Rescuing neglected horses is a labor of love for Madison County resident Stephanie Billingsley. Eight years ago, a partnership with the Mississippi Animal Rescue League inspired her to transform Twelve Oaks Horse Farm and Muleshoe Ranch into rehabilitation facilities for abused horses. Since then, an average of 30 horses a year have been adopted and placed with loving owners.

"In 2008, I realized that there were a large number of horses going to slaughter," said Billingsley. She explained that despite the closure of slaughterhouses in the United States, increasing numbers are shipped out of the county for butchering.

Discovering this grim reality pushed Billingsley to become a voice for change. "There are very few places for unwanted and abused horses to go," she explained. "If they didn't come here, they would either starve or be at great risk of going to slaughter."

After discovering that his mother Dora Triplett had been killed in the recent tornado that devastated Louisville, Rotunda Riddle found his mare Star killed by debris with Smokey, her two-week-old foal, standing close by. Riddle, who suffered both house and property damage in the storm, soon realized that he could no longer care for the small foal because nearby relatives needed his help.

The Mississippi Board of Animal Health consequently entrusted Billingsley with the orphaned foal's life. "We fed him milk, and he's doing great," she enthused. She shared that the now healthy foal has a large Facebook fan base whose support has been invaluable.

Smokey resides at Twelve Oaks Horse Farm, which stands roughly fifteen minutes away from the shops of suburban Madison. The rustic barn, staffed mainly by volunteers, functions as a training and rehabilitation facility for horses with a potential for full recovery. Three rescued dogs also call Twelve Oaks home.

A hundred years of history tie Billingsley to a second rescue facility, situated in southwest Carroll County. Muleshoe Ranch has been in her family for over a century, but it only recently became a sanctuary for horses who would otherwise have no place to go due to age or disability.

"It's gone far beyond what I ever dreamed, because there are so many people willing to help," said Billingsley. "We have a devoted following." The horse farms survive solely through private donations. Even the most generous of donations, however, rarely cover the cost of taking in new horses.

"I try to give them the best chance at finding a home," Billingsley explained her motivation for taking in three of the 19 horses involved in the infamous Yalobusha County abuse case. She is working closely with In Defense of Animals to make a difference for the Yalobusha horses. In a show of support, an equine photographer hailing from Yalobusha came to Twelve Oaks to take photographs for a benefit held on June 7.

The two ranches house a total of 28 horses, not including those currently staying with trainers and foster families. "We have horses that go on to be cutting horses and barrel racers, but most are trained to be trail-riding horses," explained Billingsley.

Years of experience have taught Billingsley that the majority of horses are mistreated not because of financial difficulty, but due to apathy or lack of knowledge. She finds that the most rewarding part of the job is seeing the transformation of shockingly malnourished animals into sleek, healthy horses.