I’m an educator at heart and by training. So, when I read about the Take the Reins program in last week’s Lexington Herald Leader, I was intrigued. Meg Leavitt rescued a 10-year-old Belgian she named Mercy and brought the mare to her home at Walnut Hall Stock Farm. After restorative farrier care and some groceries, Mercy is now ready to be a rescue ambassador to students at Julius Marks Elementary School. I’ve heard of minis being used in school presentations, but a draft horse? This will be grand! No doubt Mercy’s sheer size will get the kids’ attention.
The purpose of this program is even bigger. Take the Reins has two goals: 1) to teach youth about the horse industry, proper horse care, and “compassionate service,” and 2) to raise funds for the Kentucky Equine Humane Center (KyEHC), for which Leavitt sits on the Board of Directors. The KyEHC is one of the largest all breed horse rescues in central Kentucky, handling 100 to 120 horses per year. They take horses that are abused, abandoned, and neglected, or whose owners can no longer care for them, and once rehabilitated, horses receive training with the ultimate goal of adoption. You can learn more at www.kyehc.org.
Programs like Take the Reins happen with a lot of ingenuity, but also community and corporate support. The program organizers are grateful to Alltech for supporting Julius Marks in this innovative effort. So, what exactly will students do and learn?
They will not only meet Mercy, but the students will foster Patrick’s Bullseye (pictured above), an orphaned 5-month-old colt at KYEHC, by raising money for his care. In addition, they will write stories about him in English classes, calculate how much hay he should eat and how much it will cost, plus grow carrots for him in the school garden. Experiential learning at its best. As learners, we often retain little from simply reading a book or watching a demonstration, but by creating relevant tasks to a meaningful story and a bit of external motivation – like feeding carrots to the school’s foster horse – and you might have the recipe for success. I will eagerly await to see the results of this project.
A school-based education program for youth is just one example of how organizations related to the horse industry are working to reduce the number of unwanted horses. Many successful programs and events already exist. Organizations small and large have hosted charity horse shows, donated advertising space, given time and money to non-profit re-training or re-homing facilities, hosted training challenges, or built tracking databases and full circle programs to name a few.
Just last week, the UHC published an online resource listing model programs and hopes to become a clearinghouse where people interested in helping unwanted horses can take a look at what others are doing. Take a peek at http://www.unwantedhorsecoalition.org/join-the-effort/.
Sure, it is difficult to say if any one program is better than another, but the beauty in having such breadth of ideas is that 1) we don’t have to recreate the wheel, and 2) there is a model that can fit the human and financial resources of ANY group or organization with an interest in helping horses.
My hope is to identify and share as many programs as possible, and surely one will inspire you to Join the Effort!
The UHC Blog: Guest Column
By: Lisa Schadt, President
Manito Life Center
Many years ago, when my riding school was fairly new, I received a phone call from a veterinarian who had met a Standardbred horse on one of her farm visits. The horse was at risk of being euthanized or sold at auction, as she had not met expectations in the racing world. Her grandfather had won considerable sums of money and it became clear at some point that racing was not something she would excel at.
I drove many miles to meet Myrna. Although her gaits were not the typical gaits of a school horse, there was something about her that was special. She was friendly and engaging, with deep, brown eyes and the way she connected with us suggested an intelligence that I wanted to learn more about. In the brief time she had been at this farm, her temporary home, she had won the hearts of those around her. Her pasture included mountainous terrain, and one morning her caretakers had found her licking the wounds of an injured horse who had gotten tangled up in barbed wire.
My dream had always been to provide equine therapies to children at-risk and my instincts were that Myrna would be a perfect fit for this program. We took her home.
Over the years, Myrna’s intelligence and sense of humor helped to heal many emotional wounds of the children and adults who visited our farm. At first glance, the stories about her might seem to involve simple coincidence, but there are so many of them, that one can observe a pattern of this horse’s behaviors serving as “ice-breakers”. She seems to know what will make people laugh, what will calm them down, what will elevate the emotions of the group.
