Horses eat like a horse. They’re designed to graze most of the day. I think horses worry about their next meal when they are eating the current one. It’s their natural instinct. And they have a depressingly frail digestive system. Young horses need calories to grow. When horses get older, they need better nutrition, just about the time they can’t be ridden anymore. When we care for them, we need to hold to that standard; to keep them in a way as close to nature that we can and that means free feeding hay.
It’s been a rough hay year in Colorado. It’s true in many places and here on the high desert prairie, there’s never enough to graze. This year there’s a shortage and prices are going up fast. It’s a stretch for small farms but the Colorado Horse Rescue Network has a greater challenge. With a large herd, we go through semi-loads of hay quickly.
Doesn’t it seem like every post on Facebook is asking for something? Everybody wants your money. It’s turning cold outside and animals need help. You might feel burnt out or complacent or immune to the constant ask, but it’s what we do, that’s kind of what being a 501(C)(3) NON-PROFIT ORGANIZATION means.
To be clear, that’s what I’m doing now. Begging for hay.
If it matters, rescues hate to ask for money. We know hundreds of groups fund this way, we know people are overwhelmed with the need. I can’t romanticize this work but I’m also not going to post gruesome photos of starving horses. Hollow eyes aren’t inspiring; we don’t need to be reminded.
But that’s what I’m doing now. Reminding you.
I’m on the board of directors Colorado Horse Rescue Network. It isn’t an honorary position. We are a state-wide rescue and I’m proud of our work even if some of it’s challenging. We have an amazing buy-out program but also go to local auctions, bringing home skinny old campaigners and rope donkeys and pregnant mares. All get health care and a chance. Some find perfect new homes. Some don’t but we do our best for each one.
Want a lift? Take a look at success stories on this CHRN page, #Ageisnoexcuse
Sometimes the board votes on a large intake from a failed would-be rescue, someone with sympathy and poor math skills when it comes to the cost of horse care. Now their herd of rescue horses need rescue again and the financial challenge is huge. It takes a larger rescue to step up. Our directors donate part of their ranches and a fair amount of money. Each board member gives their all and then some. We are the good guys.
We hope to re-home rescues in six months, but we’ve had some horses much longer while we try to buy them time to heal. We aren’t a sanctuary; we must take the long view and watch the bottom line. Did I mention that hay prices are skyrocketing?
In the fall, we make hard decisions. It’s cold on the high prairie and some horses are just too old or frail or not improving no matter what we try. We have a Rainbow Fund because, in kindness, we must let some horses go. When necessary, the board members all sign off on euthanasia. It doesn’t make it any easier for the ones holding the rope, but we all bear responsibility for the call.
Doing rescue might look like a Disney movie for some but not us.
Now I’ll try to tug your heartstrings. Perhaps you had a heart horse, the horse that carried you the farthest, the horse who breathed into your lungs and made you a better person. The one who makes your throat close a bit when you think of him, even now.
My Grandfather Horse had the best run in the barn for his creaky old bones. I honor his ghost by holding that warm spot for someone in his name. A couple of donkeys have enjoyed that special place and tomorrow another elder horse will take up residence. I have no idea who he is, but I can’t wait to meet him.
The rescue can help with foster costs or you can donate them. I know it’ll be inconvenient; he might need senior care, and probably some extra scratches, too. It might mean emergency calls when I’m away giving clinics, but I’m haunted by a herd of ghost horses who were generous beyond all reason. I try to measure up.
Horses are heartbreakers.
Fostering is a gift. The horse eats your hay and in return, you find a kind of sanctuary yourself. People ask how we can take in horses that might not live long. They say they love horses too much; that the pain wouldn’t be bearable. Do I have to show you the pictures? A little extra manure is a small price to pay for one less grisly photo tattooed on the brain. Is it possible that it’s time to redefine what’s bearable?
Perhaps you ride in an English saddle. Sure, CHRN is mostly a western group but those of us without saddle horns absolutely do have spare stalls and ghost horses, too. And hearts still stretched all out of shape from our first horse. Please consider fostering or adopting a rescue horse. Consider donating feed or hay or money.
What’s the conversation that comes up when rescue folks come together? How much we hate begging for money. Yes, the work is hard, we can’t save them all, but every day, it comes down to cash. We apply for grants, we work deals. We sponsor events and try any other thing we can think of. No one likes this part, but here goes…
For the cost of a lousy cup of over-priced coffee that your horse will knock over anyway, please consider a cold weather donation, do it in the name of a ghost horse. Or honor his memory by making a monthly donation to your local rescue, or if you like this blog, perhaps to my local rescue, The Colorado Horse Rescue Network.
We appreciate your thoughts and prayers. Please, could you spare five dollars, too? It’s constant: The horses need hay. We need money to buy it.