Michelle Pool never stopped thinking about Opie, her American Saddlebred horse stolen from her father’s pasture in San Antonio, Texas, nearly 10 years ago.
Pool reported the horse stolen in 2003 but, despite extensive publicity, Opie was nowhere to be found.
Now, she is looking to the future with Opie after her dreams were shattered all those years ago.
“We got Sultan’s Modern Opus, nicknamed ‘Opie’ when he was just a new foal of 16 months,” Pool explains.
“He came to live with us in Red Oak outside of Dallas, and we began loving him from day one,” she says.
“I still remember having to explain [Opie's theft] to two small children and a teen who wholeheartedly wanted to connect with something with amazing loving hearts that the world was not a nice place as I wanted them to believe so desperately.”
Pool filed a report in March of 2003 about Opie’s disappearance. Shortly after she reported the theft to Stolen Horse International www.netposse.com, also known as Netposse, which runs a website dedicated to publicising stolen horses.
NetPosse set up a page about Opie and sent out alerts to its thousands of followers, but there was no word on what became of Opie.
As the years passed, Pool never stopped thinking of Opie and wondering what happened to him.
Then, a week ago, a tipster called Stolen Horse International around noon to report an advertisement they had seen on online marketplace Craigslist.
They were interested in buying the advertised horse, but thought it wise to check NetPosse.com first to see if he was listed. They found him and reported their discovery to Netposse’s founder and president Debi Metcalfe .
The first task facing Metcalfe was tracking down Pool. Pool’s contact information on the website had not been updated in years.
Pool, traced to Eureka Springs, Arkansas, recalls the initial phone call: “I was in shock and part of me did not believe it at first because I had been let down so many times. Debi said she was sure it was him.”
With Pool on the phone, Metcalfe sent her pictures of Opie from the advertisement via email and heard her gasp as the pictures came into view.
“Oh my God! I never thought I’d see him again!” Pool cried. “Look! It is really him!” she exclaimed to her children who were sitting with her at the computer.
After talking with Pool, Metcalfe organized her notes and notified the Dayton County Sheriff’s Office while Pool called the Bexar County Sheriff’s office.
Hours later, Metcalfe called the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association ranger Jimmy Belt who was assigned to the case and gave him the particulars.
With his interest piqued at the prospect of returning a horse to its family more than nine years after its theft, Belt and a Liberty County deputy went to the residence where Opie was known to be and seized him.
Pool and Opie are now back together, but she acknowledges it has been a painful journey, with all those years of not knowing his fate. Being able to show her children that there are good people in the world is helping to restore her faith in people.
She offered her heartfelt thanks to the tipster, and the work of Netposse, saying her shattered dreams were now being put back piece by piece and glued together thanks to their efforts.
Netposse’s Metcalfe said she wanted to thank all those who played a part in what she called a miracle.
“We never give up and we never underestimate the power of one. This is truly one of the miracles we love to see and are so thankful we get to share this moment with Michelle.”
Pool is now trying to piece together what happened to Opie.
Nine months after Opie was stolen, he came into the care of Della Braden, of Dayton, Texas.
Braden had been asked by her pastor to train the horse. Her pastor got the horse from a San Antonio family who claimed they found him on the road.
Opie was renamed WarBonnet.
Braden told the Cleveland Advocate: “WarBonnet was scared, wild-eyed and thin. I let him go in a small pasture for two days.
“Once we joined up and started building up some trust, I decided to saddle him and was going to tie him to a hitching post. That’s when he went down to his knees and began shaking.
“I realized that the horse had been through some serious abuse,” Braden said. “He was deathly afraid of ropes of any kind.”
Braden worked long hours with the horse and gradually built his confidence. Her pastor decided to give the horse to her.
She said he blossomed into a wonderful riding horse, and gave him to her eldest daughter to ride. “He was a great family horse.”
Recently, she decided that the time was right to sell the horse so he could be enjoyed by another family and she listed him on Craigslist.
Three weeks later, authorities awoke her with news that the WarBonnet was in fact Opie, and had been stolen nine years ago.
Netposse’s Metcalfe said the authorities had done the right thing in seizing the horse immediately after being notified.
“At the time of seizure no-one knew if Opie would be there the next day since he was on Craigslist for sale,” she said.
“No-one knew if the people who had him were bad people or good people. Thank goodness for Opie it was the latter.
He has had a good life with the family to whom he was given to in 2003.”
Inquiries are under way into where Opie had been held between his disappearance in March 2003 and when he came into Braden’s care in November of that year.
“This story is bittersweet,” Metcalfe reflects. “New wounds are open for one family and old wounds starting to heal for another.
“None of this should have happened. One act caused the dominoes to start falling in 2003; one spineless act of a thief.”