Discarded horses routinely face a horrible fate. This rescue is setting out to change that.
When the family dog gets sick, owners don’t think twice about bearing the expense of the vet, while taking ownership over time of all the travails that go with it. “You’re responsible for it for the rest of its whole life,” reasons Sharon Kress. But horse ownership turns out to be another story and far less sends an equine to its end than a hobbled leg.
“80% of the horses are healthy and viable and none are really candidates for slaughter,” says Kress who has been riding all her life.
Horribly, the bottom line usually foretells the end, according to Kress who recently founded Our Farm Equine Rescue – a horse rehab and rescue nonprofit in Yorktown. “People see them as disposable,” says Kress in citing a racing or show jumping career over, the fit not right for a particular rider or even divorce complicating continued ownership.
None obviously speaking to the health of the horse, injury and the ensuing medical expenses is also a factor. But even so, a horse auction won’t find the typical movie scene we’re all accustomed to in which the noble animal knows his last leg has arrived. “80% of the horses are healthy and viable and none are really candidates for slaughter,” says Kress who has been riding all her life.
Financial considerations aside, ignorance completes the tragedy. “For some owners, they don’t realize if a horse isn’t sold at the first auction, the slaughter auction is next,” says Kress.
Then the horror begins. Slaughterhouses illegal in the U.S. since 2007, horses are packed up in containers for cows and are shipped to Mexico or Canada. “They lose weight, get sick, catch pneumonia – it’s a horrible pipeline,” she says.
Contrary to belief, the indignity ends not on a glue stick but a dinner plate. “The meat is shipped to Russia or Japan and would likely not be approved by our USDA – especially since horses are usually medicated as athletes,” she says.
Another obstacle presents itself as rescuers at auction factor as business 101 for those running the show.
Currently housing six horses with room for ten and three so far placed in homes, her intervention at an auction in New Jersey involves an assessment that is heartbreaking. “We have to figure out what types of horses are marketable for this area,” she says.
This mostly means jumpers, pleasure horses and trail horses that riders take into the woods on the weekends. Kress must also match any deficiencies in the horse to what her experience allows for. For instance, “I don’t have the training or trainers to rescue and rehab driver horses that people use on farms,” she says.
Another obstacle presents itself as rescuers at auction factor as business 101 for those running the show. “It’s a bit of a racket because we’re feeding demand to these people so they jack up the prices if they know you want to save the horse.”
Kress’ hope going forward is rather than paying $300-$700 per horse at the first auction, she could start dealing directly at the kill auctions where the price is essentially commensurate to the cost of the horse meat. “We don’t yet have the resources to go all the way to Pennsylvania, and then transport the horses back,” she said.
This means people can volunteer and learn basic barn help needs of feeding, watering, mucking and light grooming.
To this point, Kress has gotten corporate sponsorship from Callari Auto Group (Volvo of Westport, BMW of Darien, Mini of Fairfield) and contributions from the Horse Connection in Bedford, Rings End in Lewisboro, Agway of Danbury and Purina.
The outreach is also underway on a more individual basis. “We’re trying to let the public know this is a problem, and it does happen right in our own backyard,” she says.
Her model is implied in the 501(c) call letters. “People can come to the farm. That’s why it’s called our farm,” she says.
This means people can volunteer and learn basic barn help needs of feeding, watering, mucking and light grooming. The same goes for sponsorship, and depending on their experience, they can interact with the horse by grooming, hand walking and so on. Companionship offering a key component of the rehab, she concludes, “It keeps people connected to the rescue. I think that’s something the horsecommunity would embrace.”
Rich Monetti lives in Somers, New York. He graduated with a degree in Computer Science from Plattsburgh State but changed careers to journalism in 2003. When not working on features, he's honing a screenplay loosely and humorously based on Richard III, and the events that led up to his demise. You can follow him on his blog.