Filly Recovering from Tail Burning Incident

"Her tail is just barely hanging on," says Vonda Hamilton of Dixie, her 2-year-old Spotted Saddle Horse filly whose tail was ignited and burned by trespassers during the night of Aug. 19 near Erwin, N.C. Hamilton is treating the filly's tail and leg burns around the clock as officials from the Harnett County Sheriff's Office investigate allegations that have been made against a group of minors in the incident, say local news reports.


Dixie's injury on Aug. 22. For more photographs of the injury over time, click here. Warning: some of these photos are graphic.

Hamilton told The Horse she had left for a weekend vacation the morning of Aug. 19 and didn't discover the catastrophic injury until she returned on Aug. 22. The horses' caretaker had noticed an anomaly in her tail only from a distance and didn't realize the severity of the injury, and he hadn't wanted to bother Hamilton during her time away.

Hamilton contacted her veterinarian, Brian K. Garrett, DVM, of Animal Hospital of Fayetteville in Fayetteville, N.C., immediately upon seeing the injury. Garrett was out at the barn within 20 minutes. "I knew right away that it was definitely a burn," said Garrett. "Eighty to 90% of the tail was burned and still had a few live hairs at the time on the right side of the tail, and you could tell exactly how someone had set fire to it. They obviously used something flammable, because of the progression it took up one side of the tail and the tail bone."

Garrett gave the filly a 60% chance of survival that day, because he was worried about Dixie developing septicemia (infection of the bloodstream) or foundering. "I was concerned about losing the mare to secondary complications," he added. "So far, so good--she's doing really well. The owner and I have been talking daily, and she's been e-mailing digital pictures to me, so we stay up-to-date. (The e-mailing of photos) helps both of us out a lot."

The mare is on penicillin injections, sulfamethoxazole and trimethoprim oral tablets (all antibiotics), and the anti-inflammatory Bute. "I'm keeping the wound clean and washing her tail with Betadine scrub six times a day,” said Hamilton. “When she sees me coming, she either gives me her neck to give her a shot or she puts her butt out and waits for me to flip the fly sheet" and begin washing her tail. The filly's hind legs were also burned, so she was previously very lame, but her limping has subsided. Hamilton is using hydrotherapy on the filly's legs several times a day. Dixie's chances of survival have been increased to 90%.

Currently, there are about 2 ½ to three inches of tail remaining with some remaining dead tissue hanging. Garrett said, "We're probably going to have to amputate the entire tail at the first coccygeal vertebra, especially from what I saw last night that she mailed to me."

Twenty other horses require Hamilton's care, and she hasn't been able to teach her normal load of riding lessons due the 18 or more hours she spends a day treating Dixie. Her husband has taken some time off work to help her care for the horses, and Hamilton doesn't want to think of how much the incident will cost in the long run.

Hamilton's farm has received more than 5,000 calls about the incident--some in support of her tenacity in caring for the filly and others critical of her decision not to euthanatize Dixie. Donations for her veterinary care are being accepted at the Champagne Horse Breeders' and Owners' Association's web site, "I asked him the first day, 'Do I need to put her down?' If had been in her best interest, I would have done it," she added.

Students at the stable have been bringing Dixie pears, cantaloupe, and watermelon, the filly's favorite treats.

The horse was set for sale and was to be picked up this Friday, but Hamilton said, "She's not going anywhere; I couldn't sell her no matter what, if someone came and offered me a million dollars, I wouldn’t do it. We've bonded so much, she's been so good."

As of this morning (Aug. 31), the case remains under investigation by the Harnett County Sheriff's Office. A call to the Sheriff has not been returned. Local television and newspaper reports have revealed that several 12-15-year-old girls were overheard bragging about the incident at their school.

Hamilton said, "I would like to know why (the alleged attackers) did it. I do want them to have to pay for it, but not necessarily with money. I want them to have learned and to have some remorse. I would like to raise more awareness about animal cruelty…I'd like to see some laws changed. Because (the accused individuals) are minors, from what I understand, they could get a slap on the hand and a $500 fine. They sure do have a lot of people very mad at them. The D.A. has been contacted (by concerned citizens), and everyone is just really livid."

Garrett added, "People like that (the attackers) are not very good for society. I hope something is done about it and they don't get away with it. Dixie's a very sweet mare, and unfortunately she's so loving and caring that she probably walked right up to those people."

For updated infomation:, for photos:

About the Author

Stephanie L. Church, Editor-in-Chief

Stephanie L. Church, Editor-in-Chief, received a B.A. in Journalism and Equestrian Studies from Averett College in Danville, Virginia. A Pony Club and 4-H graduate, her background is in eventing, and she is schooling her recently retired Thoroughbred racehorse, Happy, toward a career in that discipline. She also enjoys traveling, photography, cycling, and cooking in her free time.

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