MCKINNEY, Texas — The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) chapter of Texas in McKinney is a place of starting over.

“It was a good life,” said Daisy Erdmann, who left the greener pastures of working horses for a wealthy family to come to the SPCA of Texas in McKinney. She helps abused and neglected horses get a fresh start.

“I just felt like I wanted to do more," she said.

We spent some time with Erdmann as she worked with horses at the SPCA compound, including one named Gladiator, “We named him that because he is a fighter. He didn’t give up on himself even in his terrible state.” We could see large protrusions jutting from the top of his back legs — his bones.

“People go straight for the ribs, but if you look at his hip bone, there is just nothing there," Erdmann said.

Those bones should have been covered by much more flesh, she said. When Gladiator came to the SPCA, he was about half the weight a horse his size should be.

“It is very devastating to see ones like him come in," Erdmann said.

Gladiator is just the latest arrival to SPCA Texas. In 2018, this branch of the SPCA took in a total of 305 equines.

That number is comprised of more than just horses, though. This is the breakdown:

  • 265 horses
  • 32 donkeys
  • Eight mules

That was, by far, a record. Just for reference, in the previous 10 years, they took in a total of 648 equines.

Erdmann said that often, the original owners of the animals had good intentions, but got in over their heads and didn’t ask for help: “People don’t realize how much hay costs or how much they eat."

The animals here, whether seized or surrendered, are re-trained and replenished.

We watched Erdmann patiently earn the trust of an impressive specimen named Nintendo, “He’s actually got one of the best minds I have seen. He’s smart. He doesn’t react. He thinks. He’s an intellectual horse.” We helped feed Nintendo, who vacuumed the food out of our hands.

“He is a hungry growing boy," Erdmann said.

They tend to come in that way.

We saw another horse she is working, named Zero.

“He came in a starvation case," Erdmann said.

Zero had to put on hundreds of pounds. Erdmann spent quite a while in the ring with Zero waving flags attached to flexible sticks to see how he would react. She calls this exercise ‘bomb-proofing’, explaining that the flags mimic things that might spook the horse when he is ridden, “This is a plastic bag blowing in the pasture. This is the bird flying up in the trail. This is all the spooky mini crises this horse is going to come into contact with in his life.” Zero didn’t flinch. Erdman says he’s ready to be adopted. You’d never know he was ever a rescue.

“A lot of people want to stick rescue horses on this, but he’s a nice horse," Erdmann said. "He doesn’t need to be called a rescue horse the rest of his life. He needs a home and [to] just go out and be a normal horse and do normal horse things.”

Zero is adoptable for a fraction of the cost of buying a similar horse on the regular market. He’ll likely go soon. They usually do, just about the time Erdmann gets attached.

“The best part of it is to just see them go to that perfect person."

This branch of the SPCA doesn’t just do pet adoptions. Last year they helped a record 162 of the horses they took in find new homes. We went to one of those homes, the Harmony Hilltop Ranch in Farmersville.

Jennifer Fiebrantz and her husband Tim own the place. Fiebrantz told us horses there live a good life.

“I think it’s great. We provide free-choice hay, which allows them to eat all they want. They have huge pastures as you see. They are not overcrowded.”

Fiebrantz and her husband have already adopted 10 SPCA rescue horses. “Once they get the comfort of knowing they are safe, and they are home they just breathe, and they are happy," she said.

After seeing that, back at the SPCA of Texas, we thought we fully understood now why Erdmann left that good life to come work here. But then she revealed this:

“I grew up in foster care. I think I kind of feel for the horses a little bit because of the way I grew up."

If you think about it, these horses are in the same kind of situation she experienced as a child.

“It’s just amazing to be able to understand where they are coming from and just be able to help them with that" she said.

Erdmann explained that long before she set out to save horses…horses had saved her. She was comforted by the animals from her first exposure to them as a young girl making her way through foster care, “I just remember eight or nine years old drawing horses on everything I owned. And you just wish you could go back in time and realize--it’s going to be okay”.

It’s better than okay now. As we watched Erdmann work the animals, with an intuitive understanding and a gentle hand, it was clear that she has truly found her herd.

“It is just an amazing experience, bottom line."

If you are interested in adopting an equine from the SPCA of Texas, click here. Fees vary for equine adoptions, and there are special requirements.