Emergencies involving farm animals are unpredictable and no farm is immune. Livestock, including draft horses, can get trapped in floods, building collapses, trailer accidents and fires. Horses, naturally curious animals, can even getting “stuck” in unusual places and may be unable to return to safety on their own. When these situations happen, they can challenge even the most experienced emergency provider or animal handler.
According to the Penn State Extension, which offers large animal rescue training, “In stressful situations, farm animals are very unpredictable and can pose significant danger to themselves, the general public and those individuals that are trying to help or contain them.”
Specialized training is needed to ensure animal safety and the safety to those responding. Rebecca and Jay Roy, founders of Draft Gratitude in Winchester, New Hampshire, recognize the importance of training for first responders. Each spring Draft Gratitude, a nonprofit horse rescue organization, hosts a large animal rescue training (LART). The training is open to local firefighters, first responders and horse enthusiasts.
“Our topic this year was trailer accidents and safe horse hauling. We had mannequin horses and junk trailers to simulate real accidents,” Rebecca said. “We were able to roll the trailers on their sides and have our attendees practice extricating the mannequin horses out of the trailer.”
The annual event served two purposes: one, to provide necessary training to first responders. The other purpose was to meet the eligibility requirements for the nationwide celebration of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty of Animals’ (ASPCA) Help A Horse Day. Through the ASPCA’s Help A Horse Day program, equine rescues and sanctuaries are encouraged to host an event highlighting the work they do and showing community members how they can help.
“Through this program the ASPCA offers one $25,000 grant, five $10,000 grants and five $5,000 grants as part of Help A Horse Day. We have submitted our grant application in accordance with their guidelines. They will announce their winners in June,” Rebecca said.
The Draft Gratitude organization is committed to providing aged farming draft horses with a retirement home.
“Most of the horses at Draft Gratitude can no longer handle the workload, many from New York and Pennsylvania,” she said.
Roy was raised on a small farm in Hinsdale, New Hampshire, where her family raised dairy replacement heifers. The family also owned draft horses, pigs and chickens. “Our draft horses did some farming work and some pulling. Draft horses have always held a special spot in my heart,” she said.
As an adult, Rebecca purchased her first draft horse from a neighbor who had bought a mare named Rita at an auction. The aged mare was underweight and needed attention. “I regularly saw her as I passed by the farm. I finally stopped and found out she was for sale,” she said.
During the six years that Rebecca owned Rita, she developed a trusting relationship with the horse who gave most handlers a hard time. “Rita battled scratches on her hind legs. She trusted me to handle her legs to care for her, but always gave the veterinarian and farrier a hard time,” she said.
After six years of caring for Rita, Rebecca knew it was time to let the mare go. As winter was approaching, Rita struggled to maintain her weight and Rebecca made the decision to euthanize her. “It was such a difficult decision and I wondered if it was the right thing to do,” she said. “That winter turned out to be an extremely harsh winter, and I was thankful to have made the decision when I did because it would not have gone well for her.”
For several years after Rita’s passing, Rebecca thought of the mare often. She’d begun an application to get approved as a nonprofit, but it wasn’t until 2014 that she completed it and officially launched her draft horse rescue. In three short years, the rescue has served 25 horses and in 2017 was named a grant recipient of the Doris Day Animal Foundation.
“It’s amazing how it has snowballed from where we started,” she said.
The rescue occasionally buys horses at auctions. She acknowledged that not all retired horses end up at slaughter auctions, but she emphasized that an unwanted horse is at very high risk for being slaughtered and people should know that when they place their horse.
“We also have been building relationships in some farming communities offering to take an unwanted to draft horse directly off the farm and compensate them the same as they would bring at an auction,” Rebecca said. “It’s a win-win because the horse doesn’t have to be exposed to sick horses at an auction, and we arrange our own hauling.”
Draft Gratitude reserves its resources for draft horses, specifically aged draft horses. The horses taken in are often 15 years or older, but that doesn’t mean they no longer have a purpose.
“Older horses tend to be calm and well-trained and are good for companionship, trail riding, homesteading and pleasure driving, which could be pulling a light two- or four-wheel cart for hobby,” she said.
The facilities at Draft Gratitude can house between 12 and 15 horses at a time, but between 10 and 12 horses is comfortable financially. Rebecca said the focus is on quality care rather than quantity. By maintaining a smaller herd size, she is able to provide the routine and often times additional medical care the horses need. Depending on the horse and its physical condition, it may be offered for adoption, one way that she is able to keep the herd size manageable. “They are adopted out with a contract that does not allow breeding. We have the first option to take the horse back if the home doesn’t work out, and all of our adopted horses are microchipped,” she said.
For horses that are “lifers” and those that are in transition but need veterinary and farrier care, Draft Gratitude invites interested individuals to help support the organization. It’s easy to get involved. Several feed companies will donate to the rescue for every feed tag submitted. If you feed Nutrena brand feeds, save the sewn tag from the bottom of the bag. Tags from horse, cow, pig, chicken feeds and even dog food are eligible.
Legends, Triple Crown, Tribute and Southern States are other brands that will also donate. For these companies, cut the proof of purchase out of the bag and mail the tags and/or proof of purchases to Draft Gratitude, 148 Ashuelot Street, Winchester, NH 03470.