Out of all the horses at an auction, a large Clydesdale caught Jess Fobert’s eye.
She was intent on rescuing a horse, and the seriously underweight but sweet-natured giant named Encore seemed perfect.
Fobert purchased Encore and gave the critically ill horse a second chance at life.
“I promised him I would look out for him for the rest of his days,” she told Global News.
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In the months that followed, Fobert even documented Encore’s journey back to health for a TV series called “Free Rein.”
Then, after sifting through dozens of adoption applications, she chose to adopt him out to Whisper Ridge Ranch, which was billed as a horse sanctuary near Peterborough.
In March 2015, she said she dropped the robust horse off —; but returned four months later to a horse that had changed completely.
“That’s when I first saw how terrible Encore looked,” said Fobert. “At that point he had lost a lot of weight.”
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Fobert said she tried to take him home but claimed the farm owner, Sandra Reed, repeatedly refused to let her and even padlocked Encore in.
In October, Fobert said she told the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals that horses on the property were starving, adding she made another report in December.
She wasn’t the only one with concerns.
A woman who rented a room at the farm said she feared for all the horses, especially Encore.
“He pretty much looked like a skeleton with some skin and horse hair draped over him,” said Tori Black.
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Black is one of two women who said they approached the OSPCA in March with pictures of emaciated horses and also provided a video of a horse thrashing about as it lay dying.
But she said she still received nothing from the OSPCA.
Meanwhile, Fobert had launched a legal battle to get Encore back, assisted by a paralegal who felt compelled to help after seeing photos of the horse.
“Ms. Reed should not have animals. There are serious, serious cases of abuse,” Mark Greco told Global News.
Finally, after her day in a Peterborough court, a judge declared Fobert is Encore’s rightful owner under the terms of the adoption agreement and provided a court order for immediate possession.
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“Tears of joy and relief absolutely, the horse has fought so hard to survive,” she said on her way out of the courthouse. “He’s been so patient waiting for us.”
Within hours, two OPP vehicles escorted Fobert onto the property.
“I’m terrified to know what he looks like,” said Fobert, who had not seen the horse firsthand since December.
But after several minutes they left, without Encore.
The horse had been moved to another property.
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With the support of police, Fobert headed down the road to a nearby farm.
Then, from around the side of a large barn the horse emerged, with a whinny.
Emaciated, but alive, Encore was timid and moved slowly, then nibbled at treats used to lure him onto the trailer.
The woman whose farm he had been moved to thought she was rescuing the horse, unaware of his ownership.
“The allegations are false,” wrote Reed an in an emailed response to multiple interview requests.
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She suggested any problems were the fault of a former employee.
“Our standard of care has since been inspected and approved by the OSPCA,” wrote Reed.
The OSPCA could not confirm those details and would only say that an investigation is underway.
Reed requested further inquiries be sent to her lawyer.
But Fobert has her horse back.
“I knew he was going to wait for me, its good,” she said, adding that although this battle was for Encore, now the fight is for the other horses left behind.