When Avery Carlson was 8 years old, she got her first horse. By the time she was 11, she was competing in hunter/jumper and racking up wins. Horses were an important part of her life, and she spent her childhood riding, training, and becoming the best horsewoman she could be. And while Avery has a passion for competing, her love of horses inspired her to do more. She started rescuing and rehoming horses from auctions and feedlots, and at only 18 years old, she has already rescued 20 slaughter-bound horses. Each of those horses holds a special place in her heart, but she has formed a powerful bond with a severely burned rescue named Emma. Emma has a heartbreaking history, but now this rescue horse is happy, healthy, and bringing home blue ribbons.
Avery first spotted Emma on a Facebook page featuring kill pen horses from Oklahoma.
Emma was badly burned, underweight, and fated for a slaughter house. But despite her looks, Avery fell in love. The teenaged horse lover arranged to buy Emma from the horse's previous owner who helped with the rescue. Avery officially made Emma part of her family in March 2017, and the pair embarked on a long road to recovery.
The most critical part of Emma's recovery was healing from her mysterious burns. No one knows for sure how Emma was burned. Theories include everything from a lightning strike or wildfire to abuse. She already had the injuries when she showed up at an auction and was bought by a "kill buyer."
It took over a year of intensive care, but Emma's burns eventually transformed from oozing wounds to deep scars on her right flank and right side. Avery worked with her father, veterinarian Jim Carlson, to apply a cream used by humans to soothe Emma's wounds. Dr. Carlson also treated his daughter's rescue horse with cold laser treatments to reduce inflammation and pain. It took time, dedication, and extreme compassion to care for Emma during this difficult time, but Avery knew beyond a doubt it was all worth it.
As Emma's health improved, Avery broke Emma to ride and taught her to walk, trot, and canter with a rider.
Emma was a fast learner, and she showed real potential under the saddle. Whether they were doing groundwork or riding in an arena, Emma always seemed happiest when she was working with Avery. All of those signs encouraged Avery to push Emma's training a step further and start preparing her to compete.
"Emma has a strong personality and loves people to look at her. By training her to compete, she will get out and enjoy new environments, which enriches her life."
With her old injuries healed, plenty of healthy weight, and months' worth of training, Emma entered her first horse show in Harvard, IL. Everything came together during those few minutes, and the rescue horse that was once bound for slaughter won her first blue ribbon.
With their first show a success and more planned for the future, Avery hopes Emma's story will show others how much life rescues have left to live. Too many horses sold at auctions don't have the same opportunities as Emma. At the same time, Avery recognizes the current controversies surrounding rescuing horses from kill buyers. It's a practice that saves horses, but it also lines a kill buyer's pockets. The young equestrian hopes to one day see permanent change for the lives of rescue horses. She isn't giving up on saving horses, and she hopes more people will recognize the value of horses like Emma.
All images courtesy of Cristen Carlson