Layla is a very lucky horse, her Chapel Hill owners and their friends say.
Volunteers with the nonprofit U.S. Equine Rescue League saved the 11-year-old Arabian mare from neglect six years ago. Four years later, she found a forever home in Orange County.
Her new family boarded her at a Hillsborough stable for nearly two years, until December, when the stable closed and the family moved her to Rolling Hills Stable. The farm is south of Carrboro at the corner of Smith Level and Damascus Church roads.
Layla lost an eye in mid-March when a bullet fired in the middle of the night struck her in the head.
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The March 14 shooting left people in the area very concerned, said Michele Zembow, who adopted Layla for her daughter Kaydi, 16.
“We don’t know whether it was from a handgun or a .22 rifle. My belief is that Layla was probably not shot at close range,” Zembow said.
“She was treated and handled by so many people the first day (after being shot), especially at State,” she said. “She really is a sweet, friendly horse, but heck, if somebody had just come up to you and shot you in the face, you might not be all that friendly.”
The Orange County Sheriff’s Office also suspects a .22-caliber firearm, Chief Deputy Jamison Sykes said. It’s rare to find an animal that’s been shot in Orange County, he said, and investigators are actively working on the case.
Sheriff Charles Blackwood offered a $500 reward last week for information leading to an arrest.
“We’re investigating, and we’re taking it very seriously,” Sykes said.
Surgeries and hope
Layla was in the pasture with two other mares near Damascus Church Road when they were last seen that Monday evening. A farm hand returned about 12 hours later to give them fresh hay and found Layla in distress, Michele Zembow said.
Blood was flowing from both nostrils, she said. Then he noticed something wrong with her eye.
Stable owner Piper Faatz thought the horse might have been spooked by a storm that night and run into a fence post or tree, but they didn’t find anything. The vet advised taking Layla to N.C. State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine. Her eye was removed March 16.
The vets at State realized the tissue behind the eye was ruptured, Zembow said, and found a small hole in the corner of the eye. A radiologist located bits of metal in her skull; the largest piece was in Layla’s left sinus cavity, she said.
They drilled another hole on the left side of Layla’s head March 17 to remove the bullet, Zembow said. Layla came home the next day. A catheter in her head and the bandages were removed March 21, she said.
Kaydi shares a close bond with Layla, in part because she also was adopted, her mom said, and initially was beside herself with worry and anger.
“After a little while, you start thinking about the blessings. You start thinking about the things that are still OK and that you didn’t lose,” Zembow said.
A closer bond
Layla didn’t stray far from Kaydi’s side last week when the family stopped by to give her medicine and take her out for exercise. They spent a lot of time standing in the pasture, where Layla nibbled sweet, spring grasses, stopping occasionally to nuzzle her owner.
That horse loves to eat, they said.
Layla also enjoys being outside, but she’s been on stall rest since the shooting. Losing her right eye has made her skittish, Zembow said, so they changed their routine of always leading from the left.
“We’ve been doing exercise where we’re walking her, standing on her right side, and giving her tactile cues, like patting her and speaking to her,” she said. “You can observe her listening.”
They were learning to jump before the shooting, Kaydi said, and she’s looking forward to riding with Layla again. They only ride for fun, she said.
“Of course, I felt sad and almost frustrated and also angry at the person – angry that this happened,” Kaydi said. “But the more I thought about it, the outcome, because this happened, will also make our bond closer.”
They’ve received many phone calls, text messages and kind words, she said.
“I’ve gotten support and sympathy from friends,” she said, “and even strangers were writing long paragraphs about how sorry they were.”
Faatz, her family and trainers also have been helpful, Zembow said, alerting neighbors and the equestrian community to what happened and asking for information. Faatz said she’s looking at adding a fence and security cameras to the property.
“There’s not a lot of just plain through traffic on Damascus Church (Road),” Faatz said. “That’s why we’re hoping somebody saw something.”
How to help
A family friend has started a GoFundMe page – bit.ly/1Rlmu6H – to raise money that will help with Layla’s vet bills.
Anyone with information about the shooting or a possible suspect can call Orange County Investigator Allen Cole or Chief Deputy Jamison Sykes at 919-644-3050. There is a $500 reward for information leading to an arrest.