Several years ago, I took a few friends to the farm to see the horses. We were all dressed as cowgirls, acting silly and hoping to unwind from our intensive work weeks. One of the ladies walking by Myrna’s pasture was holding a chocolate beverage, and before she knew what happened, Myrna reached her neck over the fence and slurped the entire drink out of her glass. Apparently the taste and smell were quite interesting, because Myrna put on a show, curling her upper lip up and showing her big teeth with a flehman response that certainly looked like she was laughing. The women were hysterical with laughter, pulling their cameras out and getting some great photos of the first horse they had met. Fortunately, there were no ill effects of the chocolate, but everyone still remembers that moment in time.
Fast forward a few years- a group of center city children came to the farm for programming. Myrna was the first horse they had ever seen and they were terrified. Myrna was watching all of them through her Dutch door window and they were standing several yards away. My presence and words did not seem to be calming the children, and I knew that this first visit might be challenging. Suddenly, without provocation, Myrna curled her upper lip, showed her big teeth and held the flehman response for a long enough time to have the children laughing, relaxing and taking some deep breaths. Everything would be okay. My equine partner had made sure of it.
Another interesting thing occurred during an equine therapy training held at our farm. The facilitator asked me to pretend that I was a troubled youth, verbally acting out in the presence of Myrna so that the equine therapist in training could practice appropriate responses. I was very good at this role! But interestingly, while the therapist was on one side of Myrna and I on the other, Myrna kept nudging each of us away from each other, maintaining a distance between us. I kept up the act and Myrna then walked us over to the clock on the wall, grabbed it with her mouth and threw it on the ground. Was she telling us time was up? She did make the crowd laugh, we ended the session, and Myrna appeared calm, content and happy to be part of the activities.
I have never forgotten the first story I heard about Myrna- that she was licking the wounds of an injured horse. She has helped so many wounded children and adults over the years, metaphorically licking their wounds and helping them to find peace, inner joy and resilience. She has a forever home with us and is valued as a great partner in our programs.
How time flies. It’s been almost six months since starting work as the Director of the Unwanted Horse Coalition. The transition from three years of rescue work with daily feeding, mucking, grooming, and sundry barn chores to sitting behind a desk has been a big one, yet considering last month’s heat wave, I’m quite thankful to be in an office again. After dusting off the old wardrobe from a previous life in higher education and adjusting to the 75-minute commute (instead of a 5-minute drive to the barn), it was time to sit down and reflect on working in a field that I never expected.
No doubt, there are plenty of things to love about the job. As a once horse-crazy kid, it is pretty cool to work for an organization that is all about horses, even now in my 40s. I’ve met incredible leaders in the industry – people who are poised to make a difference in the lives of unwanted horses. We have a wonderful staff, and we’re located in the heart of Washington, D.C.
The mission of the UHC is to reduce the number of unwanted horses and to improve their welfare through education and industry collaboration. In addition to creating and disseminating educational materials and engaging the industry in big picture discussions, I have the pleasure of working on tasks with a direct impact, such as distributing money to organizations that plan gelding clinics for horse owners in underserved communities and sending feed coupons to rescues who need help putting weight on neglected horses. A huge shout to Purina and A Home for Every Horse for their roles in the latter. A small part of the job, but one of my favorites, however, is to discover and share good news about unwanted horses becoming wanted again.
There are hundreds of organizations in the industry dedicated the welfare of the horse that offer programs large and small. There are wonderful stories about horses in second and even third careers. Many creative events exist to raise awareness and funds to address this important issue. From a large association’s Full Circle program to one girl’s corner lemonade stand, I enjoy reading and learning about the strides people are making to help unwanted horses. Sometimes I can’t believe I get paid to do it.
At the UHC, we want to harness the power of positive outcomes and encourage others to do the same, so we’re broadening the scope of our monthly news e-blast to do just that. The new UHC Roundup reports not only stories in the news media and other online sources, but highlights programs to help unwanted horses, shares success stories across all breeds and disciplines, and includes a list of events so anyone interested in helping unwanted horses can be a part of the effort. Look for the UHC Roundup in August.
If you have a success story or photos to share, send them my way. Reading and sharing good news really is the best part of the day. Want to sign up for the UHC Roundup? Just let me know.
Okay, the jury is still out on location. I’m not sure I’ll ever prefer the corner of H and 17th Streets to lush green fields with frolicking fillies. Maybe I can visit your barn sometime!