The Neglected Horse That Captured The Heart Of TikTok

by Kristen Mae
Originally Published: 

Like everyone who isn’t a literal psychopath, I hate to see an animal suffer. But that doesn’t stop me from being drawn into every animal rescue/rehabilitation video on TikTok. I know they’re suffering and I can’t stand to witness it, but I have to know the outcome. I have to know they’re going to be OK, and now that the algorithm has figured out that I can’t turn away, it keeps feeding these videos to me.

One recent series of videos has captured my attention to the point that I keep going to this person’s account looking for updates. TikTok user @paytonchristian owns a nonprofit animal rescue. On September 28, she posted a video she labeled “Part 1 of the worst rescue case to date.”

Payton was called to collect a horse that was in absolutely horrible condition and clearly suffering. If you haven’t seen these videos yet, be warned, the early ones in particular are hard to watch.

The first video begins with Payton describing how she found out about the horse. She relays that she woke up the previous morning, September 27, to an unusual number of messages about a horse that had been abandoned in a barn. It was the fourth anniversary of her grandfather’s death and she’d planned to take the day off, so she responded to the messages suggesting they call local law enforcement to help.

But the messages continued, and eventually the owners were put in touch with Payton and agreed to surrender the horse to her rescue. Now she was involved. She drove the hour-long drive to check out this horse.

“When they said he had been abandoned in a barn,” she says, “I wasn’t exactly expecting this.” The video shows the inside of a barn that appears to be piled high with trash bags.

“The owners were still feeding him … but he had been locked in this stall for years, as you can tell from the buildup. And he had not left that stall for at least 10 years.”

In the video you can see that the horse’s front hooves have grown so long that they’ve curled around on themselves. They look excruciating to walk on. Payton says the horse has obviously spent the majority of his life in that stall. “I contacted our vets immediately,” she says, “and told them we were en route with a very bad neglect case.”

After watching this video, the first thing I did was to go check Payton’s page for an update. She hadn’t posted one yet, so I hit follow. I was so worried I’d miss the update though, that I kept checking back. I couldn’t stop thinking about this poor horse. A few days later, Payton finally posted an update:

The first video went viral, but it was this second video that really blew up — so far it has almost 33 million views. Payton begins by showing the journey to the vet. “We didn’t really know what to expect out of his vet visit,” she says. “We knew he had absolutely horrible feet and … along with terrible body condition. We just knew that he needed help.”

The vets performed a blood panel, checked the horse’s circulation to ensure he still had good blood flow to his hooves, and took x-rays of his hooves. Payton said the x-rays were the most important part. They were expecting to see a lot of rotation in the horse’s ankles because of his overgrown hooves, which could lead to pain or even lameness. But they were surprised to find that there was hardly any rotation at all. “Everyone was completely baffled by this,” Payton says in the video.

By the end of this video, I was all the way invested. And I’m clearly not the only one. Payton has now posted four additional followup videos updating us on this sweet horse’s progress, and each video she posts goes viral.

Even the most recent update already has nearly a million views. In the third video, we learn the horse’s name: Thaddeus. And we get to hear him neigh. You’re watching these videos with the volume up, right?

With the x-rays complete, they’re also able to start cutting away some of Thaddeus’s overgrown hooves. They cut away nearly 10 pounds and schedule a separate procedure, during which Thaddeus will be put under anesthesia, to safely remove the rest. Payton notes that in a case as severe as Thaddeus’s, they can’t rush his care — it’s too much to do it all at once. They have to do a little bit each day and stay on top of managing any discomfort he feels with pain medications.

Typically, the followup videos after a viral video don’t go as viral, if they even go viral at all. But something about Thaddeus’s story has captured the hearts of TikTok. In a world divided, everyone wants to see this horse get better and end up frolicking in a meadow somewhere. We all want this horse to live his best life.

In one of her update videos, we see Thaddeus getting a haircut, and we learn that he actually has a dapple coat! His front hoof is wrapped in a “hoof soaking boot,” but he already looks so much healthier. Payton says he loves watching the other horses, and you can see that in the video. That’s one happy boy.

In her most recent update, Payton reclines with Thaddeus in a field. This horse is unrecognizable from the horse we saw in the first video. Payton writes, “I never imagined how important this special horse would be to me. He came into my life at one of my darkest points.” As Thaddeus, I kid you not, lays his giant horsey head in her lap, Payton writes in the video, “We both needed each other, we just didn’t know it at the time.”

I’m not crying, you’re crying! Thank you, Payton, for doing the work to save these beautiful animals. You’re a good one.

Update: Sadly, on October 14, Thaddeus passed away. Once Payton and her team were able to examine his teeth, they realized their initial estimate of his age was off, and he was likely into his 30s. It’s devastating news, but there is some comfort in knowing that Payton and everyone who looked after Thaddeus in his final days gave him the love he so needed and deserved.

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