By Katie Navarra
Faith, a champagne-colored Quarter Horse, moved into the barn where Emily Lunsford of Leesburg, Virginia, took riding lessons and worked as a camp counselor. It was the summer of 2007 and the horse’s owner wanted a team penning partner, but the mare just wasn’t cutting it. “I loved her coloring so my trainer let me take a few lessons on her,” Emily said.
It only took a few days of begging to convince her parents she was ready for a horse of her own. “My dad was wrapped around my little finger so I knew I’d end up with a new pony,” she said.
Since Emily rode hunter/jumpers, she had a lot of work to do to convince the laid-back, slow-moving mare it was time to pick up the pace. “She was a ‘push till you pass out’ kind of ride, very lazy. If you didn’t make her do it, she wouldn’t,” Emily laughed.
Emily and Faith were inseparable, but an unfortunate twist of fate would eventually separate them for nearly three years.
When Emily’s family returned from vacation one Sunday in 2009, her father suffered a stroke. “He was expected to make a full recovery,” she said. Instead, his heart stopped in the middle of the night and he passed away.
“Faith was my dad’s last gift to me. After he passed, we named her All Daddy’s Faith after him,” she said. Training, competing at horse shows and leisurely trail rides with Faith helped Emily cope with the unexpected loss of her father. “She taught me a lot about patience, and how to persevere,” she said.
As time progressed, Emily grew taller and improved as a rider, eventually outgrowing the pony. Soon she also had an adopted, retired, abused Thoroughbred and a new show horse, Callie, in the barn. Keeping up with chores became a challenge. After careful consideration and much deliberation, she and her mom decided to sell Faith.
“We found a woman at a sale who said she was looking for a walk-trot lesson pony for a therapeutic riding program,” Emily said. It was a small facility and the woman promised the place would become Faith’s forever home. Confident they had found the best situation possible; they sold Faith in March 2012.
Emily stayed in contact with the new owner, keeping tabs on the pony. But by September, the phone number was disconnected. “I was worried, obviously,” Emily said. Less than three months later, the website was taken offline and Emily was concerned.
Searching rescue and auction websites across the Northeast, Emily never lost faith that she’d find her pony. For two years she scoured postings, often seeing pictures of horses resembling Faith. When she asked for additional details, the facts never seemed to be quite right. “Finding her was always in the back of my mind and whenever I saw a horse that looked remotely like her, I inquired,” she said.
Then, on Saturday, February 8, 2015, a pony looking very much like Faith appeared on HORSE’s Facebook page along with several other horses the rescue saved from an auction in Maryland. “I in-boxed Kris (HORSE’s founder) to ask a few questions,” Emily said. She learned the pony had been listed as an “unbroken broodmare that was dangerous to ride.”
A few hours later, Emily and two college friends headed out with a truck and trailer to see the pony. “The whole drive was a mix of excitement and absolute terror that I’d get there and it wouldn’t be her,” she said. Regardless of the outcome, she’d decided that this mare would have a home with her even if it wasn’t Faith.
When Emily pulled into the rescue, she said, “I knew immediately it was her.” Faith’s unique markings, including tiny ears, champagne coloring and a double spiral on the forehead, confirmed her identity. “She seemed to remember me. She huffed at me a couple of times, then put her head in my arms and snuggled. It was like we were never separated,” she said.
Much to Emily’s surprise, Faith was in good weight. “My mom rescues and adopts horses and mules from kill pens so most we see aren’t as fat as she was,” Emily said. Despite being in good weight, the mare’s hooves were in poor condition. “I don’t even know how she was able to walk on them, long and broken,” she added.
Reunited with Emily, Faith will never have to worry when her next meal will be served or if she’ll receive the routine care needed to keep her healthy. Despite physically being taken care of, she’ll need time to recover as she’s now food aggressive and doesn’t enjoy being ridden.
“I can only imagine what was done to her to make her this way. She used to be a happy girl on trails; now she’s spooky and wants to run back to the barn — it breaks my heart,” Emily said. Determined to heal Faith, Emily plans to continue working with her so that one day they can get back to enjoying rides with each other.
Shocked to have found Faith at all and in relatively good condition, Emily credits her dad with the homecoming. “If it wasn’t for Faith’s guardian angel, my dad, she may not have been so lucky,” she concluded.
Emily is a freshman at the University of Kentucky majoring in animal science (pre-vet) and anthropology. She plans to attend vet school and continue volunteering her time and skills to animal rescues in order to save more animals.