On a windy day under blue skies, runners poured into Gentle Giants Horse Rescue just outside of Mount Airy for the spring 5K race, Thundering Hooves.
Volunteer Paul Clymer waited for the first runners to come in.
“This is a lovely place to come and help take care of these beautiful fur-babies,” he said of the 100-acre facility that nurses draft horses back to health. “Every single one of them has a personality and a story. I love coming here once a week to get to know them. I’ve become especially attached to one of them named Aries, and now I sponsor him.”
Christine Hajek, president and founder of Gentle Giants said they are easy to love.
“I started Gentle Giants as a hobby of rescuing just a few horses here and there,” she said. “By 2005 it had grown into multiple horses at one time and Gentle Giants was incorporated. Our biannual 5K's are a great opportunity for the public to come out and see these amazing horses and the gorgeous rolling countryside that is the rescue.
“It's a unique opportunity to run — or mosey — alongside over 100 heavy horses. Following the 5K, we have an equine exposition where our rescued horses display their varied talents and uses with jumping shows, drill team performances, and, if you are really lucky, you get to see our mounted archery team.”
As the wind blew and horses galloped along the fence at the top of the hill, runner Scott Spears was the first to finish.
“I like that this is a real cross-country course, not on pavement,” he said, noting that it was his third time to run it. “The good thing about [running] by yourself is that the horses tend to run with you. They’re startled and they take off running. It’s really cool!”
Fifteen-year-old, Sarah Frazin was the first girl in. It took a few moments for Frazin, who has asthma, to catch her breath.
“I love horses,” she said of why she had come. “They are very therapeutic. “It was fun to see them in the fields while running.”
Wade Blair was there with his wife, Hisaho. He’s a regular runner. She’s a sometime runner, but she chose to participate in this one.
“It was about getting out, seeing the horses and supporting the rescue,” she said.
“We like to support animals,” he said. “A couple of the horses ran with me and that was pretty cool. The scenery was beautiful.”
Friends of Clymer had come from New Jersey to volunteer.
“I’ve always had an interest in horses and have been around them pretty much most of my life,” Pat Daniels said. “So, we came. To me, all horses are wonderful.”
Ross Caldwell, also from New Jersey, waited for his wife to come in.
“We follow the rescue online and she is dabbling in 5Ks,” he said. “We’ve have had draft horses and thought it would be fun.”
Within minutes, his wife, Judy jogged across the finish line.
“I wanted to see the horses and the property,” she said. “When you get to the top and you are looking down it is so picturesque, just gorgeous. The horses came and ran alongside us. I think they were trying to decide if someone was going to give them some treats. I stopped to take pictures.”
The Caldwells spoke of the draft horse they have at home.
“They are so loving and calming,” she said. “We’ve had our easy-going 17-year-old Percheron since he was a 4-year-old. They are easy to love, and they love you, too.”
As runners streamed over the finish line, 7-year-olds, Hanna Choi and Eli Osten took a banana from the treat bowl, waiting for their moms to cross the finish line.
“Hannah brought us here,” Eli’s mom, Joslyn Osten said. “She loves horses. We happened to see it on Facebook and conspired to do it.”
Hannah’s mom, Kelley Choi said it was Hannah’s first race, but she did it for the horses.
“We are always finding horses on the drive and looking for horses. It’s a Hannah thing that has become a family thing,” she said.
“Horses are so cute! My favorite part was petting them,” she said. “But I also love unicorns.” Then, she neighed like a horse.
Rescue volunteer and runner, Gary Horsmon of Towson didn’t neigh, but he clearly felt the same.
“This is great because you get to see all the horses. It’s awesome when the ones you know and feed run beside you,” he said. “One named Sailor was leading the whole pack in his field. He’s a black with a big white moon in the center of his forehead. Every one of them has a different personality.”
Hajek spoke of the difference Gentle Giants makes. She spoke of Deacon, a nearly starved draft horse rescued from a public auction where he was being sold for slaughter.
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“After working his life pulling the plow for Amish farmers, he was used up until he was literally nothing more than skin and bones. At that point, he was sold off for what little money could be gotten for his meat,” she said. “He was so desperately emaciated, guarded his food, and avoided any human touch. Now, he is enjoying life, in training, and has completely changed his opinion of humans.”