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Rescue Program A Two-Way Street At Zoar Ridge Stables



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Rescue Program A Two-Way Street At Zoar Ridge Stables

By Nancy K. Crevier

The Sandy Hook Zoar Ridge Stables’ horse rescue program made national news this past winter when a mare, recovered from a New Jersey kill pen, was reunited through the stable’s Facebook page with her original owner. But as a former veterinarian technician for the Humane Society of Westport and a lifelong horsewoman, Zoar Ridge Stables’ owner Annette Sullivan has made horse rescue a part of the learning experience for students at her stable, since it was founded 20 years ago.

“Once I got involved with the horse community in Newtown I saw that there was a big need for boarding. My stable just grew and evolved according to demand. But when you are in the equine industry, the hardship cases come knocking,” Sullivan said.

There are many horses in need of rescue. Some are given up when owners are no longer able to care for them, a more and more common reason in the poor economy, others are in abusive situations, and others are no longer a viable business proposition and are auctioned off or sold to slaughterhouses. Overpopulation in the horse world is another cause of horses ending up at auction or the kill pens, she said. Even major stables end up bringing young horses to auction, due to an inability to sell them. “One-third of the horses that go to auction are actually thoroughbreds,” Sullivan said.

“We make videos of all of our rescue horses, to help get them adopted. I try to make it very clear to the kids at this barn that horses are not disposable. If a rider wants to ‘move up’ to another horse, I try to get across to them ‘what happens to the older horse?’ A horse can be a 30-year commitment. The ones that end up at auction are often very good horses. It’s not always a good ending,” Sullivan said. In just the past three years, Zoar Ridge Stables has placed a dozen rescues with permanent homes, which is the goal.

Until 2010, most of the one or two horses a year that she took under her wing came to her attention through connections with local animal control officers, or were horses being disposed of following a summer as camp horses and could be utilized as lesson horses, and adopted out. “I had parameters,” she said. She still has parameters that center around health and safety. Saying “no” to a request to take in a horse is the hardest part of being involved in horse rescue, she said.

“We owe that to our boarders and the horses here,” she said. “Any rescue horse I take in is quarantined for 30 days, off site, and then rehabbed for adoption. Our biggest issue if behavioral — no biters, no kickers. The safety of our business and farm comes first when I consider taking in a rescue,” she stressed.

On November 14, 2010, though, the Sullivan family and farm experienced a devastating fire that eventually put a slightly different spin on the horse rescue program at Zoar Ridge Stables. A fire that started in a golf cart in the garaged burned their home, on the farm property, to the ground. “It is a trauma, and humbling, to lose every material thing you have. But this town embraced us. Love lifts you back up,” said Sullivan. Keeping in mind the safety at her stable, she decided to let love lift up rescue horses that she previously may have turned away, those that are considered hardship cases.

“Emotionally, this was something that we did as a sort of healing project for ourselves,” she said. “Losing everything was like having the foundation knocked out from under us, and we could not believe how much support we received from townspeople, and from the equine community here. It has been healing for us to help these horses,” Sullivan said.

Grace, the first hardship case, came to Zoar Ridge Stables in February of 2011. The mare was from a breeding farm full of starving animals. “She was the worst we ever had,” recalled Sullivan. On a scale of one to ten used by animal control officers to rate the starvation level, “Grace was a one. We honestly didn’t think she would live,” she said. But after months of building her back up, Grace found a home with a Zoar Ridge Stables student last June.

Taking in rescue horses is not an inexpensive proposition for Zoar Ridge Stables. Vaccinations, farrier costs, and dental work run $300 to $400 per horse, once the animal comes out of quarantine — which can cost the farm several hundred dollars. Ongoing costs of feeding and housing the horses are incurred, and if an animal has a chronic but treatable condition, there may be extensive veterinarian costs, as well, before the horse can be adopted out.

The equine community has come forward to support the program, fostering some horses, and donating blankets, equipment, and even supplements, said Sullivan. She counts on volunteers, as well, to do daily tasks, such as cleaning the paddocks, grooming, and socializing horses, without which they will not become adoptable. (Interested adult volunteers, preferably with some horse experience, may contact Sullivan at zoarridge@sbcglobal.net.)

Naomi is a horse with enormous needs taken in by Zoar Ridge Stables. Rescued in March 2011 from an auction in New Jersey, Naomi was several months pregnant and suffering from pneumonia. Because Sullivan has a birthing barn on her farm, and because as a former breeder she had experience with birthing a horse, Zoar Ridge Stables was contacted to take on Naomi’s care.

“She was almost full term for foaling when she came here after quarantine, and she was still so sick with pneumonia. We had to give her nasal feeding and electrolytes to keep her going,” recalled Sullivan. The mare could easily have “crashed” — laid down and died — at any moment from the stresses of pregnancy and illness. “But she never gave up, so we didn’t give up,” said Sullivan.

She is grateful to all who donated through a Facebook fundraiser to support the mare, and once again to the support of the Newtown equine community for its help.

“Naomi made it. She held on to the pregnancy,” she said.

In May 2011, she gave birth to a colt, Dobby. Both mother and son are healthy now. Naomi will be available for adoption after this June. Dobby, who was recently gelded, will undergo basic training and be put up for adoption next year.

Social networks have assisted horse rescue programs immensely, said Sullivan. Her own rescue horses are videoed by her students and can be viewed on YouTube, under Zoar Ridge Stables. People are much more aware now that it is possible to adopt a horse.

“If you are not looking for a super athlete, if you’re looking for a pleasure horse, one is absolutely available through rescue groups,” she said. Adopting through a rescue group has benefits, particularly for someone not experienced at auctions, Sullivan added. “Rescue groups can evaluate a horse, so you can be relatively sure you are getting a horse on which you have some background, and they provide professional assistance [to make sure a good match is made].”

It is heartwarming to help horses in need, but a rescue horse is not the ideal horse for everyone. “You should have some horse knowledge first. A rescue horse,” she emphasized, “should not be a first horse.”

The Zoar Ridge Stables’ horse rescue program continues to turn tragedy into triumph. “But that program is just one aspect of our whole program here. There are many horse rescue programs in our area,” Sullivan said, and she is happy to direct anyone seeking to adopt to the appropriate program, if her horses are not a good fit.

“We are just happy to be able to help,” she said.

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