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For the love of Leo

A Citrus County 15-year-old has spent her life working with horses that have been neglected, and now she's found her special one.


© St. Petersburg Times,
published August 20, 2001

[Times photos: Steve Hasel]
Samantha Clark gives an embrace to Leo.
FLORAL CITY -- Samantha Clark has loved horses her whole life. "Since I could remember," she says with a smile. All of her 15 years have been spent with horses -- rescuing neglected ones, training them and trying to find the right one for herself. Samantha has rescued three horses who needed better homes and previously owned eight horses, but none of them ever seemed to "click" with her. That is, until Leo.

Leo, the latest addition to Tall Pines Quarter Horses, her family's stables in Citrus County, is a 2-year-old palomino that Samantha met last August while visiting a friend.

"He put his head in my hands. I just thought, "Oh, I have to have him,' " Samantha recalls.

At the time, Leo was about 300 pounds underweight, didn't know how to walk on a lead rope and wouldn't eat. "It took him two weeks to get used to feed," says Samantha. "He was so weak. They (his previous owners) never fed him. He had pneumonia and sores all over his face, and was all cut up and all bruised up."

When Leo arrived at Tall Pines, he made his first night an infamous one. Frightened, he bucked, kicking Samantha in the back of her head. After that, he fled from his stall, but Samantha wasn't thinking about the pain in her head. She persuaded her mom, Kim, that she wanted to go after her new horse, and both mother and daughter followed Leo through the neighborhood until they found him and brought him back to Tall Pines.

After Leo regained his strength, he was gelded, or neutered. The night of his gelding, Samantha woke up every 45 minutes to check on him. But instead of bleeding for the normal period of two days, "He bled for three weeks straight," Samantha says. It was then the Clarks discovered Leo was a rare hemophiliac. Leo's condition is so uncommon in horses that their veterinarian had to go to Gainesville to research ways to treat a horse who bled continuously every time he was cut.

Now when Samantha shows Leo in competition (he has placed first, second and fifth in past shows), she has to bring a clotting agent in case Leo is cut and begins to bleed. "Most hemophiliac (horses) die before six months," explains Samantha's mom, Kim. But Leo, ever defying the odds, just turned 2.

From under the tall pine trees that gave her family's stables its name it is possible to see Buck, a dark-brown quarter horse that Samantha's family also rescued, nudge Leo's hindquarters. Leo immediately picks up Buck's pace as the older horse guides him around. Kim explains that when Leo was first turned out with Buck, Buck would "herd" the younger horse around the fenced enclosure, keeping him active. "He (Leo) healed up with Buck within a week," she says.

"They just have a lot of fun," adds Samantha.

Samantha Clark brushing Leo.
But as much as Leo loves to horse around, he has to stay in his stall throughout the day. Being in the sun can tan his skin, a trait common in palominos. In the evenings, though, you'll find him with Buck. It's clear this horse loves his new freedom and the comfort of his surroundings. He gallops around the enclosure, steering himself around the large trees that grow there, kicking up dust everywhere. At the young age of 2 -- "They're babies until they're 4" -- he is also teething and will nip human hands and chew on his lead rope.

Leo's future? Samantha says that she plans on training him to do cow work and reining, which is "a lot of spinning and sliding" used in competitions. Samantha herself will be volunteering at an animal shelter this summer and wants to be an equine chiropractor or veterinarian when she's older. Right now, she's president of the Boots & Spurs 4-H club and is still training Leo. The best part of training, she says, is "just spending time with each horse. You grow and learn. While you're teaching them, you also learn from them."

Samantha smiles while describing her relationship with Leo. "He was so easy to train and is the most friendly horse I've ever worked with," she says. "I've gone through eight horses in eight years, and finally I found Leo, and I just bonded with him."

- Rye Mason, 14, is in the ninth grade in home school in Citrus Springs.

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