Saturday, July 12, 2014

My time at a horse rescue

Ellie at the time of her rescue
I was perusing some photos on my computer last night (planning for maybe a future #tbt effort), and came across some of the pictures I took during my college internship.  I spent part of the summer outside of Chicago, working for the Hooved Animal Humane Society.  I was looking for a publications internship in the horse industry (at the time I thought I'd be a great writer for an equine magazine), and HAHS had a position open.  So I packed my bags and off I went for my first stint in the Midwest.

HAHS has a large farm with many horses on it, all in various stages of rehabilitation, some permanent residents.  In addition to my writing responsibilities for their nationally distributed magazine, Hoofprints, I was in charge of the training of a couple of horses as well as daily barn chores.  I basically split my time there.  It's one thing to see a photo of an abused or neglected horse, but to see one in person is a feeling I can't describe. Ellie was an aged Arabian mare who was found living alone in an abandoned property.  She was severely underweight, covered in burrs and her hooves badly overgrown.  She had laminitic changes and was very uncomfortable on her feet.  She was seized and brought to HAHS, where staff and volunteers worked to clean her up, farriers worked diligently to correct what they could on her feet, and every effort was made to make her comfortable.  She was sweet; so incredibly sweet and inquisitive.  I remember spending time with her at the end of my work day in her stall, where she had curled up.  She loved the attention and the scratches, kind words and pats.  Unfortunately Ellie started going downhill, and she was put down not too long afterward in order to end her suffering.  RIP sweet girl.

"I can has camera?"

So sweet and such a good girl

Another one of my favorites was Edie.  Edie was a mare of unknown breeding (possible QH blood) who came in with several other mares.  She was easy to handle (if you could catch her) and quiet, but excessively shy and needed to gain confidence around people and other horses.  One of the first days I spent two hours out in the big turnout attempting to catch her (couldn't give up and let her win!).  It was a trial of patience, and the most dedicated won.  I did catch her that day, brought her in for some grooming and treats, and thankfully after that, the catching got steadily easier and easier.  One day I walked out to catch her and found her laying down, napping in the field.  To my surprise she let me approach her without scrambling to her feet.  She was perfectly fine (yeah I freaked out and did the colic check), just enjoying her nap and I was pretty elated when she felt confident enough to just stay down.  That was a pretty big deal for that horse.  A co-worker snapped some photos from the office window, and ventured down to get some better quality ones, hoping the mare would stay put for the photo op.  To our surprise, she stayed there for a good 30 minutes, letting me practically crawl all over her.  To this day, it was one of my favorite moments.

What my co-worker saw from the office

I also saw my share of horrors though.  We did a follow up investigation to a hoarder (she called herself a breeder) who had several dead horses and a deceased dog on the property the previous winter.  On another investigation, we did a seizure of several emaciated bachelor stallions who were living in the woods, while the dominant stud and his herd lived on the property owner's grazing property.  What I learned on that day:
  • Truck engine blocks provide the best cover/protection when you are hiding from the owners, who came home early, and have assault rifles
  • One police escort with an M-9 is really just poor planning
  • Cowboys (real ones) are every bit as ruggedly attractive as you've been told, especially when they show up in baseball caps and ride on stockly little ranch horses bombing around in the woods
  • Photograph everything, especially the rotting corpse of the 2 year old colt you quite literally stumbled on
  • That scapula on the extreme opposite side of the woods didn't just walk itself out there
  • People suck
  • I should have brought a sandwich
  • Always have a map.  And a sandwich.  And extra camera batteries.
So I make a little light of the situation, but in all honesty it's no fun trooping around 40+ acres of thick woods trying to find four feral stallions that really don't want to be caught.  I'm not squeamish when it comes to body parts so no, I didn't freak out when I almost fell into the decomposing remains of that first body (been dead a couple of months), but right then and there I felt just horribly sad for that horse.  I remember staring at it not out of horror, but just sheer heartbreak.  It probably died a long, painful, lonely death by starvation.  And it wasn't the only set of remains on the property; I wondered how many others had died out there because of neglect.

On a happy note, here are some happy photos I took of some of the horses at HAHS:

Eddie and Dunny chillin'

Cody (Mustang).  Goof.

Amy baby


Overall it was a great experience.  It would be nice if everyone had a chance to volunteer with an equine rescue and see for themselves the effect abuse and neglect has on these animals.  It's our responsibility as humans to ensure they never end up like that.  It really puts things in perspective when you're worried about what brand of show coat you want, or how you blew the rollback in your equitation round, or how your medium trot didn't score 8s.  Standing over that horse's remains out there in the middle of the woods, suddenly none of that mattered.  At all.

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