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Archive for the ‘Horses In Need Documentary’ Category

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“You can’t judge a book by its cover” and you can’t judge a horse rescue by its web site.

In today’s world of global interactions, social media, and convenient web design templates, it is easy to create a persona online.  Who doesn’t want to Photoshop a pound or two off a profile photo? Trying to determine the legitimacy of a person or business is not as easy as it was in the days before the Internet, days when face-to-face interactions were the norm and not something to schedule.

I never thought about the “inner workings” of horse rescue organizations. Even though two of my horses came to me through our local rescue, I tried not to think about their situation too much. I wanted to think that there wasn’t too much suffering involved. I stayed away from reading the stories that would appear in news releases or on the Internet about law enforcement seizures. I would send some money to horse rescue groups every now and then, but keep an emotional distance. I had done my part. And then the Horses In Need Documentary Project came along through the Equine Photography Network. I thought a long time about whether I thought I could handle photographing horses in need. I was afraid. Afraid of what I might see; afraid of what I might hear; afraid of what I might learn; afraid I would want to take all the horses I saw home with me and hide from the bigger issues.

 helping-hand

Through the lens of my camera I felt compelled to investigate what it meant to be a horse in a rescue/sanctuary environment.  Since 2009, I have annually participated in the project. The horses I have met along the way have taught me about different types of rescue operations.  Through participating in these documentary projects, I have met people inside a variety of organizations.  For the past 5 years while researching and photographing horses for my projects, I have developed a commitment to “help the hands that help.” But I want to be sure of who and what I am supporting.  As a result of my interactions with rescued horses and their situations, 10 questions have developed in my mind that need to be asked and answered about a rescue facility to determine if it is a reputable and reliable organization.  I don’t want to wonder a few months down the road if the donation I  made to an organization, or the story I told, really supported what I hoped it did.

Ten Questions to Ask:

1.      What type of rescue does it claim to be?

(Owner surrender, law enforcement/seizures, breed specific, feedlot saves, buys from auctions, off the track Thoroughbreds)

2.     Where do the horses in the facility come from?

(Are they local or shipped in?)

3.     What services are provided to the horses at the facility?

(Vet care, training, foster homes, etc)

4.     Who cares for the horses on a daily basis?

5.     Can the facility tell you about their horses and can they account for what happens to the horses placed in their care?

6.     Have “accidental” breedings occurred at the facility?

7.     Does the rescue provide contracts with the adopter of the horses and provide a plan for taking the horse back if the adoption doesn’t work out?

8.     How does the organization meet its expenses? Can the rescue document how money is spent and show evidence that donations go towards the horses’ expenses?

9.     Have any complaints been filed with local authorities regarding the facility?

10   Has the facility met the standards of the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries (GFAS)? If not, who oversees the quality control for the facility?

 IMG_2537

Recently I read the book, The Elephant Whisper, by Lawrence Anthony the acclaimed conservationist who saved a rogue herd of wild elephants at his sanctuary in South Africa.  The struggles he went through to save the herd, and the uphill battle he faced against poachers, ill-informed people, and ingrained traditions inspired me to think more about rescue efforts and what it means to be a sanctuary.  The elephants he described felt like the horses I know.  In learning more about the efforts of sanctuaries world wide, I stumbled upon the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries (GFAS) and its role in the welfare of animals.  This organization does not create sanctuaries, but rather helps sanctuaries help animals and sets standards for humane care.  GFAS is involved with all types of animals and already has specific equine standards.  If the public asked the rescues they support to be GFAS  verified more uniformity would be provided for the care horses in rescues/sanctuaries.

Shelby

In 2009 I met a horse named Shelby.  Her story demonstrates how the situation of virtual allure and lack of  verifiable standards caught her in a web of deceit.  Shelby, originally a Nevada Mustang, ended up placed a horse-rescue facility in Oregon.  Shelby was a hard to adopt case, as many Mustangs are, and the Oregon rescue found what was thought to be the perfect placement for her. The place was a 1900-acre ranch where horses could roam freely with an abundance of grazing land available.  The web site looked beautiful. The sanctuary was located in Nebraska. It was a non-profit (501K) organization with a goal and a mission. Everything checked out on paper.  Arrangements were made to transport Shelby there. It was suppose to be a place of comfort for horses.  Apparently, for a while, it was the dream it claimed to be. But the facility was mismanaged. Horses ended up in unhealthy and starving conditions. Ultimately, it ended in a multiple state effort to rescue the horses from the sanctuary.  Shelby was identified through her brand and transported back to the rescue in Oregon. If uniform standards and peer monitoring were in place the problems could have been identified before the situation got out of control.

