A Second Chance at Life
"The Underdog's Last Hope." That is what Wayward Ranch was founded to be. We wanted to seek out the local animals who needed us the most and provide them with the individualized medical and behavioral care they needed to be ready for adoption and a new life. While we began our rescue by saving exclusively dogs and cats, over the years we have branched out to save many more species, including horses.
Horses are viewed differently in our culture than any other domesticated species of animal. They are our partners, working alongside people of all walks of life. There are horses all across the world who are competing alongside their owners in equine sports or doing heavy manual labor alongside farmers. They are a primary source of income for many businesses, such as lesson barns, riding camps, and dude ranches. They are also viewed as investment opportunities. If you purchase a young and inexperienced horse for a low price and are able to train well, you may be able to sell them for double, triple, of sometimes ten times what you originally paid for them, if not more.
Most horses go through several homes throughout their lives. Depending on their age and experience level they may be an appropriate horse for their owner for just a few years at a time before being resold and replaced with a new horse. If they are healthy and useable for work, they will likely find a new home, but what happens when a horse becomes injured or too old for regular work, and they need to be retired?
Horses are very expensive to care for properly. They require regular medical care including vaccines and tooth care, regular farrier care, quality hay, feed, and exercise. What happens when a family loves their horse but is no longer able to financially afford to care for them? They likely will first try to put them up for sale, but what happens if they can't afford to keep them long enough to find a buyer?
When horses, whether or not they have behavioral or medical special needs or not, are unable to be sold by their owner for a profit, most end up at local livestock auctions. These auctions are frequented by riding camps looking for cheap horses to use for the season, horse dealers looking for horses that they can quickly resell for a profit, and "kill pen buyers." None of these options are particularly fair to the horse. Some summer camp programs purchase a group of horses for the season, only to overuse them and then dump them back at auction when the season is over, rather than paying to feed and care for them through the winter months. Horse dealers may pass the horses across the country from one auction to another. This exposes them to contagious diseases and increases their chances of being injured in transport or winding up with a sadder fate. The kill pen buyers ship the horses they purchase either to Canada or Mexico to be slaughtered for meat. While this is a rare occurrence at this time in our country, it is still estimated that in 2018, 18,919 horses were sent to Mexico and 3,105 horses were sent to Canada for slaughter (https://www.equinewelfarealliance.org/). Many owners bringing their horses to auction are hopeful they will find a loving home there, especially if they arrive in good condition. Sometimes they will even ride their horses through the auction, showing off what training they have; other families will braid their horses' manes to make them look loved and ready for a new family. Sadly, 92.3% of the horses that end up at slaughter houses are the healthy horses (https://awionline.org/). The kill pen buyers can make the most money selling these healthy horses to the slaughter houses.
Our Second Life Equine Program seeks to help local horses in two ways. The first is to intercept horses at risk of ending up at auction and instead bring them into our rescue. This stops them from being exposed to the contagious diseases that are present in many auction horses, and takes away the risk that they may end up in an abusive situation or going to slaughter. The second is to attend these livestock horse auctions whenever possible to save horses, donkeys, mules and ponies from unknown, and potentially heartbreaking fates. We can only save a few at a time, just a drop in the bucket, but for those animals it is worth it to know they will never be in danger again. We call this program "Second Life" because many of these animals are in need of a new home or brought to auction because they are no longer considered useful. We can create an individualized training program to help them discover their new life's purpose, whether that is as a therapy horse, a riding horse, a driving horse, or just a companion horse. There is a home for every horse and each deserves the chance to find that!
Orion is one horse that we purchased at a local livestock auction for just $120. He was very likely bound for slaughter, as he was completely healthy and at a great weight, except he was blind. Although at one time he was clearly used as a work horse, Orion became useless to his owner when he developed early onset cataracts. When we saw this beautiful horse being walked onto the auction floor, we immediately noticed his sky blue pupils, realized he was blind and knew how terrified he must be in the situation. At just eleven years old, he had so much potential and life left to live, we couldn't let him lose that chance.
Orion has been with us now for over a year, and is completely different from the terrified horse we first met in February of 2018. For the first week, we had to sedate him just to walk him from his stall to his field for turnout. We had him share a stall with a Shetland pony we rescued from the same auction and he quickly learned to rely on her to show him where the food, water, and grass all were. His confidence began to grow, and as long as he knew where Libra was, he felt confident. About six months later, we decided to separate Orion and Libra. Although he was brave when she was around, the moment they were apart, even for a moment, he would panic and it became dangerous to handle him in those moments. Libra was adopted out and we began to focus on working on building up Orion's confidence and independence.
Orion has been in a training program for the past few weeks and has made a lot of progress! Our trainer is working on desensitizing him to sounds while being ridden in our indoor ring. He is doing well and we are excited to see him continue to improve over the next few months. Our hope is to find Orion a home that will either spoil him as a companion horse, or continue his training under saddle. He genuinely enjoys the work and being ridden, and while it may take a long time for the right home to come along for him, we are thrilled we have been able to give him a second chance at a new life.
Montana is another example of a horse rescued by our Second Life Equine Program. Montana was born into the racing industry and won almost $300,000 in her racing career under the name Money Game. She is a large, well built mare, and come off the track last year, she entered a breeding program. Once again, humans were looking at her simply as a way to make money. Mo had other plans, and refused to be bred. The breeders attempted to use force, but when they realized she would not accept being bred no matter what, she became useless to them. She very likely would have ended up at a livestock auction, but we stepped in to give her a safe place to land.
Horses coming off the track have been used their whole lives. They are broke to ride way too young, before they are even fully grown or developed. The pressure on their joints at that young of an age can cripple them. They are not allowed to properly socialize with other horses as they grow up so they lack basic equine communication skills. They are manhandled and forced into baths, veterinary exams, etc their whole lives. Montana has deep scars in her nose from a twitch being used abusively, something we have not seen before. Her legs and back are painful, and she will need a lot of time to both behaviorally and medically recover from her life. At just nine years old, she still has so much life ahead of her, and we are confident that she will find a home to treasure her for the first time in her life. She has just begun her second chance at life and we will keep you posted as she continues to improve!
If you would like to learn more or donate to support our Second Life Equine Program, please visit: https://www.waywardranch.org/copy-of-new-page-1