HIGH POINT — Two days after he was struck by a car on a dark country road, Rocky the horse peeked his head out of his stable and looked around seemingly curious at the attention he was getting on Monday afternoon.
Rocky — named by his rescuers in part for where he was found bruised, bleeding and shaking in a yard off Friendship Church Road in Rockingham County late Friday — stood inside a barn at Safe Haven Equine Rescue and Retirement where he’s being treated for injuries he sustained in the car accident. Troopers believe his owners abandoned him on the side of the road in Reidsville.
“I’m going to be honest, this is the first car accident case we’ve taken in,” said Kevin Belton, the co-owner of SHERR. “He’s the poster child for everything you want to see. He’s doing great.”
Despite a split lip, deep cuts on his chest and legs and road rash, Rocky walked around the farm like he hadn’t a care in the world, stopping to eat grass as Chloe the goat and a dog trailed after him.
Rocky has a two-month road to recovery ahead of him. His medical care is estimated at $2,500. SHERR will try to raise the amount through donations. And there’s the trauma experienced by people who spent up to six hours in the pre-dawn dark trying to help the animal.
Authorities said the first person who came to Rocky’s aid was the driver who struck him.
The 19-year-old driver of a Jeep didn’t see Rocky walking down the road at 11:28 p.m. Friday. The car was totaled. Rocky was dazed.
“(The man) was very compassionate and upset,” N.C. Highway Patrol Trooper S. Lynch said.
The driver waited until help arrived for Rocky. Charges will not be filed, Lynch said.
“He had cuts and gravel on his chest,” Lynch said. “There was blood all over his nose and mouth and his lip was split. But he was up and walking. It was lucky there were no broken bones.”
Law enforcement officers, two veterinarians and animal rescuers worked through the night to help the animal.
Both Guilford and Rockingham County deputies went door-to-door trying to find the horse’s owner without success.
“It made me so frustrated at times that I couldn’t find the owner of this horse,” Rockingham County Sheriff’s Sgt. Jason Hutchins said. “To me it was like trying to locate a mother to let her knew her small child was hit but having limited information to track her down.”
Kim Johnson answered a deputy’s knock at her door. She, her husband Keith White and daughter Erin Barnes offered to help.
The family brought a horse trailer three-quarters-of-a-mile to give Rocky a ride to their house while she and officers searched for a vet who would treat Rocky — likely without pay.
“Bless his heart,” Johnson said. “He was so pitiful.”
When she arrived Rocky couldn’t walk.
He had a large cut down his neck. He had trouble breathing through his bloodied nose.
Every vet Lynch, Johnson and the deputies called turned them down.
“...They wouldn’t come out because they were worried about being paid,” Johnson said.
Finally a veterinarian in Raleigh got in touch with the Burlington-based Iron Will Mobile Veterinary Services, who happened also to be the vet for Johnson’s six horses.
Veterinarians John Parks and his wife Chelsey Miller came immediately.
“They never even asked about payments,” Johnson said. “Their oath of being a vet went above and beyond.”
Parks and Miller also serve at Safe Haven and called the rescue farm for help.
Safe Haven agreed to rehabilitate Rocky and eventually try to adopt the horse and give him a new life.
That new life started with Rocky’s new name.
Johnson laughed as she remembered them coming up with the name.
“It was partially because he was hit in Rockingham County but it was also because he was strong and tough about his injury, like a rock,” Johnson said.
The deputies and trooper refused to leave Rocky until they knew the animal was safe.
“I just couldn’t let this horse die,” Hutchins said. “I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t let that happen.”
Johnson questioned why Hutchins cared so much about the horse.
“I couldn’t leave it,” Johnson said Hutchins told her. “I could never put it down or leave or walk away. I have a conscience.”
Johnson checked in with Safe Haven throughout the weekend to make sure Rocky was okay.
Safe Haven called the driver to tell him the horse was fine.
On Monday, Rocky was still living up to his new name.
His legs were bandaged, and oozed blood through the gauze, but the Rocky was still standing. He was friendly with onlookers.
Benton and his wife Gin Wiltsey have to change Rocky’s bandages, a $12 to $16 cost, and apply $50 medicine daily.
They also clean his lip every day, which was too dirty to suture. His caretakers said the torn portion will eventually shrivel and fall off.
Johnson believes Rocky knew the effort everyone was putting into saving him.
“At one point I looked over and Rocky had stretched his neck as far as he could and nuzzled the top of my daughter’s head like he was thanking her,” Johnson said. “He looked up at her and she said, ‘We’re going to get you help, buddy.’ ”