Susan Cantwell has been an avid rider since the tender young age of five. She’s an animal lover that has rescued countless animals, of all breeds, for most of her life. But never did she expect to come upon the horror she found at a Southeast Missouri livestock sale on that spring day in 2011.
Cantwell and a friend attended a sale that included forty head of farm animals removed from a Tennessee farm. The animals were a part of a bitter divorce. The husband was a Paint Horse breeder but oddly enough the woman had been awarded the farm’s animals in the divorce. The animals were eventually neglected and starved.
After being discovered in terrible condition by Tennessee authorities the animals were seized and moved to a livestock barn in Fruitland, Mo. where they were quarantined for a period of two weeks. At the end of the two week period all the animals were to be auctioned off to the highest bidder.
Cantwell recalls walking the isles of the livestock barn in horror. “All of the animals were in just terrible condition. It was just sickening. One cow was lying dead in the stall,” said Cantwell.
Further down the line it was a horse that really caught Cantwell’s attention. “He appeared extremely depressed, weak, and far worse than many of the animals I had ever seen at the sale. He wouldn’t hold his head up at all and didn’t have the energy to even swat flies with his tail, just letting them chew him up. I figured he was not far behind the cow,” remembers Cantwell.
Eventually all the buyers gathered in the arena to see the animals come out in single file and for the bidding to begin. Cantwell purchased a couple of horses that didn’t appear to be in terrible condition. They just need a good feeding and some TLC and they would be fine in no time. When completing the paperwork for her purchases she heard cursing in the crowd behind her.
When Cantwell looked up, there he was being led into the ring; that poor horse she had seen in the stall earlier. The first bid on him was $3.00. Cantwell quickly realized the man bidding on the horse was a “kill” buyer. This poor animal was about to be purchased and resold, for what meat was left on his bones, to a horse meat processing center.
Suddenly infuriated, Cantwell wasn’t about to let that happen. This old boy deserved better that to be made into dog food, or worse. Not realizing the chore and expense she was about to undertake Cantwell bid $4.00. The kill buyer bid again, and so did Cantwell with the winning bid of $6.00.
When Cantwell got her hands on the horse’s paperwork she couldn’t believe what she was seeing. This poor “old” boy was not old at all, but barely past his adolescent years. He was also intact and she had no idea where she was going to keep a stallion.
Cantwell contacted friend Joyce Felty, owner of Rolling Hills Farm and Equine, located in Gordonville, Mo. and explained what she had done. Felty agreed to make the exception and allow Cantwell to board the stallion on her farm.
Admittedly Cantwell says that she thought at first the horse was too far gone to actually do anything with. She felt the least she could do is give this poor animal a name, some love, a good last meal, and put him down humanely. She felt it was the least he deserved.
The horse was transported to Rolling Hills and Cantwell called the vet to come out and have a look at him. Cantwell did not expect the diagnosis to be good. He was severely malnourished. She had already noticed his teeth completely worn away where, out of hunger and desperation, he had tried to eat the wooden slats of his previous stall.
In addition, the vet informed her that the horse had an infection in his shaft and his hooves were severely infected with thrush from standing continuously in a stall filled with his own feces and urine. The horse was a train wreck. To top it all off, the wood he had swallowed had bunched up an poked a hole in his esophagus.
But after a thorough examination the vet told Cantwell something she could hardly believe. He told her it was going to take a little time but he felt that the horse could recover with proper care. Cantwell knew in her heart the horse was worth saving and she was fully prepared to do what it took to see him shine.
It was then that Cantwell decided to name him “Six”; the dollar amount she’s paid for him, and eventually a constant reminder how, eventually, he flourished.
Cantwell and friend Joyce Felty went to work on Six. Three to four times each day he was treated and worked with. He was not appropriately socialized so was standoffish and didn’t immediately take to all the attention. Some days were better than others.
After about three months of constant pampering there was a noticeable change in Six, not only in his appearance but in his behavior. He stopped trying to avoid Cantwell and began meeting her at the gate, ears perked, and a light in his eyes that was unmistakably love and appreciation.
At nine months Six was healthy enough to geld and get started working him into a riding horse.
After he healed up from his gelding it was time to get on him and work him to ride. Cantwell admits, “I was scared to death. Lord only knows if he had ever had any training of any kind and if so, how good it was.”
She started him on a lunge line and much to Cantwell’s surprise Six knew every cue! Thinking his behavior might be a fluke she saddled him up and expected the worst. But Six stood like a dream with no fight in him at all. She lunged him again, this time with weight on his back. Still no fight, no acting out, no bucking, and just no hesitation at all. As a matter of fact, Cantwell concedes that he responded better than any horse she had ever worked with.
Finally it was the moment of truth and Cantwell said a prayer as she mounted Six, fully expecting to end up on her back. But there was nothing! He behaved beautifully! No bucking, no snorting, no pawing at the ground, no adverse reaction at all. And off they went; Cantwell and her six dollar horse. Six hit every cue and never missed a beat.
An elated Cantwell sent a friend to the house to get Felty so that she could see. Out of the house came Felty, camera in hand, and cheering Cantwell and Six on every step of the way. Felty told Cantwell, “He’s your miracle horse,” and Cantwell agrees.
Since that day, Six has gone on to do wonderful things. He’s been ridden on several search and rescue missions for missing people, kids ride him, elderly ride him, and every show Cantwell’s ever ridden him in he’s placed with ribbons.
There has never been a day since the auction that Cantwell has once regretted bringing Six home. All the hard work and money have been worth it. Six is her companion, her dream horse, her soul mate, and all of this is obvious when one observes them together.
“I’ve spent thousands of dollars, shed a million tears, and had more than a few sleepless nights over this boy. And he’s been worth every bit of it. I wouldn’t trade him for all the money in the world,” says Cantwell. “He and I have bonded in a way I never thought possible.”
Cantwell gets a little teary eyed when she tells you, “He’s my best friend; my six dollar horse, my miracle boy, just, well, my everything.”
See the slideshow of Six’s, before, after, and current images.