Three white letters of a freeze brand recently gave one horse a second chance for a second time.
In November, Marina Dolbeck of Deering, NH was looking for a new horse when she encountered a draft horse on Craigslist. The horse, located in Vermont, did not look to be in very good shape, and in looking closer at his photo, she noticed a freeze brand. “He was real skinny and he had the freeze brand tattoo on his left shoulder,” Dolbeck said. “Pretty much what spoke to me was the freeze brand tattoo on his shoulder.”
Fortunately for the horse, Dolbeck is aware that freeze brands are frequently used by rescue organizations as a form of permanent identification for horses they have taken in and subsequently adopted out.
“Being an avid horse lover, I know what the freeze brand means, especially when it’s out in the open like that,” Dolbeck said.
It took some work for Dolbeck to track down the organization that matched the freeze brand she could see in the photo. “I google searched and I started making phone calls,” She said.
Eventually the search lead her to Last Chance Ranch in Quakertown, PA. As soon as she called them, they asked for all the information she had and began their own investigation.
Details of the recovery of the big draft horse cannot be disclosed at this time, as not all of the issues in this case have been resolved, but Last Chance Ranch Equine Health Manager and Fundraising Coordinator Jackie Burke can state that the horse is doing well at this point.
This is not the first time that a freeze brand has led to the recovery of a rescued horse that was again in trouble.
Burke recounts the story of Cricket, an imported Welsh pony that came to Last Chance Ranch when she tested positive for Lyme disease. That and other issues made her not as completely sound as her owners needed her to be, but she was still very usable. “She’s a really tremendous little pony that had a lot of potential for showing,” she said.
Surrendered to the rescue organization, Cricket went through Last Chance Ranch’s evaluation program, and was in good shape when she was adopted out.
Last Chance Ranch makes every effort to ensure that horses that are adopted go to good homes. Adoptive owners must first fill out a questionnaire of over 50 questions. They must provide references from their veterinarian, farrier, horse dentist and personal references plus they must show that they have a safe home for the horse. A contract between the rescue and the adopter makes it clear that Last Chance Ranch retains ownership of the horses and it must be returned to them if it is no longer wanted. An annual check is made on every horse, including a veterinary report. As an extra precaution, since 2005, each adopted horse receives the LCR freeze brand, to permanently identify it.
Cricket had been in her new home for about a year and a half, and was between Last Chance Ranch checkups when she was sent to auction in 2014. “Fortunately, many of the people attending the auction that day were aware of our freeze brand. We were able to get in contact with the person who bought her,” Burke said.
Cricket came back to Last Chance Ranch and once her case was resolved, she was placed for adoption again, and is now in a happy home.
“Fortunately, we haven’t had that situation very often,” Burke said.
Freeze branding of rescued horses is fast, virtually painless and effective. It even works on grey or white horses, sometimes creating a hairless marking.
Having a freeze brand provides a level of protection for the horses that are adopted out to new homes.
“It creates a safety net and it also kind of creates a deterrent,” Burke said, noting that the facility is always available to take back horses that are no longer wanted. With a highly visible marking, people are less likely to try to sell one of the rescue’s horses.
Readily identifiable freeze brands seen on horses at shows and competitions are evidence of how much some rescued horses can do in their second chance at a working life. Horses from Last Chance Ranch go on to all types of lives from pleasure horses to mounted police units.
“It becomes a conversation starter. People that don’t know, ask ‘what does LCR stand for’,” Burke said. “People are ‘like wow, cool” that these horses that were once destined for slaughter or some unknown circumstance are now serving in the streets of Baltimore as a mounted police officer or going to shows.”
Unfortunately, the significance of a freeze brand is not known everywhere. Currently, there is no directory of freeze brands that lists the organization each brand represents, making it sometimes difficult to track down a brand, particularly if it is found outside the area where it is typically used. Even hot brands can be difficult to trace, and are registered by state instead of on a nationwide basis “What would be super helpful in the equine world, would be to create a database,” Burke said. “A lot of equine rescues are starting to lean toward this track.”
Last Chance Ranch is primarily a horse rescue, but their work has expanded into other species. To learn more, visit the website at www.lastchanceranch.org
There will also be an opportunity to hear more about Last Chance Ranch’s freeze branding methods and the safety net that creates when organization president Lori McCutcheon speaks at Pennsylvania Horse World Expo, held in Harrisburg, PA March 2-5.