedicated staff and volunteers.”

The latest update from veterinarians on April 23rd showed both ponies to be in good spirits. The once terribly frightened Butterscotch has become more inquisitive and is beginning to make new friends with staff and volunteers. Bella’s condition is improving, however she does have signs of an infection in some of the deeper burns on her neck and may need specialized ear surgery.

In an effort to raise money for the ponies’ treatment, HSNT set an initial goal of $4,000. Through the help of animal lovers from around the world, that mark was quickly met. However, it has become clear that Bella and Buttersotch’s treatment will cost much more than  was anticipated.

“Bella is currently in an equine clinic who is providing advanced around-the-clock care to help her fight off the beginnings of a skin infection,” says HCNT. “Our medical team is also concerned that she may need ear surgery and lifelong ear care. Butterscotch is doing extremely well and is staying strong next to her mother through all of her treatment.”

Photo courtesy of HSNT.

“Donations help us cure these deserving ponies and animals like them who are in need each and every day. We are in contact with her former owners and are giving them updates about her progress. Once she has healed, we will be assessing her medical needs and she and Butterscotch will either return to their former owners’ care or enter our adoption program to find a loving, forever home.”

‘Horsing around’ reduces stress hormones in youth

April 24, 2014 – By Rachel Webber, College of Agricultural, Human & Natural Resource Sciences

PULLMAN, Wash. – New research from Washington State University reveals how youth who work with horses experience a substantial reduction in stress – and the evidence lies in kids’ saliva.

The results are published in the American Psychological Association’s Human-Animal Interaction Bulletin this month.

“We were coming at this from a prevention perspective,” said Patricia Pendry, a developmental psychologist at WSU who studies how stress “gets under the skin” and the effects of prevention programs on human development. “We are especially interested in optimizing healthy stress hormone production in young adolescents, because we know from other research that healthy stress hormone patterns may protect against the development of physical and mental health problems.”

NIH grant to apply hard science

Her work is the first evidence-based research within the field of human-equine interaction to measure a change in participants’ levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

“The beauty of studying stress hormones is that they can be sampled quite noninvasively and conveniently by sampling saliva in naturalistic settings as individuals go about their regular day,” Pendry said.

A child leads a horse during a 12-week equine assisted learning and prevention program. (Photo by Patricia Pendry, WSU)

A child leads a horse during a 12-week equine assisted learning and prevention program. (Photo by Patricia Pendry, WSU)

While human-animal interaction programs with horses, dogs, cats and other companion animals have been credited with improving social competence, self-esteem and behavior in children, scientifically valid research to support these claims – and an understanding of the underlying mechanism for why people report a positive experience in these programs – has been limited.

Three years ago, the National Institutes of Health began asking researchers to tackle big questions about the effects of human-animal interaction on child development. With the support of a $100,000 NIH grant, Pendry led a research project to engage students in grades 5-8 in a 12-week equine facilitated learning program in Pullman, Wash.

Stephanie Roeter, WSU graduate student and co-author, processes saliva samples to measure stress hormones. (Photo by Patricia Pendry, WSU)

Stephanie Roeter, WSU graduate student and co-author, processes saliva samples to measure stress hormones. (Photo by Patricia Pendry, WSU)

She approached the coordinator of PATH (Palouse Area Therapeutic Horsemanship) at the WSU College of Veterinary Medicine, which had been offering a therapeutic riding program for over 30 years. Pendry has been riding and working with horses since she was a child and reacquainted herself with therapeutic horsemanship when she began to look for her next research project at WSU.

Higher hormone levels pose potential risk

She said stress hormone functioning is a result of how we perceive stress as well as how we cope with it. Stress is not just what you experience, she said, but it’s how you interpret the size of the stressor. A child in front of a large, unfamiliar horse may experience more stress than when he or she encounters a smaller, more familiar animal.

Working with PATH director Sue Jacobson and Phyllis Erdman from the WSU College of Education, Pendry designed and implemented an after-school program serving 130 typically developing children over a two-year period that bused students from school to the barn for 12 weeks.

Sue Jacobson, left, Patricia Pendry and Phyllis Erdman with two PATH horses. (Photo by Kate Wilhite, WSU)

Sue Jacobson, left, Patricia Pendry and Phyllis Erdman with two PATH horses. (Photo by Kate Wilhite, WSU)

Children were randomly assigned to participate in the program or be waitlisted. Based on natural horsemanship techniques, the program provided 90 minutes weekly to learn about horse behavior, care, grooming, handling, riding and interaction.

Participants provided six samples of saliva over a two-day period both before and after the 12-week program. Pendry compared the levels and patterns of stress hormone functioning by measuring cortisol. The results were exciting, she said.

“We found that children who had participated in the 12-week program had significantly lower stress hormone levels throughout the day and in the afternoon, compared to children in the waitlisted group,” she said. “We get excited about that because we know that higher base levels of cortisol – particularly in the afternoon – are considered a potential risk factor for the development of psychopathology.”

Evidence to support human-animal work

Pendry said the experimental design underlying the study gives more scientific credit to the claims of therapeutic horsemanship professionals, parents and children who have reported a positive impact from these types of programs. In addition, she hopes the results will lead to development of alternative after-school programs.

While the research focused on prevention, Pendry said she believes it could provide a starting point to look at the impact on children of high levels of stress and physical or mental health issues.

“Partly because of NIH’s effort to bring hard science to the field of human-animal interaction, program implementers now have scientific evidence to support what they are doing,” she said.

Learn more about the Department of Human Development in the WSU College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resources sciences at

Patricia Pendry, WSU Department of Human Development, 509-335-8365,
Rachel Webber, College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resources Sciences (CAHNRS) Communications, 509-335-0837,

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