By Valerie LK Martin
CHILLICOTHE — Most people cannot imagine harming animals, especially those with whom they share homes. Yet, it happens all too often.
Horse mistreatment is no different. Most owners of horses are attracted to their special traits and will do all they can for their equine friends. Some neglected animals are loved, but the owners have difficulty caring for them. The worst cases involve horses that are cruelly treated on purpose.
According to the Equine Rescue Network, “The existing rescue facilities (in the United States) have the capacity to manage only 13 percent of the current population of the unwanted horses (Hollcom & Stull, 2010). There are hundreds of equine rescue organizations in this country, most are overwhelmed with horses and dangerously underfunded.”
While this estimate is five years old, the problem has not improved greatly in that time, according to those who do the rescue work. Many rescues are at capacity and must turn away horses in need.
In Ohio, there are approximately 40 organizations that label themselves as rescues. Many farms are willing to take horses, too, but this is mostly on a case-by-case basis. Two of these rescue organizations are less than five miles apart in Ross County, and the owners are friends.
Christina Bennett, a life-long horse lover, runs Triple B Ranch Horse Rescue and Rehabilitation. Triple B began in 2004 when a Pickaway County humane officer approached Christina about helping with seven horses being taken from a neglect situation.
Bennett said, “We ended up with the horses and nursed ’em.”
Having been involved in the therapeutic use of horses and 4-H for a number of years, this was a natural progression.
Bennett was also a prison guard for 19 years. She has a heart for people trying to rebuild their lives, and those struggling to overcome difficulties or disabilities. This passion has combined with her love of horses. She runs youth programs, including work with autistic children, and will work with individuals.
She said, “I would love to see horse programs in our prisons. Working with them can do wonders.”
In a sense, Bennett says the horses and the people help each other.
To that end, Triple B has several ranch hands everyday from Alvis House in Chillicothe. Alvis House manages a re-entry home for non-violent offenders, most of whom are required to serve community service hours.
Down the road, at Lost Acres Horse Rescue and Rehabilitation, you can find Sissy Burggraf. She has been helping horses for 21 years. She worked for a veterinarian who did cruelty cases and decided to take her own action. The ones that tore at her heart the most were the cases that no one else wanted to tackle.
“We specialize in blind horses,” said Burggraf. “A horse with special needs is (extra special) to us.”
With 46 equines on site, Lost Acres is a busy place. They have two barns full and a waiting list for new residents.
Burggraf no longer rehomes horses. She had several bad experiences with people adopting to resell.
Because she no longer adopts out, Lost Acres is not taking new residents at this time. The beautiful property is the last home for the lucky horses that live there. Burggraf estimates she has refused 2,400 horses in the last seven years.
“The need for good homes seems to be growing,” Burggraf said. “I wish I could help more, but there are simply not enough resources.”
By resources, Burggraf means not only money, but also helpers. She has had many volunteers, and once ran a program for kids with a horse interest but no access. They “sponsored” a horse and took care of it. The young people came to the farm every day and learned about equine care.
Triple B is still accepting horses, and Bennett has a no-questions-asked policy. If someone can no longer care for their horse, no matter the condition, she will take them in and do what she can. She is currently working with Noble County officials on a nine-horse rescue.
The ranch tries to re-home horses once they are healthy, but a few come back or stay for the rest of their lives.
All of this work takes money. Both organizations are nonprofit organizations and accept donations. Bennett said grant money usually gets sent to the retiring racehorse organizations. The small operations like hers and Burggraf’s rely on individual donations.
Despite the struggle for funding, both women are determined to keep helping the horses. They are simply in love with these big-eyed creatures.
When asked why horses are special, both women get emotional. Both said they are a lot like dogs, needing companionship and attachments, and with unique personalities. Bennett also said they can be trained for scent trailing, and they know if someone is ill. She has seen them become very gentle with small kids or those with special needs.
“People underestimate them,” Bennett said.
“They are fighters,” Burggraf said. “They are noble, graceful and have a will to live … They are grateful and hold no grudges.”
VALERIE LK MARTIN
Valerie has a varied background in fundraising, public relations, teaching and freelance writing. She also holds a master’s of divinity and is an ordained chaplain. Valerie has stepped foot in 25 countries, jumped out of an airplane, twice been electrocuted by lightning and once slept in a train car with 12 strangers. She lives in Oregonia with her husband, Tom, Sadie the Lab and kitties, George Herbert and BeBe. She can be reached at [email protected]