The tale of a rescue operation going astray happens all too often.  Especially in hard times when the strain of the economy reaches deep into everyone’s pockets and more horses find themselves in unwanted situations. Having clear questions in mind and awareness of acceptable standards can help sort out the operational procedures, identify policies, and determine if it is an organization to get involved with.

Oregon & Washington Equine GFAS Verified Rescues/Sanctuaries:

Sanctuary One
Strawberry Mountain
Equine Outreach
Equamore
Linn County Animal Rescue
HSUS
Duchess
Horse Harbor Foundation

Link to complete list of GFAS sanctuaries provided below:

GFAS Sanctuaries

Special Thanks to Darla Clark At Strawberry Mountain Mustang Rescue for your conversations on the topic.

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How Bella Got Her Groove Back

Why must conversations always come so late?
Why do people always apologize to corpses?
~ David Brin

The Zumwalt Prairie is a place I’ve gone to write poetry and be inspired by the wind in the air sending history past, a place where the Nez Perce roamed,  and so did my mind.  I could feel the stories in the hills.   Bella’s story begins here, in the mountains of Wallowa County, Oregon.

Zumwalt Prairie is a high altitude grassland, with elevations ranging form 3,500  to 5,500 feet , The simi-arid climate averages 15 to 17 inches of precipitation yearly, with the majority of the precipitation coming in the winter months in the form of snow.  The history of the place is filled with stories of Chief Joseph, as well as such legendary horsemen as Tom and Bill Dorrance.  Wallowa County is ranching country, home to about 7,000 people; a place where people know, respect, and love horses.

Perhaps that is why it was so surprising when a story of 120 horses, on a 500 acre ranch, were being seized by the local sheriff in a suspected neglect case.  Adding to the surprise, the horses were not Quarter Horses or Mustangs, as one might expect in that area, but rather Lusitanos, a regal Portuguese breed associated with 4 thousand years of history.

The back story to Bella’s situation is unclear: law suits mingled with political undertones, blame spread among the employee/employer relationships, newspaper stories printed and retracted, breeder disputes with governing bodies, name calling and labeling, definitely a dream gone wrong.  The local sheriff became involved in Feb. of 2011 when the farm, elevation 4,800 feet, was buried under 3 feet of snow, fences had fallen down, horses were having trouble getting to water, and there wasn’t an adequate hay supply for the horses to make it through winter.  The horses could not be moved at the time due to the harsh weather conditions, so sheriff’s office took hay to the horses.  The horses eventually were taken into custody and moved at a later date when the weather conditions allowed for safe transportation of the herd.  The owner/breeder lived in the Seattle, WA area, hundreds of miles away.  From the outside looking in, the details are chaotic and hard to understand.  The underlying questions: how can one breeder and her ex-husband support 120 horses, even if you they own 500 acres? Why would a breeder want 120 or more horses? And why did other breeders keep selling her horses?

Here is a link to the Capre Diem horses on You Tube
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ksTrapf3eqY

All indications point towards an animal hoarding situation.  The surprising element to the story, the breeder allegedly has a PhD from Standford University, not the stereotype associated with animal hoarders.   Byrde Lynn Hill called her farm “Capre Diem” which translates to “seize the day.” Search the Internet and you will find photos of her with her arms draped around her favorite black stallion.  The farm’s web site looked good, evidently a viral illusion.    The problem appears to have been combination of too many horses, poor care, and unrealistic sales prices, the Trifecta of breeding programs gone wrong. Byrde Lynn Hill had wanted to the the best Lusitano breeder in the world. Somehow, seize the day became seize the horses.

None of the back-story makes sense.  But animal hoarding rarely does.  Animal hoarding is a condition that exists in most communities, but is not yet recognized as a specific psychological disorder. It is usually discovered as a result of another behavior or situation. Once a situation reaches the proportions of animal hoarding it is particularly hard and financially cumbersome to resolve. Hoarding situations involve personal freedom, property rights, and mental competency issues.  Hoarding is a behavioral pattern that crosses cultures, gender, and socioeconomic status. It is a difficult line to cross as to when collecting becomes hoarding, but in the case of animals, when their health is compromised the distinction is made.

