Nearly 10 years ago, Michelle Pool, 40, of Eureka Springs, Ark., stood staring at a clipped and gaping fence. Her beloved horse, Opie, had been stolen from her father’s pasture in San Antonio, Texas. “He was doing real well,” said Pool, 40, an accountant and horse trainer who now lives in Eureka Springs, Ark. “He learned how to swim and do ground work and was just about to learn his leads.”
Three years later, the unthinkable happened. While Pool was recovering from March spinal surgery, Opie was stolen from the pasture at her father’s home in San Antonio. “My dad went to feed him, and he wasn’t there,” Pool said. “He looked all over. He went across the street, and a sheriff’s deputy and neighbor said he had seen a trailer and thought it was ours. The fence had been cut, and there was poop in the road. They took him, and he was gone.”
Heartbroken, Pool reported her loss to authorities and to Stolen Horse International, a Shelby, N.C., organization that connects owners with missing or stolen equines. She also posted fliers throughout San Antonio and the surrounding area. Eventually, she said, “A part of me gave up. The other part of me kept looking, but I thought he was gone forever. I was more worried about him starving, or even worse (being sent to) the slaughterhouse.”
In November 2003, in Liberty County, Della Braden was elated when her pastor asked her to take in an abused and emaciated horse given to him by a member of his congregation who no longer could care for the animal. “He was scared, wild-eyed and thin,” Braden, 53, said of the horse she named WarBonnet. “Once we started building up some trust, I decided to saddle him and was going to tie him to my hitching post. That’s when he went down to his knees and began shaking. I realized that the horse had been through some serious abuse. He was deathly afraid of ropes of any kind.”
Braden’s patience and experience with horses paid off. In a matter of months, she saddled WarBonnet for afternoon rides in the pasture. “Slowly but surely, he blossomed into a wonderful riding horse,” said Braden, who lives near Dayton and works for an oil field supply company. “By Christmas, I was able to decorate him with bells, bows and tinsel in his mane and tail. We were the hit of the parade.”
“He’s funny,” she added. “He’ll drink your tea if you set it down. He’ll give you kisses. He is pretty cool.” In 2012, Braden decided to sell WarBonnet and placed an ad on Craigslist. She said she anguished for six months over the decision. “Just because I was selling him doesn’t mean I didn’t love him,” she said.
Pearland resident Deanna Bordelon, who was looking for a new horse, found WarBonnet on Craigslist and went online to research him. She found a report of the horse on netposse.com and called Stolen Horse International, which then contacted the Liberty County Sheriff’s Office.
Three weeks later, a sheriff’s investigator knocked on Braden’s door with some eye-opening news: The horse had been stolen in 2003 from San Antonio. “I was in shock,” she said. “When they (investigators) showed me the proof that he was, in fact, the horse on the flier, I realized that my time with WarBonnet was over and I relinquished all rights to him.”
Back in Arkansas, Pool said her legs began to shake when Debi Metcalfe of Stolen Horses International informed her Aug. 4 that Opie had been located. “I just started crying because I haven’t seen him in almost 10 years,” she said. “It was a shock. It all sank in when I saw the picture on the email.”
Today, Pool said she is taking things slow with Opie, whose full name is Sultan’s Modern Opus. “I’m just brushing him and letting him relax,” she said. “He’s getting reacquainted with the other horses.” Stolen Horses International has 2,000 missing or stolen horses on its website, and Metcalfe is elated by the happy ending. “We have reunions all the time, but to have one almost 10 years later is very rare,” she said. “It’s a miracle.”