ROBERTS — A 'heart horse' can mean a rider has found a horse that is much like a soul mate, with a close bond and unconditional love. Jen Larson and her family have another name for this bond that evokes a more whimsical image.
"We call it a violin horse, because when you first meet it's like violins are playing and you're running through a field," said Larson, who lives in Roberts.
That's how it was when Jen's husband, Seth Larson, met a mare named Chula.
“He saw her and fell in love with her. We used to say that when they first met violins played,” Jen Larson says.
For the 10 years they had her, Chula, a Spanish Mustang, was a lesson horse, a family 4H horse, and trained in scent detection for search and rescue—a field in which the Larson specialize.
“She just had a lot of heart," Larson said.
In late April, Chula passed away suddenly after she ate grass clippings thrown into her pasture by a neighbor.
“We were boarding with a friend and I've told them every year for four to five years, don't put anything in my pastures, don't put anything in my pastures. If I hadn't moved the rest of my horses that week, I'd have at least five dead horses instead of one," Larson said.
While horses can safely graze on grass, grass clippings from mowed lawns can quickly clump, ferment, and pose a number of dangers to horses.
"Horses are meant to graze, so they're meant to chew, slowly pick, rip and tear, so if they get grass clippings they can ingest too many too fast and they can choke on them—that's kind of the easy one to solve as far as that goes," says Dr. Jenna Moline, an associate veterinarian with Montana Equine.
Moline, who treated Chula after she ingested grass clippings, says horses can get colics, stomach and intestinal impactions, and if they survive founder and laminitis.
Moline says there is a common misconception that horses can eat grass clippings and urges people to never feed horses any food without the owner's permission.
It's a message that has now gone viral after Larson shared Chula's story on Facebook and the post has gained global attention.
“I got posts and shares from all over the US, all over Canada, South Africa, Europe, Australia," Larson said. “All the people that were so worried about her and concerned for her and it was really wonderful.”
Larson hasn't talked much to the neighbor who put grass clippings out for Chula and hasn't mentioned legal action.
“I know they're animal lovers. I know they didn't do this aiming to kill my horse," Larson said. "I'm honestly right now, still too upset to talk to them.”
But she hopes Chula's story can help spread the message to keep grass clippings away from horses, never feed horses without an owner's permission, and to love and cherish them as much as you can.
“It has caused us some peace knowing that we might be saving other horses."