Horse Plus Humane Society staff (from left) Kristen Breakfield, Tawnee Preisner and Meissa Reall pose with an Arabian mare surrendered at the one-day free shelter held in Quarryvile, PA.
It’s an attractive offer addressing an intractable problem. A well-funded national organization will take any horse, in any condition, no questions asked, at no cost or consequence to the owner, evaluate it and do what’s best for it. No horse will be refused, no matter its condition.
That was the offer made to owners of unwanted horses across the region by Horse Plus Humane Society, which held a Free One Day Open Door Shelter for Horses at the Solanco Fairgrounds in Quarryville, Lancaster County, PA on Sunday, June 4. Thirty-seven horses and ponies were surrendered by their owners. They had their feet and teeth attended to at the fairgrounds, and were evaluated by a trainer and a veterinarian. The evaluation continued the following day, with the addition of an equine chiropractor and massage therapist.
Twelve of the equines were humanely euthanized. The rest were placed with adoption partners. Adoption partners included: PA Racehorse Rehoming Rehabilitation & Rescue, Harrisburg, PA; Timberlake Horse Haven, West Grove, PA; Rocky’s Horse Rescue and Rehabilitation, Thurmont, MD; Large Animal Protection Agency, West Grove, PA; Royce’s Rescue, Richboro, PA; Turning Pointe Donkey Rescue, Dansville, MI; Coast to Coast Draft Horse Connection, Howell, MI, and Central PA Horse Rescue, Lewisberry, PA.
Horse Plus Humane Society, headquartered in Tennessee with locations in California and Oklahoma, started the one-day satellite Open Door Shelters in March 2016 after hosting them monthly at their farms. At the first shelter, in Oklahoma, four horses were surrendered. Fifty-six equines were surrendered at a shelter in Wisconsin in October 2016, and in California in March 2017, 102 equines were surrendered. They expect to help 450 horses this year.
“We work with local rescues to take as many of them as possible,” founder Tawnee Preisner said. “We have ten adoption partners for this shelter, most of them local. We also work with Harmony Equine Center, a private rehabilitation and adoption agency in Colorado, which provides training and which can take up to 40 horses.” Rescues get $150 for each horse they take to help with initial expenses.
A team of advisors, including HPHS staff and local professionals, evaluates each horse for quality of life and adoptability. Among them was Penn National racetrack vet Kathryn Papp of Hillcrest Meadow Equine, who volunteered her time and digital x-ray and ultrasound equipment. Adoption partners take the horses deemed candidates for adoption. If it is determined that the equine’s quality of life is poor or it is unadoptable due to health or behavior issues or lack of handling, the veterinarian along with HPHS staff decide if humane euthanasia in accordance with American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) guidelines is the kindest option. HPHS literature stresses that no euthanasia is taken lightly. The AAEP states that humane euthanasia of unwanted horses or those considered unfit for adoption is an acceptable procedure.
Melissa Harper, who lives outside New Holland, PA and is affiliated with the Horses of New Holland group, which helps horses that go through the auction find safe landings, was the liaison which brought the group to Pennsylvania. She recruited most of the volunteers and adoption partners.
“This shelter gives (equines) every opportunity to be adopted,” she said. “Some are in rough shape but as a group they are above average overall.
“One owner was going through a divorce. Another lost the lease on the property where the horses lived. An elderly couple had three and they couldn’t afford euthanasia, which can cost more than $600 per horse when everything is included. Other people don’t want to send them to auction and don’t trust re-homing them. This way they are going through certified rescues.”
Trainer Kristen Breakfield, who works out of the Horse Plus location in Tennessee, said she always starts the evaluation as though the equine has never been handled. “We were told one of the horses surrendered today was not broke to ride but I rode him today,” she said.
One of the surrendered horses was completely blind. “He’s very respectful, calm with good ground manners. He just needs a special adopter who won’t surprise him,” she said. “He possibly could be placed as a riding horse if he learns to use the rider as his eyes.” He was placed with an adoption partner.
Breakfield starts with ground work, picking up their feet, rubbing their face, looking for sore spots or head shyness. “I see if they will yield their hindquarters, back and lead well. Then I try the saddle, leaning on it first and if all goes well, getting on and starting slow.”
Breakfield takes notes about each equine to pass along to local partners, many of whom watched as she worked with the equines.
Three members of the ASPCA, including director Matt Stern, were on hand to watch the shelter and interview people surrendering horses. They were collecting data for a nationwide ASPCA survey on why people are unable to keep their horses.
It Takes a Village
More than thirty volunteers, mostly recruited via social media, aided the Horse Plus staff. Shannon May of Parkton, MD, a recently graduated farrier, not only volunteered her time but also delivered a pallet of feed. Others donated buckets, halters, leads, hay and other supplies that were used in the shelter then sent along with the adopted horses.
A number of volunteers offered transportation for horse owners who could not haul their own horses to the shelter. Among them was Jodie Nolan of Fairfield, PA, who in her spare time—she creates costumes for movies--helps with Standardbred Rescue. On the day of the shelter, she made a five-hour round trip to pick up two thoroughbreds in Norristown, PA and another in Holtwood, PA.
Before the event, she put out the word that any horse, in any condition, could be left in her paddock and she would get it to the shelter. She got five that she brought to the clinic, including two delivered by a shipper from West Virginia. Another six “transitioned” before the clinic, going to local rescues. “It didn’t make sense to put them through the trip when they had a local place to go,” she said.
Many of the equines were in excellent condition. “One was a Belgian who was up to date on everything but its owner was going through a divorce,” she said. “Another was a horse in a pasture with grass three feet high whose owner just couldn’t care for it. There was a well-loved, pampered, beautiful dun whose owner, an older woman with a full-time job, was just overwhelmed.”
She refers to her farm as a halfway house for unwanted horses. “I’ve come out in the morning to find one tied to the fence. People have put horses on my trailer at auctions.”
While in the area Tawnee Preisner attended the New Holland auction and purchased 11 equines, including two completely unhandled mini-mules. Six were foals, including one that was so weak she couldn’t stand when she came off the trailer. “After some time, she was able to stand and got some much-needed food, water and vet care. The two who were determined to be unadoptable were euthanized; the rest were transferred to local adoption partners,” she said.
The One Day Shelters are funded by The WaterShed Animal Fund, a private, separate entity within the Arnall Family Foundation, which is dedicated to supporting innovative programs with exemplary institutions and individuals to better the lives of companion animals. The Fund supports organizations with shared interests that demonstrate competency, transparency and problem solving. Funding is also provided by The Right Horse, a collective of equine industry and welfare professionals and advocates working together to improve the lives of horses in transition whose goal is to massively increase horse adoption in the United States.