Last week my coworkers and I traded work clothes for barn garb and headed to the Kentucky Equine Humane Center (KyEHC) to volunteer as part of TheHorse.com's 100,000 Minutes of Service campaign. The farm, located just outside Lexington in Nicholasville, is home to horses ranging in age from in utero to seniors, most of which are searching for their forever homes.
Web producer Jennifer Whittle and I groom Scarlett at the KyEHC.
Photo: Stephanie L. Church
Julie Cooper, the barn manager, explained that the KyEHC takes in horses from all over Kentucky, and that those animals come from a variety of circumstances: Some from owners who simply can't care for them anymore or need to reduce their herd size, others from tracks when their racing careers end due to either injury or lack of competitiveness, some that have been abandoned or turned loose, and still others from abuse or neglect cases. As a result, the equine residents range in condition from less than thin to pleasantly plump. But every horse at the center—including the skinny new arrivals—looked happy and content, and many came up to the fences to investigate the herd of humans wandering around their farm.
We helped with chores including bedding stalls, filling water tubs, and removing wet and moldy sections of hay from round bales, but our favorite part of the day was when—armed with curry combs, shedding blades, and mane combs—we ventured out to the pastures to help some of the mares get rid of their winter coats. And, boy, did some hair fly around the fields!
I got to know several super-sweet mares, including 13-year-old Scarlett, 18-year-old Star, and 20-year-old Surprise. But I also found myself wishing these wonderful older horses had a place they could spend the rest of their days making someone—be it a little pony-crazy girl, a rider seeking a partner, or a competitor who needs a quiet companion for their show horse—very happy. It makes me sad to see any horse end up at a rescue facility, but seeing senior horses there really tugs at my heart strings. Many of these horses have experience and knowledge to spare, and could make fantastic mounts and teachers for a variety of riders. Plus, after a lifetime of work or suffering (depending upon where they came from), these horses deserve to have homes where they can live out their days happily and comfortably.
So how can we help?
For starters, we could pledge to ensure the senior horses we currently own never find themselves in need of a new forever home. My family's oldest horse Jessie, now 27, hasn't been rideable for well over a decade, but we made her a promise that she'll live with my family until she takes her last breath. And Sadie and Lance--the two "youngsters" of the herd residing with my parents at 17 and 14, respectively--won't need to worry about where they'll end up once their riding days are over. Here in the Bluegrass, now-18-year-old Dorado will always have a home with my husband and me, whether it's at a boarding stable or on the farm we hope to have sometime in the future. It might not seem like a big contribution in the grand scheme of things, but it's a commitment to reduce the number horses that need a forever home by at least four. I know that many of you have also provided the special seniors in your life with a forever home, and I'm truly grateful that those horses have a place to live out their golden years.
20-year-old Surprise smiles for the camera!
Photo: Erica Larson
Or, if we have both the time and resources, we could adopt an older companion horse who's seeking a place to live out their days. While it might not be a huge burden for a farm owner to feed another horse or two, it means that the rescue or humane center you adopted that horse from can now help other equids in need that they might not have been able to before.
We could volunteer at places like the KyEHC to help horses in need of new homes build or refine the skills they need to make a suitable riding mount, or simply help them look their best when a potential adopter comes to visit. Or, we could donate some funds or supplies to such facilities to ensure they have everything they need to keep the horses they've taken in healthy, happy, and ready to find new homes.
Or, we could simply raise awareness of the fact that there are countless horses—of all ages and abilities—awaiting their forever homes in rescues or rehabilitation centers across the world. While most of us are well aware of this fact, the young rider who's taken lessons for a few years and is now ready to commit to a horse might not know her ideal could be waiting at a local humane center.
Someday, when both time and finances allow, I'd love to give a forever home to some senior horses in need. But for now, my duty is to care for Dorado to the very best of my abilities and, when I can, donate time and funds to equine charities, rescue facilities, and rehabilitation centers helping senior horses live out their days with dignity.
How else can we help senior horses find their forever homes? Have you ever given a home to a senior in need? Please share your experiences below!