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Safe Home, Fillies

Once abandoned horses now adopted

The Humane Society of the United States

by Pepper Ballard

Martina and Fiona have been through a lot together.

The two fillies were part of a group of 11 horses who were dumped on the side of an isolated road in Oregon last fall, basically left to fend for themselves—or die.

The starving and terrified horses were subsequently taken into custody by the Oregon Department of Agriculture and sold at auction. Five of the horses—including Martina and Fiona—were acquired by The HSUS. The agriculture department feared some of the animals might end up in the wrong hands if no one was willing to take them. That's when they called The HSUS for help.

Second Chance

The emaciated animals were taken to the Duchess Sanctuary, a horse refuge in Oregon owned and operated by The HSUS, where they would be rehabilitated with the ultimate goal of adoption by a good family.

The remaining six were bought by people willing to rehabilitate the animals. Among that group was Vicky Peters, who adopted a young stallion she now calls Second Chance.

Fast forward several months: with Second Chance gelded and well on the mend, Peters decided to add to her brood. She adopted two horses from the gang of five at Duchess: none other than Martina and Fiona.

“I just want to help,” Peters said. “I know I can, and I have the facilities to take care of them."

Martina and Fiona are the first horses to be adopted from the 1,120-acre horse sanctuary, which was acquired by The HSUS in June 2008.

Homeward Bound

"As we were tending to the rehabilitation of the horses, we also were actively looking for good families to adopt them when they were ready," said Scott Beckstead, who was contacted by the agriculture department about adopting some of the horses. The Oregon senior state director and former director of the sanctuary oversaw the acquisition of the horses, from the auction process to making sure the animals were safely transported and acclimated to their new home.

"They'd been through so much, and we're thrilled that Fiona and Martina have found a loving and caring home with Vicky. They deserve it," Beckstead added.

According to Jennifer Kunz, ranch manager of Duchess who runs the day-to-day operations, the horses acquired through the auction were in bad shape. Not only were they so emaciated that their ribs and bones protruded, the animals were extremely abused.

“Each animal was placed on a special diet, as well as vaccinated and put on a de-worming program," she said. "Eventually, the five horses put on weight, the brightness returned to their eyes, and their coats regained their sheen.” Earning back the animals' trust is an ongoing process.

Fiona, estimated to be about 18 months old, was the smallest and youngest of the rescued group. Martina, whom staffers guessed to be about 2 years old, regained condition fairly quickly, and became known as the leader among the three fillies in the group.

Bright Futures

As Fiona regained her health, she was known to prance around the fields, flipping her tail over her back.

Peters kept Martina’s name, but named Fiona “Button” because, she said, the filly is “as cute as a button.”

“I just want to move forward the horses who are stuck,” she said. “This is what I can do today to help.”

For now, Peters will enjoy the company of Martina and Button and caring for them on her 90-acre property in Sherwood, Ore.

The Duchess Sanctuary is the sister facility to the Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch located in Murchison, Texas, a 1,300-acre ranch operated by The HSUS and The Fund for Animals. The HSUS operates an Equine Protection department from its headquarters in Washington, D.C. In addition to the horse sanctuaries in Oregon and Texas, The HSUS works at the state and federal level to promote policies to protect horses from slaughter, soring and racing-industry abuses.