Saving or Slaving?

Three weeks ago, my husband and I took a part-time job at a farm that gives trail rides, pony rides and riding lessons.  This place billed itself as a “rescue” and in our initial interview the owner explained how she rescued horses and used them for the events at the farm to finance other rescue attempts.  She seemed sincere, but to be honest, the farm was a dump.

At first glance, there were over 20 horses in 3 mud filled fields.  I kid you not…there wasn’t a dry patch of ground anywhere in the fields.  But all of the horses had hay in front of them and though they all wore blankets (it was about 30 degrees when we had our interview) no one looked like they were in distress.

Cut to a week or so later when we actually started work on a busy Saturday morning around 9am.  Eight horses were pulled out of the muddy fields and fed a breakfast of grain tied to a fence, trees or stakes in the ground.  Those horses would stay tied and tacked up all day until between 4 and 6 when the days rides were completed.

I won’t go into all of the specifics of everything we saw in the short time we worked there, but a few things that stood out for me and seemed almost borderline abuse were:

*Halters left on 24/7.  None were break-away, some were rope halters, most didn’t fit.

*On busy days, the horses were not given a break.  One ride was finished, the rider dismounted and another immediately mounted up to ride.

*Horses weren’t offered water while tied until my hubby and I specifically asked where to get water.

*Some unlucky horses were tied to the fence of an extremely bitchy mare who would fight with them over the fence.  Since they were tied, they had no where to go.  One actually managed somehow to break his non-breakaway halter and escape.

*There was a horse in one of the muddy fields that supposedly had an abcess in one front foot.  She was kept out there (despite the fact that the owner had access to a stall) with almost 20 other horses and mud oozing into the duct taped “boot” that was made for the hoof.  This horse could barely walk.

*Some of the horses were forced to wear medium or heavy winter blankets even though the temperature was 60-70 degrees.


In this photo you can see a horse with a heavy blanket (complete with hood) tied to the fence where a horse on the other side of the fence can mess with it.  Notice the short sleeves on the arm in the fore corner of the pic.  It was around 70 degrees when this pic was taken. Sharp eyes will notice the lead rope tying the gate closed.  Safety first!

These are just some of the things that we saw.  There were (in my opinion) worse offences that also occurred.  This woman seemed nice, if a bit overwhelmed, and professed her love for horses and her desire to save as many of them as she can.  My question is:

If you rescue a horse, and the situation isn’t that much improved, does it count as a rescue?

When I was in business, I did my fare share of rescuing horses.  I, much like this woman (I assume), had the great idea that you could rescue horses and then have them pay for themselves.  It’s a wonderful idea on paper, but in practice it doesn’t really work all that well.  At least it didn’t for me.  I know for a fact that when you care about something (like horses) and you make it your life’s work to save them, it’s hard to accept the fact that you can’t save them all.  It’s damn near impossible to turn down “just one more” when one with a sob story comes along.

Everyone has a different idea of what is acceptable care for animals.  I know some people who treat their animals like the most pampered royal children, and I know others who treat their animals like peasant subjects to be used, but taken care of at least to the bare minimum to keep them healthy to do their job, and I know yet other people who fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum.  I am one of the people in the middle.  I would never hurt any animal, I was in business so I did use them, but I viewed them as employees.  I gave my horses health care (routine and emergency vet care), I paid them a salary (they worked for treats and were paid after every ride), they were never asked to work to the point of exhaustion and they were given a minimum of 1, but usually 2 days off per week.  I always did my best to keep my horses comfortable, healthy and happy and I was rewarded with some amazing and very friendly animals who worked very hard for me for the time I was in business.

What I have seen the last 3 weeks is not acceptable to me.  It’s not obvious, in your face abuse, but in my opinion it’s borderline.  It saddens me that someone who swears they are a ‘rescue’ is treating horses this way.  And last week she took in even more (the herd count is now over 40).  I get it, it’s hard to say no.  I also get that this woman believes with all her heart that she is saving these horses from an even worse situation.  She has the best of intentions.  But they say the road to Hell is paved with good intentions…..

I have removed myself from the situation.  There is nothing that I can do there except hope and pray that she can somehow come up with the money to feed all of the horses until she finds homes for most of them (which she said she is doing).

Rescue is something that I’m convinced now you have to be crazy to do.  If you’re not crazy from the start, it will make you that way.  It’s overwhelming, it’s emotional, it’s exhausting, and it’s extremely expensive.  I tip my hat to anyone who has rescued even a single animal in need. Kudos to you for making a difference.  And to the men and women struggling to keep a larger rescue afloat, I wish you luck and sanity.  Luck because you will need it to juggle your finances to make it all work, and Sanity because yours will likely slip.  But I hope you hold onto it.  I hope that you stay sane enough to realize when to push through a tough time, and when to walk away from a sinking ship.

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