Horse escapes fire, needs help healing

By Caroline Klapper | Feb 17, 2013
Photo by: Caroline Klapper With eyes swollen shut, Levi gets examined for shock after surviving a barn fire.

By the time Meggan Graves, a local equine emergency veterinarian, got to the scene of the barn fire Sunday evening, the flames were almost out, but the barn — and the horse that had been trapped inside — were still smoldering.

Levi, a 10-year-old horse/pony mix, had refused to come out of the barn when one of his owners tried to lead him from his stall. His fear of the flames and smoke kept him inside even when his owner tried to coax him from the building. Eventually, as the barn became engulfed in flames, his owner had to leave him behind, but she made sure to leave his stall door and the barn doors open just in case he could make it out on his own.

To the relief of the owners, Levi came bolting out of the building just before it collapsed, but unfortunately the damage was done.

“Most of his hair, from his ears, along his back, and to his tail was singed and black. Both of his eyes were swollen shut and tearing as if he had gone 10 rounds with Ali,” Graves said. “As horrific as that sight was, the sweet little guy nickered at me as I walked up hoping for a treat.”

As Graves examined Levi, looking for signs of respiratory distress from smoke inhalation or shock, it began to rain, helping to put out the fire and cool Levi’s burned skin. Although Levi seemed stable, his burns and eyes needed thorough care and attention, and Graves recommended they take the horse to the animal hospital at the University of Tennessee for treatment.

But here was some difficulty. Levi was their granddaughter’s horse, and they kept him as a pet on their farm. The owners didn’t have a horse trailer or the money for the expensive treatment needed for the injured horse.

“Of course (the owner) got this big grim look on his face because the only other option would be to put him down because without treatment, he’d obviously be in a lot of pain and suffering,” Graves said.

In that moment, Graves made a suggestion, and the owners jumped on it.

She told them if they were willing to turn the horse over to STAR Ranch Horse Rescue in Waynesville, Levi could receive treatment under the nonprofit’s umbrella. However, the decision would mean relinquishing ownership and their rights to the horse.

They didn’t hesitate to say yes.

“He immediately said, ‘Oh yes, that’s the best thing for Levi,’” Graves said. “He just needed a chance.”

Graves got on the phone with Karen Owens, president of STAR Ranch, and told her about Levi’s situation. Owens quickly headed over with the paperwork, and an hour or so later, Levi was loaded on the horse trailer and headed to UT for treatment.

“When a horse is in trouble, we’re there for the horse,” Owens said.

What struck Owens the most about Levi was how remarkably calm and trusting the horse was even after his ordeal.

“The amazing thing to me was how traumatic the day had been and how much pain he must have been in, but he let (the veterinarians) work on him. He just stood there. He was so wonderful. I don’t get how he could have been through so much and still be so accepting,” she said.

Aside from treating the burns along Levi’s back, the doctors were most concerned with Levi’s eyes.

Owens said the horse’s eyes were so swollen they looked like baseballs, and everyone was worried he would be blind. However, the damage to his eyes seems to mostly on the surface, and Levi is getting his sight back and is doing well.

“He’s eating. He’s acting like a horse. There are no signs yet of respiratory distress, and they’re beginning to talk about when he can come home,” Owens said. “They’re calling him my Valentine because he’s the sweetest thing.”

While Levi is guaranteed a home at STAR Ranch, covering the cost of his medical bills is another matter.

“It’s one of those situations where we do have to raise the money. We had money for his assessment, but not for his treatment,” Owens said, adding that Levi is young and should have a good, quality life ahead of him once he fully heals. “In this case, we were happy to step in and save this little guy because he’s precious.”

The cost of Levi’s treatment isn’t yet known, but Owens said it will be in the thousands of dollars.

Donations for Levi can be sent via Paypal by going to STAR Ranch’s website at or by mailing donations to STAR Ranch at 970 Rabbit Skin Rd., Waynesville, NC 28785. Owens said there will also be daily updates about Levi on the ranch’s Facebook page.

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