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On a Friday evening this past spring in a rural field near Blodgett, two horses grazing on grass had an uncertain future. Suffering from a lack of attention and care, the old bay and the younger paint appeared to be destined to be “put down.”

But then, Claudia Hase and her 12-year-old daughter drove up that evening after being informed by the owners that if they wanted them to take them. Today, the bay, estimated to be at least 20 years old, is with two other rescues on a property in the Portland area. The paint, who is around age 9, stayed in the Philomath area and is boarded at Inavale.

Their names are Nash and Philo — and this is the story about how they stayed alive.

When middle-schoolers Anya Hester and MacKenzie McVay put together a plan to save unwanted horses from the feedlot, they had visions of rehabilitating and training them before finding them homes. They cordoned off a corner on the property of MacKenzie’s great-grandfather, Doyle Hughes, with plans to rescue a horse. The girls started soliciting for donations and spread the word about their intentions.

“The two girls just walked into all of these businesses and came out with cash or gift certificates,” Hase said. “It was really heartening how many people contributed.”

A call came in from horse owners who had noticed their flyer in a Philomath business. The owners didn’t want to meet in person and simply directed them to where they could be found, offering the horses to them if they chose to take them.

When they came upon Nash, he was “skin and bones” and suffering from rain rot underneath a blanket that had been left on him. Philo was in better shape but beginning to show muscle loss. Both had issues with their feet.

“It was a bit of a trick; they hadn’t been handled in a while,” Hase said. “We loaded them up, drove them to Bellfountain and unloaded them into an acre fenced off.”

Jim Tice, MacKenzie’s grandfather, had a place where the horses could stay for a couple of weeks in quarantine before heading over to Hughes’s place.

“We unloaded the horses and we took the blanket off (Nash) and his ribs were showing, his backbone was showing, he had missing patches of hair,” Anya said. “He had severe rain rot and his feet were very, very long.”

Anya, a seventh-grader who goes to Cheldelin Middle School in Corvallis, and Mackenzie, an eighth-grader at Alsea, weren’t quite ready to take on two horses, but leaving one behind was out of the question. There was an element of shock at first glance.

“We still kinda had hope because we were like, well, this is a true rescue because the other one (Philo) was perfectly fit,” Anya said. “This one was an amazing horse that we got but this one (Nash), this one made us maybe rethink the whole experience.”

The horses ended up staying at the Hughes's place for roughly six months, which was about the length of time it took for Nash to get his weight up through various ordeals involving his diet. Then there was a veterinarian’s recommendation that Nash be put down because of an abscess.

“We came to the conclusion that he’s been going for this long, why should we stop now?” Anya recalled. “We’ve put so much effort into him, there’s no reason that we need to stop now.”

The girls started wrapping the foot using solutions and it got better. Nash had basically become MacKenzie’s horse while Anya claimed Philo. Nash had a bit of a nasty streak.

“He was not very nice on the ground,” Anya said. “Like, he would charge you, that was a big problem we had just working on him. He bit me on the elbow and bit Doyle once or twice. He almost double-barrel kicked Mom when she was cornered. He was pretty dangerous but we still loved him but working in the arena was kinda hard.”

The horses had been called other names before the girls took them. Nash’s full name is Nashville's Chance — a name they came up with because he came out of Nashville, Oregon, and they took a chance on him. The other horse’s full name was originally named Lucky Philomath, basically, Anya said, because he was lucky to have a home here in Philomath.

The girls even started a website (www.macany.org) to provide information about their operation. Eventually, an ad went up online to see if they could find a foster home for Nash. The woman from Portland, who also trains seeing-eye dogs, responded.

“She had two other rescue horses and she was looking for a third,” Hase said. “So now Nash is now up in Portland. We dropped him off in September and just now before Christmas, we went to go see him. … She’s a super sweet lady, we were so just so lucky.”

Anya said that when they saw Nash, his coat had fully redeveloped and he even had a little fat on him.

As for Philo, he became Anya’s horse and is now out at Inavale. She’s been taking lessons seriously since age 8 and wants to get into eventing with him.

“The biggest issue we had with him is he would stop and then he would buck, then he would walk and stop and buck,” Anya said. “Overall, he’s a really good horse.”

With the happy endings for Nash and Philo, do the girls plan to rescue other horses?

“I would love to do it again but I think we would need to maybe do it a little more properly this time,” Anya said. “Like these guys, they just kinda fell into our lap, we weren’t exactly prepared. I think we would need a solid land situation — maybe like some land of our own. Doyle was super supportive but we weren’t supposed to be there that long.”

Hase believes the experience has been good for the girls and Anya’s little brother, 9-year-old Ryan, who helped on occasion.

“The idea was to teach the girls that they could do this with their own efforts,” she said.

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