The Associated Press
LAKE CHARLES, La. This is the story of a little girl and her horse, Stormy. It begins before the two met.
Stormy, a 30-year-old mare of unknown lineage, was starving to death when she was rescued by Calcasieu sheriff's deputies who were alerted to her condition by a phone call.
"This obviously wellbred mare was emaciated and eating the bark off the trees with a stallion and her yearling colt," said Heather Dionne, head riding instructor for local nonprofit Steeds of Acceptance & Renewal. SOAR took her in and nursed her back to health.
"Her conformation and movement under saddle indicated that someone had spent a lot of time training her — and more than likely showing her," Dionne said. "In spite of her age, she recovered remarkably well from the abuse. She could still collect herself, bridle up and jog, and with wonderful cadence and style."
Dionne said that because of the growing number of unwanted horses SOAR was accepting, the group decided to try to place Stormy "in a special home where she would be loved and cared for the remainder of her days."
"When we discovered a family in search of a horse for their young daughter to love and learn from, we felt a prayer had been answered," Dionne said. "Stormy would go to live with a special family committed to loving and caring for her — but no one could have known how much Stormy would love and care for them."
Stormy found a home with the Leonard family of Sulphur.
"Every day, Emma anticipates seeing her horse, Stormy," said Emma's mom, Cathy. "She does her homework and chores eagerly so that she can get out to see Stormy."
The Leonards knew Stormy was a good horse, but they found out she was a hero on Monday, Sept. 13.
"That day seemed like any other hectic day after school," Cathy said. "Emma, 9, and Liam, 7, decided to go for a walk after completing their homework. Emma put Stormy's bridle on, but decided to ride her without a saddle.
"Liam would walk along the side, pretending to be a soldier. He wasn't as comfortable on a horse as he was on solid ground. This is a game they had played several times before."
Cathy said the children saw a trail they hadn't explored yet and decided to see where it went. "Liam was walking behind Emma and Stormy, carrying his rubberband shooter and looking for bad guys," she said.
At the end of the trail, Stormy began to act nervous and upset — she was snorting and dancing around. Leonard said that was unusual behavior for her.
Though Emma tried to calm the horse, she wouldn't settle, so Liam moved in front of the horse and his sister. A sound from the woods behind them caught her attention.
"When Emma turned around she saw the biggest, ugliest, brown wild pig with huge sharp tusks jutting out from its mouth," Cathy said. "Emma was very afraid. She had heard stories about these wild pigs attacking to protect their territory. She knew she had to get out of there and protect her little brother, who was frozen with fear."
Liam couldn't run, and the pig moved between the siblings. Stormy took control. Cathy said the mare trotted past the pig and nudged Liam into the woods with her nose. She then turned to face the pig, which stood its ground. Stormy then rotated to position her back legs within kicking distance and struck the pig's mouth. The pig ran away, squealing.
"Emma and Liam made it home safely that day because that old horse loves her kids and protected them," Cathy said. "She is our hero."