Local farm’s ‘mane’ attraction: Doc the Belgian draft horse


Mayesivy Carlson

Laurie Moon stands to the left with Chief, the kissing horse. Barb Johnson, to the left of Doc, and Vicki Macut, to the right, straighten Doc’s bows and prepare him for his debut at the Southern Sun Farm Sanctuary’s book signing and live auction to fundraise for the sanctuary, Sept. 15th, 2022.

Grace Ficara, Reporter

Outside of the Hotel Tavern Restaurant in West Jefferson, the star of two children’s books stood tall in the evening sun. Adorned with red ribbons, he posed there gracefully for pictures while guests and volunteers pet and fed him treats. 

Doc, a 1600-pound Belgian draft horse, is the star of two children’s books entitled “Doc Moves to the Mountains” and the newest addition, “Doc Makes Friends.” The books, written by Pam Lather and illustrated by Anna Welsh, describe Doc’s journey to the High Country and the friends he made during his days at Southern Sun Farm Sanctuary. All the events highlighted by the books are based on real events. 

Doc was able to find his “forever home” in Southern Sun Farm Sanctuary, a non-profit founded by John Lisk and Ann Lisk.

Doc is described by Ann Lisk as having the personality of a “golden retriever.” In the newest book, “Doc Makes Friends,” readers learn about how Doc won’t eat hay from the top manger if he knows that Rita the chicken has laid her eggs there. 

After serving as a “beach-rider,” a term used to describe horses that give rides to Outer Banks tourists, Doc was prescribed 40 Zyrtec a day. He was scheduled to be put down because his lungs could no longer withstand the heat, until the Lisks stepped in to save him, Ann Lisk said. 

The Lisks became inspired to help save horses when they lost their 15-year old daughter, who John Lisk said was “a number one animal lover.” Since then, they’ve saved horses, ponies and even a three-legged donkey named Molly Mae. 

“That’s Doc’s best friend. His roommate. In fact, that donkey was still out in the front yard crying her eyes out when we let him get on the trailer,” Ann Lisk said. 

The sanctuary functions solely on a group of volunteers consisting primarily of retired locals with a love for Doc and his friends. Rain or shine, pandemic or no pandemic, the volunteers show up regardless, Ann Lisk said. The volunteer pool consists of a university art professor, a retired neonatal nurse practitioner, a colonel and many more. 

“I’ve seen the horses come in terrible shape, and they get them really healthy, and it just takes a lot of effort and support from the community. They do riding camps and some things like that to help out,” said Mike Cranford, a volunteer for Southern Sun Farm Sanctuary.

Tony Graham stands with a rehabilitated draft horse named Doc, Sept. 15, 2022. (Mayesivy Carlson)

 One hundred percent of the proceeds from the auction and the new release of “Doc Makes Friends” will go to the sanctuary so that the Lisks can continue saving equestrians from all over the state. 

“I have people regularly writing to me and say ‘What you are doing is my dream job. It’s really what I wanna do’ and what they don’t understand is that we are constantly begging for money,” Ann Lisk said. 

According to John Lisk, an individual horseshoe went from $2 to $12.50 in the last year, which is six times the original price. 

Due to the detail of both “Doc Moves to the Mountains” and “Doc Makes Friends,” the illustrations require a lot of time, focus and artistic vision. Welsh, a former kindergarten art teacher, volunteered her time when she met Lather through a mutual friend she played tennis with. 

Welsh watercolors all of the illustrations, which can be a time consuming process due to the fact that they wanted Doc to be as realistic as possible. Sometimes they based it off a real picture taken of Doc and other times they collaborated just through words. 

Lather and Welsh said they put discussion questions at the end of the book as a way for children to interact with Doc. Welsh said that the book introduces children to the differences between them and their peers, just like the differences between Doc and his friends. 

The books are available for purchase at Southern Sun Farm Sanctuary events and on their website, though Lather hopes to eventually have them in Mast General Store. All of the money from book purchases goes directly to the farm. 

On Sept. 15, Southern Sun Farm Sanctuary hosted a live auction at Hotel Tavern raising money for all the essential items needed to run an equestrian rescue. 

One hundred percent of the proceeds from the auction and the new release of “Doc Makes Friends” will go to the sanctuary so that the Lisks’ can continue to save equestrians from all over North Carolina. 

Doc doesn’t say much, and he doesn’t bid on any items. As the event goes on, he stands while the sun goes down over the horizon and poses for pictures with a little girl on her birthday. As John Lisk would say at the end of every email, “Saving one horse won’t change the world, but it will surely change the world for that one horse!” 

Ann Lisk can be contacted at 336-977-8966 or ann@southernsunfarm.com. Members of the community can look at the animals, purchase the books and donate to the farm through their website, southernsunfarm.com