Stolen Horse Recovered; Max Home With 14-Year-Old Owner

A horse that was stolen from his Eastern Illinois home more than a year ago has turned up in Springfield, Mo. The paint gelding, named Max, was reunited with his 14 year old owner this week.

Kaitlynn Bilskie never gave up hope in finding her barrel racing partner, said her stepfather, Keith Caughran. "This has just been an amazing miracle," he said.

Max barrel racing

Max barrel racing before he was separated from his owners.

Max after recovery

Max pictured after he was recovered more more than a year after his disappearance.

The family had posted a missing horse notice on netposse.com, the Web site for Stolen Horse International Inc. Horse enthusiasts around the country rallied in online forums, posting flyers at various horse events, in their search for Max.

On Sunday (Oct. 4), Caughran, of Flat Rock, Ill., received a call from Kim Gully in Springfield, Mo. "I called him and said, 'I have your horse,' and be just broke down," says Gully

In early September, Gully responded to a Craigslist ad offering a gelding for sale or trade in Ava, Mo. Gully said the teen girl who claimed to be Max's owner called the horse "Swazy." The girl told her she had owned the horse for three years. A woman that Gully assumed was the girl's mother said she couldn't believe the girl was parting with her "baby."

Thinking the horse was perfect for her 7-year-old daughter, Mackenzie, she traded a yearling for "Swazy," brought him home, and renamed him "Tops." Then, on Sunday, Gully received a call from a cousin, who was at Ozark Fall Farmfest (an agricultural trade show in Springfield). "She was looking at a missing horse flyer, and it was our horse," said Gully.

Max's distinctive markings immediately identified him. The paint gelding has a medicine hat, two blue eyes, and a black spot on the right side of his upper lip. Gully then called the police and Caughran. According to Gully, Caughran offered her a reward of $4,000, but she told him, "You don't need to pay for something that's already yours."

Gully's only concern was that her daughter would now be missing a horse she had started to bond with. "When we pulled up to the farm, it broke my heart to see Mackenzie," said Susan Caughran, Kaitlynn's mother. "These people have hurt two families."

Since Gully wouldn't accept a reward, the Caughrans set out to find a replacement horse for Mackenzie. The family put the word out about Mackenzie's plight on an online message board called Alex Brown Racing, a community that had been aiding in the search for Max.

A few weeks prior, the community had raised funds to rescue some horses destined for slaughter at an auction in Montana. In that group was a kid-friendly paint gelding named Indio. Now the group is trying to raise funds to have the new horse shipped from Montana to Missouri for Mackenzie at no cost.
 
Those interested can send donations to help with the cost of shipping Indio to One Horse at a Time (www.onehorseatatimeinc.org). The charity is asking that people mark that the donation is intended for Indio.

For more information, contact Lucille Matte, who is helping to organize the transfer of Indio, at mortgagematte@earthlink.net.

About the Author

Liz Brown

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