Anakin, rescued in Winlock, 12/4/15

Anakin, rescued in Winlock, 12/4/15

For us, Anakin’s story began early Monday morning, with an email asking for our help. It was from a woman in Winlock WA who wanted to know if SAFE had room to take in an emaciated Thoroughbred gelding. He had been rescued a few days earlier by her young boarder, and it had become clear to her that he was going to need much more than either of them would be able to provide or afford. While SAFE’s intake team was discussing how best to help, a second email arrived. The horse was down on the ground and was unable to get back to his feet. Two days prior, they had faced a similar situation with Anakin, and the Washington State Animal Response Team (WASART) had been deployed to the property to hoist him to his feet. Now Anakin was in trouble again. He’d laid down to rest, and his weakness, combined with the wet, oversaturated ground he was lying on, had made it impossible for him to stand up. He was stiff, cold, and tired, and there was more bad weather on the way.

On his feet, thanks to WASART, 12/7/15

On his feet, thanks to WASART, 12/7/15

Once again, WASART answered the call and sent a team out to rescue Anakin a second time. Using a Häst tripod, a Becker sling, and a large group of manpower, WASART responders returned Anakin to an upright position. The story and photos of this rescue operation are amazing, so if you’ve not seen them, visit this link on WASART’s Facebook page to experience this incredible feat of rescue (and consider making a donation to this all-volunteer organization.) . More than one rescuer commented on Anakin’s demeanor during the complicated procedure: he was calm, relaxed, and fairly unconcerned about what was happening. WASART responders often find that horses who have been through such an ordeal will eventually just give up and give in to exhaustion. Not Anakin. Clearly this was a horse with a strong will to live.

Once he was back on his feet and able to stand on his own, Anakin was bundled up in blankets and taken to a neighbor’s where he spent the night in an indoor arena, out of the rain and cold. The next afternoon, he was loaded into a trailer and driven north. Anakin was now a SAFE horse, and he was headed to the place where all new SAFE horses in need of immediate vet care are sent: to Dr. Hannah Mueller and her team at Cedarbrook Vet Care/NWESC.

Safe at the vet hospital, but painfully thin

Safe at the vet hospital, but painfully thin

Upon his arrival, Anakin was led to a large, warm stall filled with fluffy, clean bedding. He was a bit worn out from the journey, but still bright, alert, and interested in his new surroundings. His blankets were removed, revealing the skeletal frame of this brave and valiant horse. In ten years of rescue, I have never seen a horse as thin as Anakin is right now. His body could be used to teach an equine anatomy lesson: nearly every bone is prominent. We were told that he may have been in this condition for several months. Our immediate concern was the strong possibility that his internal organs were compromised by prolonged starvation. Blood was drawn to test his liver and kidney functions. Waiting for the results of that bloodwork meant a restless and worried night for us all.

In the morning, three wonderful things happened. Anakin greeted his caretakers with a soft and sweet nicker…and the initial bloodwork showed no indication of permanent damage to his internal organs. Anakin might just survive. Much celebration and cheering ensued as the good news spread.

And the third wonderful thing? SAFE Board member Jet Parrett had done some sleuthing overnight, and she had stumbled upon some surprising information about Anakin’s background. After studying photographs, researching his tattoo, and having some very interesting phone conversations, we realized that Anakin’s remarkable story started long before his rescue in Winlock.

In June of 1995, a Thoroughbred, who would later be named Intercopilot, was born in California. He would go on to have an unremarkable career as a racehorse, and eventually wound up in a kill pen at the age of three. Intercopilot was rescued from that kill pen by researchers from California State Polytechnic University in Pomona, better known as Cal Poly Pomona. They christened the chestnut gelding Anakin.

The university itself is located on land that once belonged to breakfast cereal mogul W.K. Kellogg, who operated an Arabian horse ranch there. Kellogg donated part of the land to the state of California in 1949, stipulating that it be used for education. Cal Poly Paloma now sits on that land. It is also home to the W.K. Kellogg Arabian Horse Center, which breeds, shows, and sells Arabian horses. Next door to the Arabian Horse Center is the Equine Research Center (ERC). This would be Anakin’s home for the next 12 years.

Anakin at Cal Poly ERC

Holly Greene is a researcher at Cal Poly who worked extensively with Anakin during his time at the ERC, which was established in 1980 to study horse health, reproductive physiology, behavior, parasitology and immunology. Anakin was one of a group of horses who participated in locomotion studies, as well as exercise physiology, biomechanics, energetics, and high altitude studies. Anakin and the other horses were worked in hand on the ground, on a high-speed equine treadmill, and on a force plate. Anakin also participated in altitude studies, spending extended periods in the mountains at 12,000 feet while researchers studied the effects of high altitude on horses. In the photo above, taken in 2001, Anakin is the subject of a locomotion study in which reflective markers are being used to help measure limb angles and a force plate is measuring the forces generated during the jump. Seeing this, it’s suddenly less surprising that he handled WASART’s sling and tripod with such ease. He is certainly a horse who is accustomed to having strange equipment strapped to his body!

(Photos courtesy of Holly Greene, Cal Poly Equine Research Center — click to enlarge)

Holly described Anakin as a phenomenal horse for this work, and says that he was very well loved by the students that came through the research center. He was so good natured that even the most inexperienced students could work with him safely. The horses in the research string were treated with great care, receiving a lot of grooming, handling, and treats. Anakin was one of the few Thoroughbreds in the study, and his personality made him a favorite with staff and students.

In 2007, following the death of ERC director Dr. Steven Wickler, the ERC began losing funding and financial support for its research, and by 2010, the program was on hiatus. The horses in the research string had to be rehomed. Holly said she considered keeping Anakin herself, but realized she didn’t have the time or resources to devote to the now 15 year old gelding. Instead, Anakin was given to one of her students, who took him on as a dressage horse. It was a good home, Holly says, and she visited him there several times, but eventually lost touch with him. When she learned today that he was fighting for his life in Washington state, she was shocked and deeply saddened by the news.

From this point, there is a five year gap in Anakin’s story, until last week when he turned up in Winlock. We might find out more about what happened to him, or we may never know. Right now our number one priority is getting this remarkable horse strong and healthy again. He is being monitored around the clock, and he is on a very strict re-feeding diet to try to prevent colic or other complications. We are cautiously optimistic that he will be okay. It’s going to take some time, but Anakin is a fighter. The Force is strong with this horse.

So many people worked together to rescue Anakin and get him to SAFE. Mariah and Karin are the angels who first brought him to safety and got him through the first five days of his new life. WASART is responsible for getting him up off the ground not once, but twice. The community of Winlock, including the folks at Valhalla Canine Rescue, played a huge part in assisting WASART’s rescue efforts and rallying around this horse in his darkest hours. A lot of people spent Monday networking like crazy to find Anakin a dry place to land, including Rosemary at Pony Up and many others on social media and beyond. Mariah and Jason went above and beyond getting Anakin safely into our care yesterday, and Dr Hannah and her team at Cedarbrook are working hard to keep Anakin on the road to recovery as we speak. I sincerely apologize to anyone who has been left off this list – we might not know what you did, but you can bet Anakin knows.

If you’d like to make a tax deductible donation to help Anakin, please click here.

If you’d like to join the SAFEkeepers and sponsor Anakin with an automatic monthly donation, please click here.

More information about Cal Poly’s Equine Research Center (and Anakin) can be found in these magazine articles:
A Tale of Two Cal Polys (published in Feb 2010 in California Thoroughbred magazine)
From Cornflakes to Equine Science (published in 2000 in California Thoroughbred magazine)