Ringgold, Georgia, horses brought home; the community is committed to continuing to help

The Serendipity Seven are back home.

But the story of the six horses and a mule that escaped their paddock in the Ringgold countryside and the subsequent efforts of local horse lovers to protect them has sparked an intense debate about horse care – and if the Serendipity Seven were getting the care they needed.

The herd was spotted roaming properties in Catoosa County on March 29. Sheriff’s deputies in Catoosa began searching for their rightful owner, as area horse lovers set out to round up the wayward animals to prevent them from getting lost or injured.

They were rounded up and taken to Serendipity Farm and Rescue, but Serendipity management was reluctant to return the animals to the owner due to what they considered neglect. Once ownership was proven by a series of photographs showing the youngest members of the herd growing up, Serendipity staff relented and the herd was returned to owner Mike Teague.

Vicki Wigington, a horse trainer and member of the Ringgold equestrian community, said Teague is a kind man and a good Christian who is simply in a tough spot.

She said she understood Teague’s situation: he had suffered health problems and his children had grown up and moved on, but he still wanted to keep the herd that reminded him of his daughter, who was tragically killed on a walk. near his property.

Wigington said each horse has its own personality, and the relationship between a horse and its owner is as deep and complex as one would have with a significant other. They weigh around 800 pounds of muscle and good looks with the potential to be both temperamental and brave, and she said the horses are just kind and confident allowing us to ride them.

He’s a bonding horse that people don’t take lightly, and Wigington said that’s why the community has stepped up to help the Teague family. She also knows that horses require a lot of attention and are expensive to maintain.

“And we said, ‘Well, all you have to do is ask. In our equestrian community, we all help each other – we try anyway. she says. “We were all ready and there are many of us. I am a trainer, several others are trainers and a lot of people who have had horses all their lives… we are all ready to go out there and put forth the effort to help her keep her horses.”

The horses aren’t in terrible condition, Wigington said — their ribs are a bit visible coming out of winter, but that’s not uncommon or unhealthy.

(READ MORE: Stray horses at Ringgold highlight animal care challenges as times change)

In a phone interview, Teague pushed back against the idea that his horses were neglected. He said he fed and watched them every day and was unable to take care of their hooves due to his own medical condition and another illness in his family. He said he had owned horses for 25 years and had worked with cattle all his life.

Serendipity founder Tonja Wilkes told The Times Free Press last week that the horses needed help, pointing to problems with their teeth and hooves and also saying they were underweight. A report from the Catoosa County Sheriff’s Office said that because of this, she was reluctant to return the horses to Teague.

On its website, Serendipity explains that its vision is to provide refuge for horses destined for the slaughterhouse, “giving them a second chance, as well as members of the community who face various difficulties”, focusing on recovering women. In a phone interview, Wilkes said she believed horses had the power to heal.

In the past five years, Teague said his horses have been out twice on top of that. Both times they have been nearby, in the woods behind the fence or in a small housing estate just beyond. “I always took a bucket and brought them home,” he said.

When he saw that the horses were missing on March 29, he searched near his home until long after sunset. The next day he unsuccessfully scoured the neighbors’ property lines and nearby woods within a radius of about 5 miles – then his nephew learned online that the horses had been found and taken to nearby Serendipity Farm and Rescue .

Photo gallery

Ringgold horses brought home

According to John Pless, Catoosa County’s public information officer, no animal cruelty complaints have been filed with the county. Pless said residents can contact their counties if they suspect animal abuse, or can contact the Georgia Department of Agriculture directly.

“It is interesting that state law specifies that sheriffs must be called and put [loose domestic animals] in a safe place and then attempt to locate the owners,” Pless said.

If an investigation is needed, the Department of Agriculture should be called, and Pless said the department has a specific phone number to deal with issues involving horses. Issues with pets like dogs and cats are handled by Catoosa County Animal Control, he said.

