Maryland Horse Rescue is in the process of moving more than 30 horses from Mount Airy to a 50-acre farm of rolling hills and grassy pastures nestled between Westminster and Taneytown.
The nonprofit cares for horses and ponies of all ages and conditions, specializing in the care of blind equines, according to executive director Melanie Biemiller. Maryland Horse Rescue is run by volunteers, one of whom is the reason for the move.
Catherine Myers has been volunteering with the horse rescue for about 10 years and, in September, bought a farm outside Westminster with the intent of leasing most of the land to the nonprofit.
“This became available and it’s the right thing to do,” Myers said on a rainy recent morning at the farm.
Myers said goodbye to her home in New Windsor and is living in a house on the property.
She has promised not to raise Maryland Horse Rescue’s rent, and the land will go to the rescue after she dies.
Biemiller said this change will save the rescue money in the long run. She also takes comfort in knowing Myers is only a few steps away from the horses and is more invested in their well-being than the average landlord waiting for a rent check, Biemiller said.
“We did it so the horses would have a better life,” Biemiller said.
Maryland Horse Rescue started moving its horses nearly a month ago and has 11 at the new site as of Tuesday, according to Biemiller. The land was used as a farm in the past, and much of the infrastructure needed to care for horses was already in place when Myers bought the land, Biemiller said.
Nevertheless, there has been and continues to be work done to prepare for these special horses, such as building more shelters and repairing fencing. The blind herd, consisting of eight horses and ponies, will be moved to Westminster later this month, according to Biemiller. To accommodate their needs, wooden rails were added to the top of the wire fencing so the equines can learn their boundaries without hitting the wires, Biemiller pointed out.
Volunteers will lead the blind herd around the pasture one at a time, tapping on the wooden railing so the horses can learn where the fence stands, according to Biemiller. Volunteers will also lead the horses to the shelter, water, and hay. After a few tries, the horses learn the boundaries and landmarks of their new home in one or two days, Biemiller said.
One of the horses that came with a blind friend used to work for a state prison in Texas. Star, named for the five-pointed star branded above her left front leg, was one of more than 100 horses seized from an alleged animal cruelty situation on a Texas farm earlier this year, according to Biemiller. After Star finished her career at the state prison, likely serving as a ride for guards watching over prisoners, she was auctioned off and eventually ended up in the care of person who has now been accused of animal cruelty, Biemiller said.
When Biemiller learned of the situation in Texas, she offered to take blind horses from the herd, fearing they would be euthanized. One of them was bonded with Star, so she came too.
Star is not just unique for her rescue story, however. She has a physical feature that stands out.
One a gray morning at the Westminster farm, Biemiller approached a small pasture and called to Star. The mare trudged through the rain and leaned over the railing for a few pats from Biemiller. Each breath Star took produced an audible gush of air from her open trachea.
Biemiller said Star came to them like this, and she’s not sure why. Like people, horses have open tracheas for various health-related reasons, Biemiller said. Star is able to live a healthy life, she just needs a little help keeping the hole in her throat clean, according to Biemiller.
Maryland Horse Rescue cares for horses like Star no matter their life expectancy.
Biemiller and Myers reminisced about the rescue horses they’ve lost over the years. Many of the horses they receive are surrendered by their owners once they can no longer perform or work, Biemiller said, and sometimes they come to the rescue in a sorry state. Sometimes, they live for only a few weeks.
But whether a horse has days, months, or years left to live, Maryland Horse Rescue will take them as long as the nonprofit has the financial means and volunteer support, according to Biemiller.
“There’s always one of us there to hold their head as they take their last breath,” Biemiller said.
While she estimates the horse rescue has about 60 volunteers, Biemiller expects to lose about one-third of them to the move. Many volunteers live in Frederick County and may not want to travel all the way to Westminster, Biemiller said. She hopes the new community they’ve planted themselves in will come to their rescue.
Volunteers are needed for just about any job, Biemiller said, and volunteers don’t need to be horse experts. They need people to muck stalls, bring the horses in, clean feed buckets, repair fences, and move heavy supplies, according to Biemiller. One of the daunting tasks facing Biemiller is moving bulky mats into the stalls of a newly renovated barn. They weigh about 70 pounds and require several people to move due to their width, she said. Biemiller half-joked that a local football team would be just the folks for the job.
Said Biemiller: “It’s all for the love of the animals.”