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Freedom Fighter is the underdog success story

Freedom Fighter, a black 8-year-old stallion, has beat incredible odds to become an outstanding Tennessee Walking Horse who is now winning championship stakes. Despite a broken leg as a colt, he has walked on, from lame to fame, “like it never happened.” The black beauty is owned by Rustee and Dennis Shoffner of Russiaville, Ind.

Remember the children's book "Black Beauty?" This story is just as heartwarming. Here’s the story of a little colt with a lot of heart--and talent.

It was a very hot, sunny day in July and the temperature was near 95 degrees. Rustee Shoffner looked out in the pasture on her farm and saw that four mares were all up by the gate, instead of in the cool shade of her trees on the west side. “I couldn’t figure out why they were there. I thought I would go check on them. I got on my shoes and headed out. Our Hallelujah mare had her three-week-old baby by The Touch by her side and was very protective when others got too close. She was very high-strung and it didn’t take much to get her nervous,” Rustee Shoffner said.

What she found made her blood pound and her heart race.

“When finally reaching the gate I saw the colt on the ground. He was lying in the dust. He had sweat so much that the dust had turned to mud around him. The mares were trying to keep the sun off him. I called to my husband, knowing the colt (Freedom Fighter) didn’t look right.” She and her husband, Dennis Shoffner, got out there and helped the colt up. He could only stand on three legs. It looked bad, Rustee said. They rubbed him down with cool water and a sponge to cool him off. They led the mare and walked behind the colt. “He walked all the way to the barn on three legs. We put them in the stall and called the vet.” When the vet arrived, she checked him out. It looked like a broken leg. The vet said that they would have to take both the colt and his mother to Purdue Animal Hospital at Purdue University, which was about an hour drive. “We loaded the mare and the baby jumped in on three legs. I called Purdue and told them we were on our way,” Rustee Shoffner said. After arriving at Purdue Large Animal Hospital, the mare and her baby were both taken in and examined. The colt’s little leg was broken clear through. It was his front left leg above the knee. The mare had apparently stepped on the little colt when he was lying down. "That was the cause of the broken leg," Rustee said. What to do? The vet put him to sleep and then put on a hard cast. When he awoke by the end of the day the swelling had gone down and the cast was too big. Then they put him back to sleep and put on another hard cast that reached from the shoulder to the ground. "It was made from a half of a pvc pipe," she said. The Shoffners went to Purdue and picked them both up and took them home. According to Rustee Shoffner, "Freedom," as he is affectionately called, learned right away to get up to nurse and "dragged that cast around pretty well." After about four weeks, Rustee and Dennis took him back to Purdue and the vets put on a soft cast that she had to loosen and rotate every other day.

How did the little colt take to all this doctoring? "He's a strong little thing. When they're little babies like that, they have a much better chance (of recovery). He's always agreed to anything that's been done to him. He isn't very affectionate, but he is very agreeable. He just wants to do his job. His brother is like that. He (Freedom Fighter) is very much like his mother. He's very aloof," Rustee said.

The soft cast remained on another four weeks. Then they told her that she could remove the soft cast. "When I did, his leg swelled up twice the size. That scared me to death! After a panic call, they informed me that it was normal to swell," Rustee said. She said that the next day it looked more normal and that "each day it looked better." "After he was old enough to wean, we tried to be so careful with what lot he went in. When he turned a year old, he jumped the five-foot fence to get to some mares. They sent him packing to the gate wanting out."

Before they put him in training, they had him X-rayed. It was nearly impossible to tell where the break had been. Rustee said that the Purdue vets show Freedom's X-rays to students as a teaching tool, and "they can never find it (where the break was)." "It's like it never happened. He's never had a lame day. He's healed. I saw him every day. I took care of him every day. He was as sound as a dollar. He is 8 years old now and has never had a lame day from the break. He has won several stake classes this past summer and we expect even more next year," she said.

When the baby colt was born Rustee named him Touch of Hallelujah. Her friends told her that that name was unimaginative, so she looked for another. He found Freedom Fighter and paid $50 to have his name changed.

Kentucky trainer Harold Curry started the colt and really loved him, but the Shoffners moved the colt to trainer Charlie Green in Shelbyville, Tenn. "We believe he needed to be with the other great ones in Shelbyville," Rustee said. "Freedom stays with Charlie in Shelbyville. Charlie has taken such good care of him. He has taken a personal interest in him. We're always glad to see him (Freedom Fighter). He's happy, so big and shiny," she continued.

When Freedom was 3 years old, the owners of The Touch, Hoil and Nancy Walker, looked and him and said he was better than The Touch. "We felt that was a high compliment for them to say that."

"We feel very fortunate. You may go through 1,000 colts and never find one like Freedom Fighter. Fifty percent of our broodmares (four) has yielded two champions (Freedom Fighter and Cameo Cash, a two-year-old world champion mare in 2000). That's great odds," she added.

Freedom Fighter's full brother, the Black Mamba, is also showing great potential. "We'll bring him down to Tennessee in a few months. We're getting ready to put him under saddle. He's 15 months old. He's a big colt. He'll be ready to start." The Black Mamba is named after the poisonous African tree snake, similar to a cobra but not hooded.

Last year, Freedom Fighter won two blues at the International Performance Grand Championship in Murfreesboro, Tenn. He won in the Walking Horse, No Canter class with Green aboard, and also was the International Amateur Riders Grand Champion, with Rustee's 23-year-old daughter Sunny aboard. This year he has won first at Eagleville Lions Club and also first at the Cornersville Lions Club shows.

The Shoffners have been in the walking horse business for 15 years. They currently own a restaurant and a lounge in Kokomo, Ind. "He takes care of the business, and I take care of the horses," she said with a laugh. "We've had many horses but Freedom is our first great one."

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