Worthy, a yearling paint filly, hasn't had much good luck in her short life. She was born with "windswept legs," an angular limb deformity that left her front legs badly misshapen.
Surgery can help in such cases, if it's performed early. But Worthy wasn't lucky enough to receive treatment. Instead, she and her mother, Indie, suffered through months of debilitating neglect and malnourishment.
But Worthy's luck might be changing.
Rescued from South Carolina with her mother, Worthy underwent corrective surgery last week at Lexington's Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital, where veterinarians essentially reshaped her deformed legs.
It's too early to say how things will turn out, but a spokesman for the equine hospital said Sunday that Worthy was "doing remarkably well."
The filly's treatment was arranged by The Gentle Barn, a California-based nonprofit that says it provides a safe haven and place of recovery for abused farm animals and children.
Gentle Barn, in Santa Clarita, near Los Angeles, is home to about 160 once-abused animals, which interact with at-risk children in a therapeutic program. Typically, participating children are matched with animals that have the same kind of physical problems the youngsters have experienced. The goal is that children will learn empathy, strength and forgiveness by interacting with the formerly neglected animals.
Gentle Barn president Jay Weiner said the plan was for Worthy to become part the therapeutic program in California once she recovers from her surgery in Kentucky.
Not so long ago, it didn't seem that would be possible.
Weiner said a South Carolina veterinarian who saw Worthy immediately after she was rescued recommended that she be put down.
Instead, The Gentle Barn contacted Rood & Riddle, which agreed to perform the surgery at half-price.
When Worthy and Indie arrived in Lexington about two months ago, both were so weak — and frightened of people in general — that the operation was postponed while they regained strength at a boarding center.
Weiner and Gentle Barn founder Ellie Laks came to Lexington last week for the surgery on Worthy's front legs.
"It was pretty remarkable," Weiner said. "Basically, they break the leg, and they reassemble it with screws and plates. It was a very extreme case, probably the most extreme case they have dealt with involving this kind of deformity."
Weiner said thousands of people have followed Worthy's story through Gentle Barn's Facebook posts and accounts on network television.
According to its website, Gentle Barn has received support from Ellen DeGeneres, Hilary Swank and Mark Wahlberg. But even at half-price, Worthy's surgery probably will cost $30,000 to $50,000, Weiner said.
Why spend that kind of money on this horse?
"These particular horses happened to cross our path," Weiner said. "The Gentle Barn specializes in taking animals in and working with animals that no one else will take. We believe anyone deserves a shot."
Weiner said Gentle Barn hopes to expand from its California base and would like to develop a location in Kentucky.
A Worthy undertaking
To learn more about The Gentle Barn or to make a donation, go to Gentlebarn.org.