Mikey at Saddlebred Rescue in May 2010. © Pat Johnson
And at Locust Run Stables in East Tennessee, where Mikey was adopted two months later, his new owners noticed something even more special once Mikey's physical wounds began to heal.
"When I saw him trot, my eyes lit up," said Becky Brown, owner and trainer at the Clarksville, Tennessee, stables. "It was when I started seeing him move that I thought he had sport horse potential."
She was right.
This spring, Mikey competed in his first USEF-licensed horse trial, the River Glen Horse Trial in New Market, Tennessee. In the eventing competition, held April 16-17, Brown and Mikey entered the Beginner Novice Open division.
"He was a rock star and garnered a lot of attention and questions at the cross-country finish line," Brown said. "Of course, I said, ‘He's an American Saddlebred!' "
And his breed might just be what saved him.
Saddlebred Rescue has helped about 100 horses annually since 2006. The nonprofit organization places the horses where they are best suited, from stables for lesson programs to farms for individuals who want a horse for personal pleasure.
"We purchase slaughter-bound horses either at a sale or directly from a buyer who ships to Canada that we have developed a relationship with," said Pat Johnson, executive director of Saddlebred Rescue.
"This relationship has worked well and enabled us to help way more horses."
In 2006, the United States Equestrian Federation (USEF) honored Saddlebred Rescue with a Heroes for Horses award for the organization's unwavering commitment to the protection and welfare of horses.
In Mikey's case, "I just remember how thin he was and not very attractive because he was so thin," Johnson said. "It is amazing what weight and TLC can do for horses that have been used up by somebody and dumped at a sale for whatever reason."
So, although headed for slaughter, Mikey was a Saddlebred, and in a way, in the right place at the right time.
A fairly tall horse at 16.3 hands, Mikey quickly became a barn favorite at his adoptive home, Locust Run Stable, which sponsors a new rescue horse each year by raising donations from its barn families.
"His first couple of months here he was pampered and allowed to recuperate and slowly built muscle, balance and confidence," Brown said. "I knew it would take some time to rehab him, but his personality made it worth the effort. He always has a happy attitude."
Becky Brown and Mikey in April, 2011, at Mikey's first USEF-licensed horse trial.
"I was kind of down about his condition until I saw that," she said. "Saddlebreds are very smart and athletic, and Mikey uses his athleticism to his advantage to produce a big, ground-covering, springy trot."
Mikey learned to canter, then started learning dressage and then jumping. "We started taking him over some ground poles and cross rails in the fall, and he was very clumsy with his feet at first," Brown said.
But with patient care, Mikey blossomed. And then came his first cross-country training session.
"He was a star!" Brown said. "He always tries so hard to do what I ask, he got the hang of the ditches, banks and water really quickly."
That's when Brown decided to pursue eventing.
At the River Glen Horse Trials, Brown and Mikey placed sixth out of 15 starters after dressage with a score of 40.5. They had one rail down in stadium jumping and were seventh going into cross-country. They came in fifth overall.
"Mikey and I were the last pair to go and he was a rock star on cross-country, finishing clear and 4 seconds under the optimum time," Brown said. "It has been my dream to help promote Saddlebreds in alternative disciplines such as eventing and dressage, and Mikey is helping me do that."
Today, plenty of Mikey-descriptive phrases are bantered about: Awesome mover. Positive attitude. Gentle as a puppy.
"Although Mikey still shows remnants of his past – scars on his knees and old splints on his legs – what he lacks in body he more than makes up for in heart," Brown said. "We can't wait to see what the future brings for Mikey as he continues to amaze us every day with his bright, smiling spirit."
© Locust Run Farm