The other day I read a story that reduced me to tears almost instantly. It was a post on the Facebook page of Shiloh Acres Horse Rescue about pulling nine pregnant mares off a feedlot the day before they were due to be sent to slaughter. As a breeder, I can’t fathom how someone would choose to breed one of their mares and then let them end up in such a horrible situation just a few weeks before they go through the very demanding act of giving birth. It just doesn’t make sense to me, but there it is.
As if that part of the story weren’t enough, the real tear jerker was Amber Herrell’s telling of helping an aged mare die with dignity. Amber is a stronger woman than I am. Her story alone made me a basket case, yet here she was doing not only the physically demanding work of relocating nine pregnant horses (fourteen total horses that day), but also the emotionally challenging work of deciding which horses most needed what she can provide and which horses had to be left behind. I marvel at Amber’s ability to do the caring work she does week in and week out. While I might be up to the physical part of her job, Amber definitely has emotional strength that I can’t even touch.
I’ve encountered other rescue managers, and anger seems to be a motivator for them. I find that anger, because it’s directed at people, to be a real turn off. Yes, people may be the reason horses end up bound for slaughter – they may be the problem – but they’re also a huge part of the solution, so I don’t see a need to antagonize potential collaborators. Amber really stands out for me because it’s her love of horses that comes through in her communications.
I firmly believe that there is a horse overpopulation problem in this country (you might be interested in my article “Too Many Horses,” commissioned by and published in Rural Heritage magazine in 2011.) Being a breeder requires me to make peace with bringing more equines into the world when I know there are already too many. For me, though, it’s more than a personal and private job of making peace with myself; I think breeders also have a public responsibility to recognize the horse overpopulation problem and take mitigating actions accordingly.
What those mitigating actions are, of course, will be unique to each of our situations. Responsible breeding is undoubtedly a big part of the solution, and that topic does get some attention. I have written and shared a number of articles related to this topic over the years; unfortunately surprisingly few have ever been requested off my website.
Another small thing that I do is to make a donation to Shiloh Acres Horse Rescue every time I sell a pony or sell a stallion service. I recognize that not every breeder can establish a relationship with a rescue; if I hadn’t met Amber and come to appreciate her approach, I couldn’t support her work. Every month, though, it’s clear to me that she’s a stronger woman than I am and deserving of any support I can give her.
I just discovered a page on the Shiloh Acres website that I hadn’t seen on previous visits: before and after pictures of rescued horses. I had seen some of the pictures before, most notably of ponies whose feet were in horrid condition when they arrived at Shiloh Acres. The page is testimony to the good work Amber does at Shiloh Acres and hopefully is representative of good work done across the world at similar places. I suspect that those similar places are also staffed with people like Amber who are stronger than I am. They have my profound appreciation.
© Jenifer Morrissey, 2013