COLUMBIA FALLS (AP) — At an age of close to 20, Rosie lives up to the children’s song — the old mare “ain’t what she used to be.”
In fact, the Arabian mix mare looked like a dead horse walking when Cheryl Bergerson of Columbia Falls first saw her.
Rosie could barely keep her balance as she stumbled around the ring at the Missoula auction on Nov. 8. When no one bid for her, the auctioneer looked at a buyer for a Canadian slaughterhouse, then accepted a minimum $10 bid for the dejected, scared senior horse who seemed to be nothing but a bag of bones.
Her death sentence was due to be carried out within a few days, assuming the old mare survived the trip to Shelby and then on to Canada. It was that thought that kept Bergerson tossing all night.
Bergerson isn’t even sure why she decided to go to the auction for her 70th birthday. She asked her friend from work at the Flathead County fair office and the two went down just for fun.
“We both got the day off work and drove on down,” she said. “I just took the car as I had no intention of buying anything.”
Maybe it was a case of empty-stall syndrome, as she was without horses for the first time in many years. Bergerson had lost two 30-year-old mares earlier this year.
“I moved here from Minnesota in 2003 and I brought these two Arab mares with me,” she said. “One died in February and three months later, the other one died.”
The two friends looked over the horses before the auction and then took seats in the arena. Bergerson said neither of them had noticed the white mare during their earlier inspection of the livestock.
“They opened the door and she kind of wobbled her way in,” she said. “I said ‘Oh my God.”‘
Her friend pointed out that the horse looked like an Arabian. Bergerson thought of bidding, but was reluctant since she had not examined the horse up close.
Within minutes, the mare’s fate was decided. The slaughterhouse buyer raised his card as he had so many times that day.
“I think there must have been close to 30 to 40 that all went for slaughter,” she said. “I think there were only three or four that were sold. All the rest went for kill. I felt really bad.”
According to Bergerson, many nice animals went for slaughter. She said they were in very good shape and well fed.
“Some Amish families had brought some horses down there and they had just put fresh shoes on them,” she said. “Those horses all went for kill and they were very nice animals.”
Bergerson said she understands that the buyer is solving a sad dilemma of the recession. If people can’t afford to feed their horses, what else can they do?
After the auction, Bergerson and her friend took a look at the white horse. They picked up her feet and looked at her teeth, which seemed OK.
“She wasn’t slobbering or anything,” she said. “I didn’t think she was going to make it because when she would try to turn around, she would almost fall down. That’s how weak she was.”
Posturing by bigger, stronger horses in the large pen kept the mare away from the food and water. Even with hiding behind some former pasture mates, the horse still had open wounds on her back.
“She was just scared to death,” Bergerson said.
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She became determined to save the old mare, but had no luck trying to convince the buyer to resell the mare to keep her from slaughter because he wanted a full load. Bergerson tried everything, pointing out that even if she made it to the border, she would most likely not pass inspection to get into Canada.
Bergerson left without buying the horse but didn’t give up. She got on the Internet and found the manager of the Bar F Feedlot in Shelby.
He was much more receptive to her plea, even after Bergerson told him that the buyer had flat refused to sell.
“He said ‘Yeah, well, I like to get along with people,”‘ she said.
The manager checked to make sure the horse was still in Missoula and called her back within a few minutes with good news. He told her to have the staff at the auction office call him to change the paperwork.
Elated at the change of fortune, she called the auction staff in Missoula to let them know about the change. It was a hostile reception for her rescue.
The slaughterhouse buyer point-blank asked: “Why would you buy a horse that someone else has bought? That’s the reason we have auctions. You had your chance. Why would you do this?”
Undeterred, Bergerson headed back to Missoula with her trailer. She said the mare stumbled and wobbled, but eventually loaded up and made it to her new stall and large paddock on 15 acres in Columbia Falls.
Bergerson also keeps some cattle and her daughter Keri McGeary has a pony and mare next door to keep the new mare company at a short distance.
“She wants to make sure that she can see those other horses,” Bergerson said.
The mare began with a regime of three meals a day of good quality mixed hay and small amounts to grain to avoid colic. Bergerson gives her a special senior mix that’s high in fat and extra vitamins and oils along with some alfalfa pellets.
“She appears to be stronger after a couple of days,” Bergerson said.
When her daughter told the story to her clients at An Salon in Whitefish, a couple made contributions to buy bags of feed to help out.
After getting to know the horse, she named her Rosie as a reflection of her gentle and sweet personality.
Bergerson started her first-ever blog called “The Saga of Rosie” so people can keep track of her progress at http://www.thesagaofrosie.blogspot.com.
She plans to have Dr. John Erfle, a local veterinarian, take a look at Rosie if she doesn’t make progress in the next few weeks. Even if Rosie doesn’t live long, Bergerson feels good about saving her from getting trampled in a van or dying at the slaughterhouse.
Her 70th birthday present thanks her with small helpings of love and gratitude every day.
“She whinnies whenever she sees me coming,” Bergerson said.