Linda Mizwicki thought her childhood horse was being cared for at a good home.
But on April 9, she found out the horse she raised on her family’s farm was living a nightmare.
Ben, a 23-year-old gray Arabian gelding, was one of 23 horses removed from Hidden Lake Stables in Pleasant Prairie after law enforcement found that many horses boarded there were being neglected.
Ben was given to the farm after Mizwicki, 37, of Bristol, couldn’t afford to keep him.
“You think that he has a good life and then you find out all of this,” she said. “Every one of those horses was cared for by somebody at one time, and none of them deserved this.”
Ben was born on Mizwiki’s farm in Ohio in 1990, when she was 14 years old. She rode and showed him for years and eventually started him in dressage.
“I’ve owned a lot of horses in my life, and I’ve trained a lot of horses, but this was my ‘big deal.’ This is the horse I got my chops on,” she said.
Mizwicki went to college and majored in equestrian studies. She brought Ben along for part of the time, but later she got a job. It required more of her time, and she had to leave Ben behind.
In 2003, Ben was sold to a family who rode and showed him until they couldn’t keep him anymore. Ben was then moved to Hidden Lake Stables.
“They thought that they found him a good home,” she said. “Then something obviously went wrong.”
When police the Pleasant Prairie farm, a friend informed Mizwicki that one of the horses might be Ben.
“She just wanted me to know he was safe now, because she was afraid I would see him on the news,” she said. “I did recognize him. ... I knew that he was mine.”
Mizwicki said it was difficult to see her childhood horse in that condition, because she had trusted he was being cared for.
“I felt like he had been stolen from me, even though I sold him,” she said. “You never think that these bad things were going to happen.”
Ben had divots between his ribs, and Mizwicki said she could clearly see the bones in his neck. His hind quarters were concave, he was emaciated and his teeth were in bad shape.
“I think he was one of the worst ones,” she said. “I’ve never seen a horse like that.”
Ben’s feet were infected, and his hair was long and tarred with feces and dirt.
“I felt so guilty,” she said. “I felt like I should have never given him up. ... He gave me a lot, so I need to give him the rest of his life.”
Mizwicki said recognizing Ben didn’t come easy, but when she saw the unforgettable white spot on his nose, she knew it was him.
From the moment Mizwicki recognized Ben, she wanted to take him back home and make sure he was safe. She was able to legally adopt Ben last week.
“There’s nobody in the world who is going to care for this horse the same way that I do, because I knew him from the start,” she said. “Someone else could give him a good home, but nobody else is going to know him like I do.”
Ben is temporarily being held at Hawkspur Farm in Pleasant Prairie. Mizwicki plans to move Ben in August back to her family-owned 50-acre farm in Ohio, where her sister cares for other retired horses.
“He’s going to live his life on the farm where he was born,” she said. “That’s the best place for him. ... He can rest there at the end of his days like his mother did.”
Mizwicki hopes Ben has at least 10 more years to live and looks forward to him being reunited with old friends.
Mizwicki said she has felt an outpouring of support from people who have reached out financially, physically and emotionally.
“People have really taken all of these horses into their hearts,” she said.
Mizwicki said she is overjoyed to have Ben back in her life and is inspired by the rescued horses.
“The amazing thing is that horses don’t hold grudges,” she said. “When I think about them standing and waiting and waiting and waiting to be fed, it makes me sick. But on the other hand, they’re perfectly fine. They’re just living their lives, and they’re moving on.”
Mizwicki said she’s learned important lessons from the situation and feels encouraged to stay positive.
“It’s important to keep a good attitude and look at the good in life,” she said. “They’re not acting like they’re abused, starved horses. They’re not hanging on to any of that pain.”