What makes a rescuer?

I’ll be the first to admit, I didn’t know what the hell I was doing when I started Swingin’ D Horse Rescue. If I’m being totally honest, I still don’t know what the hell I’m doing a lot of the time; but I understand that inexperience could literally kill a horse, so I live and breathe in FIO (Figure It Out) mode. If I can’t do it myself, I’ll pay whatever it takes to get it done, and make it my goal to FIO, so I don’t have to pay for it again.

Thank God for YouTube and Duck Duck Go (I’ve replaced Google as my default search engine), but hands-on experience is what differentiates horse rescuers.

In the name of Rescue

You’ve all seen the stories: People who exploit, neglect, starve, abuse and even kill horses, yet still get away with calling themselves rescuers. Consider some of the examples:

  • Al has always loved horses (but never owned one). He took on several unwanted horses, even though he lacked the ability, money or experience to care for them. Al is a rescuer.
  • Bobby’s buddy is a kill buyer who buys a horse at auction for $500. Bobby posts some videos, a back story and a deadline on Facebook and sells the same horse for $1,200. Bobby and the kill buyer split the profits. Bobby is a rescuer.
  • Janice got rid of the horse she had for 12 years so she could make room for the horse Bobby sold her for $1,200 from the kill pen. Janice is a rescuer.
  • Wayne just had to have Jango from the kill pen in April. Times got tough so he sold Jango in November. By January, he just had to have Bingo from the kill pen. Wayne got sick, so he sold Bingo in May. In July, he just had to have Mimi from the kill pen. Wayne is a rescuer.
  • Christine offers kill pen rescuers a “discounted” rate for her services, out of the goodness of her heart. She knows she’ll never provide those services. Christine is a rescuer.
  • Martha buys free and cheap horses from CraigsList and Facebook in order to protect them from kill buyers. She pays for their veterinary, dental and farrier care and gives them shelter until the right owner comes along. Martha is a rescuer.

All of these rescuers are going after the same donations. It can be pretty discouraging.

What a horse rescuer isn't

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First and foremost, a horse rescuer is not someone who would allow a horse to deteriorate to the condition of the horse in the photo above. This “rescuer” stalked kill pen pages for new buyers, then promised to hub or quarantine their horses for the low, low price of $300 a month (plus more for special feed, supplements and “veterinary care”). Once she hauled the horses to her “heartland haven,” no one can say for sure what she did with them. Because she always had excuses for failing to post video and photo updates (and all her other failures), owners trusted her word that she was providing the care she promised.

"Would you rather be the one people come to because they know you'll get the job done, or would you rather be the one who always has a creative excuse for failing to get the job done?"

Tami Marler, MBA
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What we can say with 100-percent certainty, is that many horses left her rescue hundreds of pounds lighter than they were in their kill pen videos. Many contracted infectious illnesses; and some, like the one in this photo, died.

What's worse?

Days-long haul to foreign slaughter in a trailer packed with sick, terrified, infected horses, without access to food or water. Slaughter.

30 days in a crowded dry pen with sick, terrified, infected horses, without access to food or water. Slowly starved to death.

When the state “investigated”, (no charges were filed because she abandoned the property mid investigation), they found one elderly volunteer for up to 40 horses, insufficient access to feed and water, and improperly-disposed-of horse carcasses. Law enforcement bought her “I’m a rescuer” excuse for her horsey haven looking like an equine Auschwitz; but owners started comparing stories and realizing all her dramatic excuses repeated over and over again, were part of her criminal business model. 

When you have no pesky expenses such as feed, hay, supplements, farrier and veterinary care, the monthly fee your customers pay for hub and quarantine (including extra for the swanky stuff they never get) goes right to profit.

When  Swingin’ D takes in a relatively healthy horse, we plan to spend a minimum of $1,500 during its quarantine and rehabilitation. Because fundraising is nearly impossible, that money comes out of our own pockets. This woman was making a minimum of $7,500 a month for basically hoarding and starving horses – all in the name of rescue – while collecting donations from eager supporters who lapped up her dramatic sob stories. 

Even more shocking than learning about this woman’s no-expense business model, was learning she was far from the only – or worst – criminal calling herself a horse rescuer.

Horse hoarding is not rescue

I could very easily become a horse hoarder. I get so close to our horses through the rehabilitation process, I have a terrible time letting them go. Thankfully, I have a a pasture Nazi husband who keeps me ever mindful that 23 acres of dirt created by too many chomping teeth and pounding feet, is 23 useless acres to a horse rescue.

That’s just one of the lessons we had to teach ourselves when we decided to start calling ourselves rescuers. There are many more. The point is, we’re learning them.

Lesson #1: You can’t just stick a horse on a lush pasture and call it good. Every horse requires routine care that a novice doesn’t consider in their horse dreams. At the risk of sounding like Captain Obvious, routine care begins with the ability to catch, halter and tie the horse. Not only that, but the horse has to stand, calm and patient enough to be handled. Horses saved from abusive, chaotic circumstances don’t want to be caught, don’t want to be handled, and don’t want routine care. And who can blame them? Some of that routine care is downright unpleasant and inconvenient – not to mention expensive.

Skip this part if you're easily offended

(Also skip the part where you call yourself a horse rescuer if you're offended)

Shortly after I got my first horse (a mare) I started dreaming about saving all the horses in the world from slaughter. I probably would have thought twice about my dreams if someone had told me about sheath cleaning.

Wait…You want me to grab what and do what? And then you want me to stick my finger where? No, no, no, no, no. Huh-uh. No.

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But how was I ever going to call myself a horse rescuer if I wasn’t willing to grab my horses by the *–%* and give ’em a good scrub (or at least pay someone to do it)?

But wait! There’s more! I also had to be willing to stick my finger in places fingers should never go, in order to make sure there’s nothing hiding in the far recesses of his junk. Do hoarders do that? Not if they haven’t even gotten past the catching part.

And speaking of things your horse doesn’t want you to touch, horses also need their hooves examined and cleaned regularly (daily, if possible), and trimmed or shod every 6 to 8 weeks. 

Imagine some stranger walking up, grabbing your foot and yanking, sawing and grinding on your toenails. It would probably take a little prep, huh? The same is true for horses. They have to be desensitized and trained to allow their feet to be touched – let alone manipulated. Do hoarders do that?

But hoof care is not optional, and inexperience is no excuse. Failure to provide routine hoof care is animal abuse, whether you know how to do it or not.

Horse Rescue - more than a title

Rescue is so much more than providing a pasture for horses to graze. It’s more than giving yourself a title. In addition to the health of their feet and private parts, horses need routine vaccinations, dental care, cleaning and grooming. They need stability and training and work to stay fit and useful.

I’m all for making horse rescue a big tent. We need all the rescuers we can get. It’s just important for potential donors to understand the difference between rescuers as they decide where to invest their donations.