In late 2022, Days End Farm Horse Rescue (DEFHR), Woodbine, Maryland, responded to a request for help from The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS).

HSUS needed on-site assistance in Ashland County, Ohio, to rescue several horses from a neglect situation.

DEFHR is known for its work with law enforcement agencies and not only supports in impoundment and seizure of equines in need but also supports law enforcement agencies with the investigation and prosecution of individuals charged with equine abuse and neglect.

In this instance, HSUS needed DEFHR’s help with the seizure of the horses at the scene and subsequent impoundment and rehabilitation. DEFHR’s Emergency Response Team deployed to Ohio with trucks and trailers and returned to its Maryland facility with 14 horses in tow.

One of the horses in the group was Zillow, a 17-year-old pinto stallion who was found locked in a dark barn standing in feet-high piles of manure. It was clear to first responders that the horses in the barn had not seen the outside world in years, and some of them suffered from hoof neglect so severe that they didn’t survive.

Luckily for Zillow, dental and hoof neglect caused moderate damage and DEFHR staff felt confident he would make a full recovery. Zillow spent six months in DEFHR’s rehabilitation program where he was on a feeding plan tailored to his body condition and received routine vaccinations, dewormings, a dental float, and a hoof trimming.

Days End Farm Hors Rescue took Zillow into its care after responding to a request from The Humane Society of the United States for help with a large neglect case in Ohio. (Photo by Meredith Lee/The HSUS)
Zillow upon arrival at Days End Farm Horse Rescue. Credit: Days End Farm Horse Rescue

After his health improved, he was castrated in preparation for entering DEFHR’s training program with the ultimate goal of preparing him for eventual adoption.

By the summer of 2023, Zillow had fully rehabilitated and began working with DEFHR Trainer Leigha Schrader. After Zillow and Schrader began their work together, Schrader’s longtime equine partner and DEFHR Equine Ambassador, Vinni the Mini, tragically passed away.

For years, Schrader and the charismatic miniature horse had been a dynamic duo, leading liberty work demonstrations at DEFHR’s farm and at events and horse shows nationwide. The loss of Vinni left a hole in Schrader’s heart, but a surprising training-related encounter with Zillow helped her begin to heal.

According to Schrader, her relationship with Zillow was initially focused on helping him out of a dark place, but in time it was clear that Zillow was helping her out of a dark place.

We spoke with Schrader about Zillow’s transformation and how their human-equine relationship evolved over the course of several months. Read on to learn about Zillow’s remarkable growth and what’s in store for the pair.

What was your initial impression of Zillow and what were your goals with him? Have those goals changed now that he’s blossomed?

Schrader: When I first started working with Zillow, I did not know how much I would be able to help him. He had been through a great amount of trauma and being locked in a small, dark space had done a great deal of psychological damage.

He was very difficult to catch and would kick out any time you touched his hind legs or rear end. He also had a pretty severe bolting problem and he got away from me many times, even jumping fences in his panic.

Because he was displaying these types of behaviors at his older age, I was concerned that he might not be able to adjust to normal domestic horse life, so our goal at the time was to help him become comfortable as a non-riding companion horse.

How did you help Zillow overcome his anxieties and fears?

Schrader: It took months, but Zillow slowly started to trust and relax in our training sessions. Once he became more comfortable away from his herd, we were able to work through the other behaviors.

The kicking and bolting were fear-based behaviors. I find that once you allow the horse to express their fear or worry in an appropriate way—and they learn that I am not going to force them into doing something they are not comfortable with—those negative behaviors like kicking and bolting start to diminish.

He learned to trust me to keep him safe, and with time he was eager to be with me more and he wanted to please me.

Zillow ultimately made the decision to change: to trust humans and feel content in his new life. It amazes me how some horses are able to work through the terrible psychological damage caused by neglect. It’s not every day that you meet a horse like Zillow.

What was the inflection point in your training with Zillow?

Schrader: A week or two after Vinni’s passing, I was working in the round pen with Zillow. My goal was to introduce tack as a first step toward starting under saddle, and I was using a surcingle to get him accustomed to the girth.

All of a sudden, without being asked, Zillow started seeking a greater connection. He came in and made the most beautiful liberty circles. I started shaping the behaviors he was offering by using clicker training and positive reinforcement, something we’d already been using in our training. Zillow responded brilliantly and we continued to build on that progress in each session.

DEFHR Trainer Leigha Schrader and Zillow spent a weekend training with Luke Gingerich Horsemanship in preparation for their demonstration debut at Horse World Expo. Credit: Days End Farm Horse Rescue

Before I knew it, Zillow was my new liberty partner. He was picking up something new each week, and I could not help but thank Vinni every step of the way.

Since Zillow first expressed interest in liberty training, what are his areas of focus? 

Schrader: In late 2023, when it came time for me to start thinking about 2024 events, I knew I needed Zillow’s help. After having had Vinni by my side while attending events on behalf of DEFHR, it was hard to think about going out with any horse but him.

But Zillow was showing me that he was ready to move into a new role as a partner.

Ultimately, Zillow and I were invited to participate in the 2024 Horse World Expo in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, February 29 through March 3. Zillow and I performed our liberty skills in the event’s “Equitainment” show each day. He was also the star of my demonstration, “Horses With Choices; What Is Liberty Work?” on Friday, March 2.

What is Zillow’s personality like today? 

Schrader: Zillow is a great partner. He relies heavily on having a leader, but I’ve seen his confidence grow as he starts to come out of his shell. Zillow is very intuitive. He’s a deep thinker and enjoys learning new skills. He is also very playful.

When he was first introduced to the herd at DEFHR, he stuck like glue to the horse he came in with and did not engage much with the others. Now, Zillow is friends with everyone, and I often see him playing around with the others. It makes me happy to see him so happy. He’s a completely different horse from when he first arrived.  

For more information about DEFHR and its horses available for adoption, visit:

For more information about Horse World Expo and how to attend Leigha and Zillow’s demonstration, visit: