When a deadly earthquake struck Haiti in 2010, and Hurricane Katrina hit Louisiana seven years ago, humans weren't the only creatures in distress.
Countless horses and other animals also needed help, and emergency teams from the Woodbine-based Days End Farm Horse Rescue came to their aid.
The 58-acre farm in Woodbine, established in 1989, has carved out an international reputation for its work training first responders, animal control officers, farmers and others, like 14-year-old Nicole Burgos of Gaithersburg.
On Saturday, Nicole sat in on a class by emergency services director Brooke Vrany, learning how to rescue injured and panicked horses, cattle and other large animals. Her goal was to prepare for a summer job watching her neighbors' two horses while the family is on vacation.
Given that horses are prey in the animal kingdom — unlike predators such as dogs and cats — and prone to flight when they're spooked, Nicole said Vrany's lesson on how to approach a scared horse is advice she can use.
"Give them some space," Nicole said, and approach from the side or pat the horse on its hind end.
About 15 participated in the seven-hour class, which included information on how to rescue a horse that's fallen in a ditch or ravine, capture one that's gotten loose or recover a cow stuck in mud, said Vrany, director of emergency service for the rescue.
"It saves the lives of animals," Vrany said.
In a nearby pasture stood Zodiac, the sickest horse the rescue has treated in its 23-year history, said Carolina R. Robertson, the group's development director. Zodiac is awaiting an adoption scheduled for early May. He is one of about 80 horses being rehabilitated and trained at the farm, which has capacity for up to 90 horses. The group takes rescues from Maryland, Washington, Virginia and West Virginia as well as Delaware and Pennsylvania.
Zodiac was emaciated in September 2010 when he was rescued from a facility in Berkeley County, W.Va., after he had been retired from a racing career. The 8- or 9-year-old horse, a chestnut-colored thoroughbred gelding, raced under the name Rhythmic Moves, Robertson said.
The horse had a displaced colon, wounds on his joints and eye ulcers, in addition to other ailments, and needed around-the-clock monitoring. He had been surviving on whatever he could find to eat, including blue stone that covered the ground where he had laid down and couldn't get back up, Robertson said.
Zodiac was one of eight horses sent from the West Virginia rescue facility after being seized by animal rescue workers for neglect. One of the horses had to be euthanized.
Treatment for horses is about $2,500 for the first month, and the costs gradually decrease in subsequent months, Robertson said. The group's budget is $1.5 million a year, funded by donations, grants and program revenue.
About 1,500 volunteers keep the farm operating, according to Robertson. The volunteers do nearly everything, including cleaning the barns, feeding the horses and offering professional services, such as graphic design.
Karen Brooks of Washington stopped by the farm Saturday with bags of supplies to visit and groom an abandoned horse that she plans to adopt next month and name Rinjani, after a volcano in Indonesia.
Brooks, who runs a private equity fund that focuses on Asian investments, said she rode horses when she was younger and recently read an article about how the economic downturn has affected retired race horses. She decided she wanted to help, and also intends to adopt a companion for Rinjani.
"They come in here sometimes close to death and they are rehabilitated into spectacular animals," Brooks said.
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