A concerned resident could have filed a complaint with the state, Pless said, but Georgia Agriculture Ministry officials did not respond to multiple requests for information by a Friday deadline.

Like many in the area, horse enthusiast Vicki Scoggins has been following the controversy on social media. She became interested in horses through books like ‘Black Beauty’ and ‘The Black Stallion’, TV shows and movies like ‘Flicka’.

Growing up, “I had horses on my mind all the time. It’s just in my blood!” she wrote in a text message. “I believe they represent power, strength and freedom to me!”

Everyone who deals with horses has a different opinion on the definition of negligence, but she said she doesn’t have a strong opinion on the matter.

There have been serious cases of horse neglect that Scoggins said he has reported to the state, but getting authorities to act is difficult.

(READ MORE: Catoosa County Animal Control Shelter Ends Adoption Saturday)

Even though the horses are home, Teague said his wife and daughter are still angry with Serendipity staff. Teague admitted staff and community members “worked hard” to help round up his horses, but said the first time he, his wife and nephew, who had a broken leg, came to the rescue to retrieve the animals on April 2, no one helped. So they eventually had to go with only one horse, the oldest, he said.

Wilkes said in a phone interview that she was scheduled to attend her daughter’s wedding that day. She said money raised online for her rescue organization following the Serendipity Seven situation is deducted from what the rescue charges the Teagues for boarding the horses. Wigington and Wilkes clashed online, and Wigington said she wished Wilkes was less judgmental and heard Teague’s side of the story.

On Monday, Teague said he had about a dozen people ready to come out and help transport the animals home, but farm management wouldn’t let them onto the property at first. Ultimately, however, with the help of Serendipity’s staff and her surviving daughter, they rounded up the horses and brought them back to her property later that day.

“They [the horses] will come to her [Teague’s daughter] better than anyone on the planet. In no time she was able to put them in the barn for us to load up,” he said.

In the end, the horses were brought home, and Teague said he learned a lot from the process. Teague has an appointment with a veterinarian to visit his property this week for a checkup, but he said he knows his horses and believes they are in good health.

Many members of the equestrian community have offered to help the Teages, and he said they are grateful for the offers. People at Serendipity have also offered to help, but Teague said the family would prefer to work with other members of the community if they needed anything. The next task is to work on the horses’ hooves, which he recognized needed care. They will also perform some tests.

“Me, getting my horses back and tying them to my daughter who passed away…” Teague said, trying to find the right words amid his thoughts of his grief and what horses mean to him and his family. “It’s not just cattle.”

Kimberly Teague Dotson, her daughter, was killed six years ago during a nighttime walk in their cul-de-sac. She had just moved home two months prior, Teague said. An impaired driver, drunk and high on heroin, hit her at 50 miles an hour, Teague said, dragging her body under his truck for 160 feet before she was ejected, coming to rest between their driveway and their mailbox.

“You never get over it, but you learn to live,” Teague said.

The horses are a living reminder of his daughter, he said.

Teague said her horse, Duke, a stallion, was born exactly one year to the day after her daughter died on June 30, 2016.

“And then every year for the next four years, around the same time, I had a colt,” he said.

The horses are forever a reminder of her deceased daughter, Teague said.

None of his horses have been ridden since 2016, but Teague said they are very friendly. If you go up to the fence and whistle, he says, they’ll come running. He was not surprised that the horses were difficult to round up, as only one of them had ever left his nearly 30-acre farm in his entire life.

It took a while, but Teague said the animals eventually calmed down after the ordeal.

Despite some issues, Teague thinks they’re a good working weight for horses, and he’s discussed letting two of them be ridden in the junior rodeo. They’re the right size and weight for it, he and the rodeo organizers think.

A medical condition prevented her daughter Kimberly from barrel racing, but it’s something she’s always wanted to do, Teague said.

Contact Andrew Wilkins at [email protected] or 423-757-6659. Follow him on Twitter @tweetatwilkins.

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