Elderly and heavily pregnant horse Cinderella came to Blue Cross in one of the worst welfare cases we have ever seen, but both mother and foal proved to be survivors and have since gone on to find a loving home together...
When Cinderella arrived in our care, the horse and her unborn foal were days - if not hours - away from death.
Shockingly emaciated and heavily pregnant despite being far too old to be in foal, the elderly girl had been left to starve in a saturated field beside an industrial estate.
With nearly every bone protruding from her frail body and her dehydrated skin covered in scabs, it was one of the most appalling cases of neglect that Blue Cross has ever seen.
On her arrival at our Burford rehoming centre in Oxfordshire, following an emergency rescue, Cinderella had a body condition score of just 0.5 – on a scale which rates one as emaciated and five as obese.
Any nutrients from food she had managed to scavenge from the sodden ground had gone to the foal growing inside her, as she desperately tried to keep them both alive.
We weren’t sure if the thoroughbred cross, aged between 25 and 30, would make it – and, if she did, it was to be a miracle if her unborn foal survived, too.
“I have worked in welfare for more than 10 years and have witnessed so many tragic sights, but I have never seen a horse in such a pitiful state as this,” said Vicki Alford, Horse Manager at Blue Cross Burford.
“Thankfully her foal was wriggling and kicking so we knew we had a chance to save them both, albeit a slim one.”
I was close to giving up, but knew I needed to keep fighting for the little one growing inside of me.
Although my body was wasting away and I struggled to stand up, feeling her wriggling about and kicking gave me the strength to carry on.
We deserved the chance to live; it wasn’t my fault I was in this state. I can’t tell you the relief I felt when the folks at Blue Cross took me in. It’s thanks to them we both made it.
Over the following weeks, Cinderella was put on a special feeding plan and gradually started to build up strength, gaining some flesh to cover her bones.
Despite the unimaginable ordeal she had endured, she trusted our team with her life from day one.
Even when she developed a potentially fatal infection of the placenta days before giving birth, she didn’t give up – and allowed our team to nurse her through the pain round-the-clock.
And, against all odds, Cinderella went on to give birth to a healthy foal named Princess, three months after arriving at Blue Cross. Just like her mother, it was clear the skewbald filly foal was a fighter.
“We were all ecstatic when Princess arrived,’’ said Vicki. “I have helped with many foalings but I have never worried as much as on this occasion. We all willed Cinderella to get through it safely and thankfully she did. She is an incredibly resilient mare.
“I had many sleepless nights checking on her so the relief when Princess was born safely was overwhelming, and we are all over the moon that they are both doing so well.
"I’m very proud of the horse unit team for giving so much to a horse that so deserved to live.”
And after more than two months at Burford, the mother and daughter found a loving home where they can continue their journey together – alongside an orphaned yearling, called Hiccup, who had become firm friends with Princess at the centre.
These days the trio can be seen galloping around fields together, without a care in the world.
From the moment I was born, I kept being told how special I was.
“You’re a miracle!” my mum and the team at Blue Cross would tell me.
Well, you’ll be pleased to know that I haven’t let that go to my head – but I do enjoy all the fuss and attention I get!
It makes me sad that it wasn’t always that way for my mum. But we’re happy now, and I love nothing more than galloping about with my best pal Hiccup.
New owner Joanne Lamond followed Cinderella’s story from the beginning because a welfare organisation we work closely with borrowed her horse box to rescue the stricken mare and transport her to Blue Cross. So when she found out the pair were ready to find a home, she knew it was meant to be.
“I was told what a heartbreaking case it was. I kept my eye on their progress at Blue Cross, and when they came up, that was it.
“We’ve always had Blue Cross horses and we have the space, so I knew I could give them the home they deserved. With Princess so young, I know it will be such a great project. And then I ended up getting Hiccup as well – we couldn’t have left her behind!”
The inseparable yearlings occupy neighbouring stables, always wanting to be in sight of each other.
“All three of them came in convoy,” said Joanne, who has five other horses at her Wiltshire home. “Princess needed a foal to grow up with and none of mine were young or boisterous enough for her.
“Cinderella had been defensive with other horses around Princess, but had accepted Hiccup, so it just made sense. She just leaves them alone to play, but keeps a check on them.”
Not only did Cinderella astonish everyone with her determination to survive, she has also proved to be one of the most outstanding mothers to have come into our care.
Joanne said: “I’ve dealt with many mares and foals over the years, and she has been the best mum I’ve seen by far. She was very protective of Princess. It’s the fiercest protection I’ve seen, but then you can’t really blame her after what she went through.
“Cinderella is very defensive over food as she’s spent her life fighting for it, but shares beautifully with Princess, she’ll let her have the first bite of anything. She always puts her first.”
And the pair, along with Hiccup, who is described as “the cheeky one”, have proved to be a wonderful addition to Joanne’s family.
“I’m so pleased we took them on. It’s been brilliant to see how much Princess has grown. She’s always been so good; my daughter, Amelia, has been able to lead her out to the field from day one. We hope that we’ll eventually be able to back her. And to be able to see the difference in Cinderella is amazing, it’s incredible that she had even survived.”
Blue Cross Horse Welfare Coordinator, Jennifer Hubbard, who regularly visits the horses, added: “We’ve delivered a lot of foals at Burford but Cinderella and Princess’s story is a really special one that touched a lot of people. It was touch and go from the start whether or not Cinderella would make it but there were so many people willing her on.
“This is the most rewarding part of my job, to see Cinderella in a home for life, where she and her foal never have to worry about anything again. Cinderella’s just so settled and relaxed which is wonderful to see, and Princess has a very bright future ahead of her.”
Just like the fairytale character she was named after, Cinderella has found the happy ever after she deserves with her precious foal. And it’s all thanks to your support.
How Blue Cross rehabilitates horses
Although Cinderella’s case was one of the worst we’ve ever seen, stories of neglect like hers are sadly not rare. Each year Blue Cross rehabilitates many horses and ponies that have had endured pitiful conditions before coming into our care. While every case is different, it’s the patience, care and expertise of our horse teams that give every one of them a fighting chance.
With emaciated horses, feeding is a very careful consideration. As they have been starved, we have to slowly re-introduce food into their systems as it can be dangerous otherwise. Our vet also gives any new arrivals a full health check to assess their needs, and we will provide treatment where needed. Ringworm, strangles and skin sores are all common conditions we see.
But while health problems can be nursed better with medication and TLC, mental scars are harder to heal. Many horses and ponies come to us with a past so horrific that they are frightened of humans. Our Horse Unit team and dedicated volunteers work to gradually build up their trust in people, and show them the meaning of love. For some horses this can take months, sometimes years, but seeing them in a happy new home afterwards makes it all worthwhile.
Could you give one of our ponies or horses a fresh start in life? Find out more here.