PARRISH -- When Jovonnie Androy first laid eyes on Chance, the thoroughbred horse was in terrible shape.
His ribs were clearly visible through his skin, with parts of his neck and hind legs sunken in. He was 400 to 600 pounds underweight. His coat was literally falling off his body. He could barely stand up.
Chance had been confiscated by animal control officers in Hillsborough County and taken in by a temporary rescue facility in Sarasota. The former
racehorse had been starved and abandoned. He needed a lot of help, and it would cost a lot of money.
That's where Androy stepped in.
"When I saw him ... there's something in your gut that tells you, you have to try," she said. "You don't think dollars and cents at that time. It's just survival."
Androy started fostering Chance and, after a few months, gave him a permanent home at her GoldenGael Farm in Parrish.
Jenna Antico, who runs the private horse rescue that originally took in Chase, says she wouldn't normally adopt out a horse that skinny, but she knew Androy had the resources and the heart to care for him.
"I know she's gone the extra mile for him," Antico said.
Chase's health has dramatically improved since Androy brought him to her farm in June. He's put on about 200 pounds, and his coat is now beautiful and shiny. He immediately fit in with the other three horses on the farm and has a remarkably calm demeanor given the trauma he's been through.
"You think he'd be fearful of man, but he's not," Androy said. "He's so grateful, and he's so proud."
Marcus Wise is Chance's farrier and treks down from Ocala to work on his hooves every five to six weeks. "I didn't even recognize him last time I went out there," said Wise.
When he first saw the horse days after his arrival at GoldenGael, "he looked like a walking bag of bones," Wise said. It was one of the worst cases of neglect he'd seen in his seven years in the business.
It's not clear who is responsible for Chase's condition, although Androy does know a little bit of his history thanks to a tattoo inside his upper lip, given to all thoroughbreds registered nationally with The Jockey Club. She knows he was purchased for $25,000 at birth and ran 14 races, winning one and finishing second in another. In the other 12, he didn't place -- which means he wasn't making money for his owners.
"Because he's worthless to them, why even feed him?" Androy said.
One aspect of Chance's health that hasn't improved is his teeth, which are crammed together and protruding against his lips. His baby teeth were never pulled when he was younger, Androy explains, meaning they're now butting up against his adult teeth, giving him a severely crooked smile. It will cost about $1,700 for dental surgery.
Not even factoring in the dental bills, it costs anywhere between $900 and $1,100 a month for Chance's food, medicine and supplements.
Androy has been documenting Chance's health on her Facebook page and in emails to her friends and clients from the golden retriever breeding business and pet resort she runs at her ranch. She's received a huge outpouring of donations and gift cards, from $500 and $750 to $5 from people who can barely spare that much.
Alison Brigham lives in Maine and has never met Chance, but donated $500 in gift cards to pay for his supplies.
"After seeing the pictures, how could you not?" she said.
"It was hard to look at," said Leanne Northfield of Bradenton, who brings her dog to Androy's pet resort and donated $250 to help Chase.
Denise Bales, who purchased her dog, Kokomo, from Androy, gave $150. The St. Petersburg resident, like several of the donors, was moved to help because of Androy's character as much as Chance's story.
"She's just an amazing woman," Bales said. "She's a very giving and loving person to those animals."
"She's got a heart of gold, that's for sure," said David Bracciano, a Manatee dermatologist who is continuing to support Chance.
Androy is hosting an open house and fundraiser for Chase's medical expenses from noon to 2 p.m. today at the farm, 3255 N. Rye Rd., Parrish. There will be pony rides for kids, a riding demonstration from Team Equisports Unlimited, and thousands of dollars' worth of raffle items. Androy's mini horse, Pepper, will be there, and so will her show horse, Abailes GS, the great-grandson of Abdullah, a gold medal winner at the 1984 Summer Olympics.
Area businesses have been moved to help out at Saturday's event, too. Siesta Key-based band Swamp Donkie will provide entertainment, and Chilly Willy's frozen lemonade will serve refreshments. The Walgreens at State Road 64 and Upper Manatee River Road donated 10 cases of water after the manager saw Chance's before and after photos.
Androy said she's been moved by the showing of support. But even more, she's been moved by Chance's spirit.
"He may not have won a lot of races, but he's a winner in our eyes," Androy said.
Jason Bartolone, East Manatee Editor, can be reached at 941-745-7011. Follow him on Twitter @JasonBartolone.