SOUTH RANGE, Wis. -- The horses at Raindance Farms here in rural Douglas County knew something was wrong at daybreak Saturday.
"The barn was so quiet this morning," said Kathi Davis, who works at the farm. "Usually when the sun comes up, they're all over the barn. Usually they're ready to get out. But this morning, it was just quiet."
It was quiet because the stall that used to house Windchill, the 9-month-old colt whose recovery has captured the attention of thousands of people over the past three weeks, was empty.
Windchill died Friday between 9 p.m. and midnight.
Windchill, a Tennessee Walking Horse-Appaloosa mix, was rescued Feb. 9 from a South Range farm where he was being boarded. He was suffering from starvation, dehydration and exposure to extreme cold; two South Range residents have been charged in connection with the horse's condition.
A veterinarian who examined Windchill on Feb. 10 gave him a 1 percent chance of survival, but he had shown signs of improving.
Davis and Jeff Tucker, who owns Raindance Farms, said he died of "secondary complications" due to starvation. Essentially, in a bid to stay alive, Windchill's body had consumed too much of its own tissue for him to make it.
"Even if he had gone to a care facility, they couldn't have done anything," Tucker said.
"He was just too broken," said Davis, who took legal ownership of the colt last week.
Tucker had recently taken steps to limit access to Windchill after becoming concerned about negative comments made toward the colt, but Tucker said Windchill's death had nothing to do with those comments.
Windchill was found in the same position he had gone to sleep in and wasn't sweating, indicating he died peacefully, Tucker said. His half-sisters, Sunday and Kisses, were in the stalls near him when he died.
Windchill didn't want to stand Friday night, but Tucker and Davis said they thought he was tired from a veterinarian visit and trying to stand earlier in the day.
Tucker said his Web site, on which he's blogged about Windchill's recovery, received 2.9 million hits the last two weeks of February and as of midday Saturday had registered 40,000 more since posting news of Windchill's death. Davis said she had to delete three phone messages Saturday morning because the callers were crying so hard she couldn't understand them.
"It's just amazing how one little horse could bring so many people together," Davis said.
To give people a chance to say goodbye, Davis and Tucker covered Windchill's body with a blanket and put it in an open trailer. Davis placed a bouquet of flowers and an unlit candle near the horse's head.
Several people stopped by the farm Saturday morning and many of them hadn't yet learned of Windchill's death,
"It's hard telling them because you have to relive it," Tucker said.
Char and Phil Bresnahan of Coon Rapids, Minn., were visiting family in the area when they stopped by Raindance Farms to say hello to Windchill. They had been following news of his recovery online and even recommended it as a story to a local news station. They had not heard of Windchill's death before they arrived.
Nor had Vicky Knutson of Dallas, Wis. Knutson dropped by with a bay of alfalfa hay for Davis and Tucker to inspect -- they had put a notice on their Web site asking if anyone had any to spare for Windchill. When Knutson saw Windchill's body, she gently stroked his forelock away from the white star on his dark brown face.
"I'm on their Web site at least three times a day," she said.
Katie Peltier of Poplar had made a get-well card for Windchill on Saturday morning. But before she and her husband, Keith, dropped it off, she checked the Web site one last time.
"I couldn't even believe it," she said.
After learning of Windchill's death, Peltier covered the "get well" message up with a strip of paper that read "We will miss you always."
Tucker said the unused donations people have contributed to Windchill's recovery will be used to create a fund to prevent future situations like Windchill's.
"We're going to stop this before it happens again," Tucker said.
Tucker and Davis aren't sure if a service will be held, but say they plan to have Windchill cremated. His urn will be placed on a shelf in the barn "where he can look over everything," Davis said.