Animal hoarders may truly be proud of the domain they have created and believe it to be in the best interest of the animals living with them. The person’s home may be everything to that individual. Animals may be the sole source of mutual trust in the person’s life. Animal hoarders may proclaim deep love for their animals and not see their living situations as neglect. They might fight all attempts of “help” because they associate help with trouble.   Animal hoarding is not a behavior simply solved by drugs, jail time, or other restrictions. It is a condition that requires counseling and intervention. It also creates situations that require the close interactions between several community agencies that must work together in difficult circumstances. Hoarding can be ugly and dangerous on its own, but animal hoarding can have devastating consequences.

It isn’t hard to understand why someone would want to own a Lusitano horse.  Their beauty, grace, and temperament are compelling.  When the Wallow County Sheriff held an auction for the horses from Capre Diem, national and international buyers flocked to the event.  The horses in the best condition sold easily and quickly to people experienced with the breed and its bloodlines.  Fortunately, even though many of the Lusitanos had never been registered, through DNA testing it is possible to determine their pedigrees and create a paper trail for them.

 Beleza Mia      

Bella was a different story. Her breeding is top notch, but she was not the most lovely or in the best condition when Katarina Digman saw her.  Bella was thin and dirty, and nobody realized she was pregnant.  It took a woman with a vision and experience with rescue horses to see Bella’s potential.  Katarina Digman chose Bella despite reservations on the part of those around her.  She saw the beauty that would be Bella.  Katarina Digman owns and operates Unicorn Ranch, a Theraputic Riding facility in Lorane, Oregon.  Katarina brought Bella to her ranch and began the process of conditioning and strengthening Bella.  Many of the Capre Diem horses had never been haltered or trained to lead.  Bella’s actions and reactions were more like a wild horse than a domestic one.  She had lived in a big herd and was afraid of her new surroundings. Patience was needed to gentle Bella.  It took two days and nights of trying to connect with Bella before Katarina was able to take Bella from the pasture to the stable. Bella began to get her groove back.

Bella Today

Soon after Bella’s arrival to Unicorn Ranch, during a vet call to her farm, Katarina found out Bella was pregnant, which explained why Bella had been so thin.  Bella’s body had been giving her all to the foal she was carrying.

Time passed and a healthy foal arrived despite the odds.  The colt is now 4 months old and happily running about the pasture with his mother.  She still tends to give up her food to him, and Katarina worries about Bella’s weight. Because  detailed DNA records are kept on Lusitanos, testing is being done on Bella’s colt.  It will be possible to find out the bloodlines he represents.  Down the road he will need a new home.  Someone to call his own.  Someone who can see his potential and want to be part of his future.

Any breed of horse can end up in a rescue situation.  Animal hoarders aren’t just the “crazy old cat lady” that people talk about.  In the end, people must step up and help provide solutions for the outcome of the rescue stories.
Humans created the situations that these rescue horses find themselves in and humans need to become responsible for their actions. If you have read this far into this story, please ask yourself what you could do to help these horses in need. If you are a breeder, ask yourself how many more horses (dogs, cats etc) of your breed can you or the world support? If you are a horse/animal “lover”, could you care for or adopt a horse permanently or foster one? Could you send a small donation regularly to your local horse/animal rescue organization? Could you donate a specific product/service? Could you help organize a fund raising event? Could you attend a fund raising event if one was being put on? Could you volunteer in some way that would be useful to the organization? Could you talk to people openly about the issues of horses and other animals in need? We all can do something and pennies of effort do add up.

The people working in the trenches of horse/animal rescue have something in common: hope. Hope for change; hope for a better world; hope for appreciation of an animal that has shaped our history; hope to stop animal hoarding; hope to win the lottery and create utopia. But primarily, hope to find a home for the horses/animals whose souls are resilient and ready to put their pasts behind them.  Horses like Bella who are ready to get their groove back.

Beleza Mia’s Stats:
Sire: Legacy (Umbaba x Epoca), full brother to Saphiro and Odin, Legacy is palomino lusitano stallion,
APSL approved.
Dam: Quilata E (Espanto x Defesa), registered IALHA, eligible for APSL

To find out more about the work of Katarina Digman and Unircorn Ranch, visit the following web site:
http://www.unicornranch.org/

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