Horses for Handicapped raising funds after loss of horse

Hagrid, a Belgian thoroughbred that worked with Horses for Handicapped in Seminole, was diagnosed with colic and died during emergency surgery in December. The organization is raising funds to offset the cost of his medical bills and to purchase a new horse for its equine therapy program.

SEMINOLE — On Dec. 6, Horses for Handicapped volunteers noticed that one of their horses, Hagrid, wasn’t feeling well. They brought him to their equine veterinarian, who determined he was suffering from colic, and he immediately went into overnight emergency surgery. It was too late to save him, though, and the 17-year-old Belgian thoroughbred died during surgery.

“He didn’t come out on the other side of surgery,” said Leah Frohnerath, a Horses for Handicapped board member, riding instructor and fundraising chair. “The damage had been done. Unfortunately, he succumbed to having a colon that was damaged and loss of blood.”

Hagrid, who came to Horses for Handicapped from Ocala in 2015, “was a big love bug,” she said. “He was so affectionate and gentle. When we got him put into service, right away he was just wonderful to us and everyone. He was kind and gentle with the biggest, beautiful eyes, very soft and loving. It was easy to fall in love with him, especially because of his name, as well.”

He was named after a beloved character in the Harry Potter book series.

Because of Hagrid’s size, he was “strong and sturdy,” which allowed him to handle the program’s adult riders, Frohnerath said.

For decades, Horses for Handicapped, a free program based in Seminole, has offered recreational horseback riding to special needs individuals ages 5 and up.  

“We don’t employ a therapist to do therapy with our participants. We recognize that horseback riding in itself is therapeutic,” she said. “Our participants also get to bond with the animals and other people in an inclusive environment.”

Hagrid’s death is a blow to the program, which also recently retired another horse, Justice, a rescue horse weakened by illness who could no longer be trotted. The organization has already replaced her with a new horse, Joe.

Because of Hagrid’s size, he will be difficult to replace, Frohnerath said. “There aren’t a lot of draft horses in Florida. To be perfectly honest, we’re going to have to look pretty hard and wide to find his replacement … We really want to find the right horse. We liked the size that Hagrid was, how big he was and how sturdy he was.”

Horses for Handicapped is currently crowdfunding the money it needs to purchase a replacement for Hagrid and offset the cost of his medical bills. Those interested in donating should visit www.gofundme.com/f/horses-for-handicapped-help.

Those interested in learning more about the program, which works with individuals from throughout Pinellas County, should visit pinellashforh.org.