To find sanctuary in a chaotic world is to find a place of refuge and safety.  All animals are deserving of this right; a right to freedom and tranquility.  Society has taught us differently, however. It has taught us that certain animals are to be utilized for our own purposes – used like machinery and tossed aside, broken, when they no longer meet our needs or make a profit.

The good news is that the world is ever changing and evolving.  There is a greater awareness regarding animal welfare, especially towards farmed animals and horses.  This is apparent in the increased number of farm sanctuaries around the country and world. The rise in these compassionate facilities shows us that there are many positive steps being made in the right direction.  Hope for a better future.

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Expendable Horses

Walking through the barns of a local riding stable recently, I had the distinct feeling of being in a zoo.  Horse after horse peered out from behind the bars, confined to stalls, separate from their companions.  They seemed to be waiting, hoping that they were next to brought out.  In contrast, the large grassy paddocks appeared vacant with only a scattering of horses.

It is not to say that these horses are not well cared for and loved. It is generally well accepted that horses are meant to be ridden and used for our own purposes – whether it is in the form of riding, racing, pulling carriages or working in the fields.  I grew up thinking all horses enjoy that lifestyle and had the desire to “work.”  I had no concept, no understanding that the horse world is, in fact, a cruel and competitive one, oblivious to the idea that horses are sent to slaughter instead of retiring gracefully.

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There are nearly 100,000 of horses discarded every year in North America – considered to be replaceable and expendable.  The horse that was once loved by a little girl, no longer fit enough to carry on a riding career; the elderly horse that develops an illness, no longer worth looking after, as the costs are too high; or the horse deemed “unrideable,” no longer of any use to their human companion. The majority will find themselves in auction houses and ultimately in the slaughter pipeline.  Some will be moved from home after home, never finding their happy ending.  A handful saved by kind-hearted people and placed in loving homes.  My eyes were opened when I stepped into the horse rescue world and looked past all the tack, rules and restrictions to see a gentle, soulful animal starring back at me.

A Breath of Fresh Air

If you have had the chance to visit a well-established and respected farm sanctuary, then you will have experienced true peace.  These safe havens only exist for one purpose and one purpose only – to provide the best quality of life for the animals in their care.  It is not about humans and their needs.  It is simply about the animals.  Most are home to farm animals such as cows, pigs and chickens – those that were saved from suffering a cruel fate of slaughter.  Others pulled from situations of extreme and horrific abuse.  They are given a chance to feel the ground beneath their feet, to breathe fresh air and to see the sunshine.  Some of the larger, well-known sanctuaries include Farm Sanctuary in the United States; Edgar’s Mission in Australia; and Happily Ever Esther Farm Sanctuary in Canada.

Spending time in the presence of these loving animals is a therapeutic experience.  The distinguishing feature of a sanctuary is the residents are in their forever home – they will not be bounced from home to home or placed in strange environments causing unnecessary stress.  Their past forgotten, they are asked only to live in the present.  Sanctuaries are in essence a home for the unwanted and neglected.

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Initially, one might not think that a sanctuary environment is suitable for horses.  Horses are highly social and herd-bound animals.  They thrive when allowed to live with other horses, forming strong bonds and relationships as they do in the wild. However, increasingly, these sort of bonds are developing in sanctuaries as more horses are surrendered to their care.

Lady and Eva

Meet two elderly horses, both saved from going to slaughter, both dumped by their previous owners for unknown reasons and both found their way into Penny Land Sanctuary.  After a period of time, Eva was moved to a wonderful long-term foster home.  She was well cared for a loved for almost two years.  Sadly, her companion horse passed away of old age and Eva was brought back home.

As with all introductions, Eva was initially placed in an area separate from the other horses.  Every day, Lady would come over and stand as close to Eva’s paddock as possible.  The two cried out for each other and would not stray far.  When the time came to move Eva back into the herd, Lady was there waiting.  It was a reunion like no other.  To say animals have no feelings is to be living with eyes closed.

Lady and Eva were overjoyed to be back together, their bond stronger than it had ever been before.  They would spend all of their time walking the paddock together, sleeping side-by-side and constantly grooming each other – like old friends together again.  They remain inseparable.  They live with three other rescue mares and receive the utmost care and attention from the sanctuary staff and volunteers.  They are not asked to entertain anyone – free to live their lives in peace and comfort.  Lady and Eva will remain at the sanctuary for the rest of their lives, knowing nothing but love and understanding.

And in the End…

If only all animals were given a chance to end their days safe and protected from the cruelties of the world, it would be a better place.   Animals are not ours to use.  They are living, breathing creatures with the same hopes and fears we possess.  Horses are no exception.  Take a moment out of your busy day to visit a sanctuary and connect with the animals.  It will change your outlook as it did mine.

When I look into the eyes of an animal I do not see an animal.  I see a living being. 

I see a friend.  I feel a soul.”

A.D. Williams