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A Long Road to Paradise

Twenty neglected and abused horses enjoy a new start on a Maryland farm


by Stacy Segal

I took this job because I wanted to help horses. But in doing so, I'm often forced to bear witness to the absolute worst side of human nature.

I've quickly learned that for every person out there who neglects or abuses animals, there are hundreds of others who are willing to step up to the plate and help when needed. In this case, it was because of the kindness and dedication of people across two states—not to mention the support of donors across the country—that we were recently able to take a group of suffering animals out of hell and into Paradise.

It started almost a month ago, when we first stepped onto the West Virginia property to assist with the removal of 49 severely neglected horses, donkeys and mules. They stood on barren pasture, with no water or food; their ribs and hip bones jutted out, and many had serious injuries. As we walked around, surveying the property, we stepped over the bones of those we were too late for, evidence of a long history of neglect and abuse.

One horse, a spotted Appaloosa mare, caught my eye. She could have been a relative of my own horse, Skipper. As I stood there in that place of death and desperation, Skipper was grazing contently on his pasture in Maryland. I thought of him and the other horses he shared the pasture with, all loved and well-cared for by their owners.

I had to remind myself that the majority of horse owners are like those at my boarding facility—responsible and loving owners who share a commitment to providing humane care for their animals. The owner of this property represented the black eye of the horse industry—the small percentage of people who treat horses as commodities, to be bought, sold and traded without any regard for their well-being.

The suffering ends here

We spent the next several days tending to the horses' needs and getting them settled at a temporary shelter. As we drove away with the last trailer of horses, neighbors lined the streets and cheered. It reminded me that when we go into a community to help animals, we help people, too. This community bore witness to the suffering of these animals, and because of their persistence, we were finally able to assist local law enforcement and remove these animals from their neglectful owner.

For the next few weeks, our staff and volunteers from United Animal Nations took care of the equines day and night. They gradually regained their health and strength, and our adoption partner, Angel Acres Horse Haven Rescue, started placing horses in new, loving homes. However, as many of horses moved on to their new lives, our volunteer base started to drop off. I desperately started making calls to local horse people, hoping to find someone willing to help clean stalls and feed horses for the next week while we took steps to place the remaining horses in permanent or foster homes. Finally, I called the owner of the boarding stable where I keep my horse, who said, "Why don't you bring them here?  I have several pastures I'm not using."

I was in shock. This woman was a leader in the local horse industry who was willing to allow dozens of equines, sight unseen, to come to her farm so we could continue their rehabilitation, assessment and adoption. This offer represented more than just generosity—it would allow our staff to more easily manage their care, give us access to a larger adoption base and, hopefully, pave the way for a future relationship with this farm.

Within days we secured transportation from the temporary shelter in West Virginia to Paradise Stables in Maryland. As word spread about the horses' arrival, nearby horse owners and children from the local 4-H club offered their assistance, excited at the opportunity to meet these survivors.

A well-deserved home on the range

When the first trailer arrived, I couldn't help but wonder what the horses inside were thinking, for each time they'd been loaded into and out of a trailer, their lives changed dramatically. This time was no exception. As they stepped out, they tentatively took in their new and unfamiliar surroundings—acres and acres of grass, beautiful run-in sheds for shelter, and overflowing water buckets.

I glanced over at the children from the 4-H club, who were gathered along the fence line, watching with excitement as we walked the horses, mules and donkeys up the hill into their new pastures. They eagerly offered apples and carrots, and within minutes were plotting ways to convince their parents to allow them to adopt one of the animals.

Not long after their arrival, the horses and mules settled into their new pastures—eating grass, rolling in the dirt and taking long drinks of water.

Their journey had ended. They were finally in Paradise.

Stacy Segal is an Equine Protection Specialist for The HSUS.

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