COOLIDGE — Stray dogs and cats are a common site in Pinal County. However, sometimes larger pets are discovered as well. Last week, a stray horse was found wandering the desert north of Coolidge. The horse’s condition was described by shelter owner Maria Jones as “the worst we’ve ever seen.”

Local resident Amber Wright was driving back to Coolidge from Queen Creek when she saw the emaciated mare off to the side near the intersection of Attaway Road and Highway 287.

“It was stick and bones,” Wright said, “and it was moving quite slowly. It was terribly sad. I couldn’t believe she was standing, let alone walking.”

Wright said she rushed home and returned to the spot with a gallon bucket of water, and another person soon arrived on scene with some hay.

After calling several emergency services, Wright said she posted images of the horse on Facebook and that’s when Good Shepherd Healing Ministries Horse Rescue reached out.

Volunteers from the rescue arrived several hours later with a trailer and brought the horse to the shelter in Apache Junction.

Wright, who has several pets of her own including three dogs, a cat and a chicken, said the whole experience was “sad but beautiful” and very emotional. Not only did she spend several hours with the horse before the shelter could pick it up, but later that day Wright learned that her mother, Tammy Chester, had died of a sudden heart attack.

“I had sent my mom a picture of this horse,” Wright said. “And I told her, ‘Look what I found.’ And she said ‘I told you your horse would come to you one day.’ And then, my mom died, so that was the last thing she texted me.”

Wright said that especially because of the connection with her mom, she wants to keep track of the horse’s recovery and watch her grow. If the stars align, Wright said she would love to be able to adopt, although her home in Coolidge isn’t suited for horses at this time.

“I’ve always wanted a horse,” Wright said. “That’s the one animal I haven’t had. I have had monkeys, skunks, foxes, I’ve had everything. If a horse like that can survive, that makes me OK with my mom, because life doesn’t stop.”

A horse found alone in the desert near Coolidge was rescued and is currently being nursed back to health at the Good Shepherd Healing Ministries Horse Rescue in Apache Junction.

The horse has not been named yet; Jones admits she can be funny and particular about naming the rescues.

Although how the horse ended up starving in the desert is a mystery, the shelter and Wright believe she was not wild. Wright said a wild horse would have run away; instead, she came right up to her.

Jones suggested that the horse might have been abused and possibly dumped by the owner due to the presence of scars and markings on her body.

Immediately after arriving at the shelter, volunteers trimmed the mare’s hooves, groomed her, petted her and provided her a space to stay.

“I’ve been doing this for a long time,” Jones said. “I don’t know how this mare survived. I don’t know who did this, but they should be punished.”

Jones said she believes the pandemic, or worsening economic conditions, is behind a recent increase in abandoned horses.

The shelter said it would provide regular updates on the horse’s condition.

Elly Lang, a volunteer at the shelter, said that the new rescue had already been befriended by the horses next to her in the stalls, including “Date,” another rescue from the past year who came to Good Shepherd in terrible shape.

“Yesterday, my daughter and I visited her,” Lang said on Wednesday. “She was moving around; granted it was feeding time, but she ate really well, she was drinking, so we are just praying that she makes it through. It’s not a sure thing yet.”

Good Shepherd, which was started in 2011 by Jones to rehabilitate neglected or abused horses and save them from slaughter, also provides horse riding lessons and sponsors local special needs children to teach them how to ride or take care of horses.

“When you see these horses that have been so damaged, beaten and starved, and the bond they form with these autistic children, it’s unbelievable,” Jones said.

Jones also said that they work hard to try and re-home the horses, although many do live out their lives at the ranch.

Those looking to help this horse or other rescues can make a donation at https://gshmhorserescue.org/contact-us or contact the shelter at 602-615-7075.

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Aaron Dorman is the Casa Grande reporter at PinalCentral, covering government, schools, business and more. He can be reached at adorman@pinalcentral.com.