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Days End Farm: Saving abused horses for 30 years in Howard County

Days End Farm Horse Rescue is celebrating its 30th anniversary on April 6, 2019. (Barbara Haddock Taylor, Baltimore Sun video)

It started in 1989, when a compassionate woman glimpsed a buckskin gelding suffering from obvious neglect and decided to give the animal a second chance at life in her own backyard.

Now — after that single act of kindness shown to the horse named Toby paved the way to saving more than 2,300 abused horses over the decades — Days End Farm Horse Rescue is celebrating its 30th anniversary as a rescue, rehabilitation and education operation in Woodbine.

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To mark the milestone and raise funds, the Horse Rescue Gala is planned for 6 p.m. April 6 at Laurel Park with cocktails, hors d’oeuvres and a silent auction. WJZ-TV news anchor Denise Koch will emcee.

The nationally and internationally known rescue on 58 acres, which has a $2.2 million annual budget, continues to defy the odds for longevity.

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But this year’s anniversary also ushers in a new focus for the organization.

When founder and then-executive director Kathleen Howe was feted at a retirement party in December 2013, members of the nonprofit’s board of directors were contemplating adding a second location in Maryland to increase capacity.

While that goal never came to fruition, a new one has taken hold.

More education

Education, which has always been an integral component of the rescue’s mission, will take center stage this year, said CEO Erin Clemm Ochoa.

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Ochoa was handpicked by Howe to be her successor before Howe stepped down five years ago to battle Alzheimer’s disease.

County Executive Allan Kittleman took to the fields Tuesday morning as part of a job switch between himself and farmer Erin Ochoa.

To assist in elevating itsgoal of educating more students, citizens and animal control officers, the rescue is exploring the possibility of purchasing Lisbon Volunteer Fire Company’s property next door on Woodbine Road, Ochoa said.

The fire company will be relocating to a larger building that is under construction nearby.

If a deal is struck, the existing buildings on the 3-acre lot could house a welcome center, offices and classroom space, among other possible uses.

The two-story farmhouse where the nonprofit’s offices are currently located could potentially be transformed into larger living quarters to expand the number of slots in a residential internship program that’s in demand internationally, said an advisory board member.

“We’ve been talking about our options for a year,” Ochoa said, while cautioning that discussions with the fire company are ongoing.

“Teaching compassion, especially at an early age, is so valuable,” she said. “We want to prepare the next generation to carry on this work.”

The rescue’s current classroom space can accommodate 60 people. Space for 250 is needed to lift restrictions on the size of visiting school groups and to prevent people from getting turned away when classes and programs fill up too quickly, Ochoa said.

Community support

It’s a good problem to have and a reflection of the broad community support Days End enjoys. Last year alone, 1,200 volunteers donated 47,500 hours to the rescue.

Being located just off I-70 serves as a magnet for attracting volunteers from surrounding counties and also allows for quick deployment, Ochoa said.

Located on 60-acres in Lisbon, Day’s End specializes in rehabilitating horses that arrive often in emaciated states match them with a new owner, with a 94 percent adoption rate, according to Executive Director Erin Ochoa.

“The more we can educate people and bring awareness, the more people will know what to do if they see horses that aren’t being cared for,” she said.

“Howard County is a great place to do business,” she noted, recalling how she became associated with Days End.

Ochoa was working in 2004 to launch her own nonprofit, called Achieve Therapeutic Riding Center, when a job listing for equine health director caught her eye.

She thought she’d give it a try on a temporary basis. She’s never looked back.

After 15 years in multiple capacities, Ochoa heads an organization that continues to break ground on various fronts — not the least of which is outlasting most rescue operations.

“In the equine welfare industry, 70 percent of rescues fail within three years,” Ochoa said.

If there’s a secret ingredient to Days End’s survival, it might be rooted in being clear-eyed about what’s important and what’s achievable.

“One of the things that Kathy pressed on me was to stay true to the mission so you’re always steering the boat in the right direction,” Ochoa recalled.

Ross Peddicord, executive director of the Maryland Horse Industry Board under the state’s Department of Agriculture, said the rescue deserves all the accolades it receives.

‘Leader and role model’

Days End is “the leader and role model” for the 40 licensed rescues in the state, he said, and that’s saying a lot.

“Maryland has more horses per square mile than any other state,” Peddicord said, a statistic that translates into more than 100,000 horses.

WOODBINE — Veterinarian Peter O'Halloran and farrier Kenny Romjue carefully maneuvered Quest, an 18-year-old stallion, as they took X-rays of his overgrown hooves Monday afternoon at the Days End Farm Horse Rescue.

Days End got to where it is through a focus on leadership, he said, noting Ochoa was appointed by Gov. Larry Hogan two years ago to the Maryland Horse Industry Board.

Nicky Ratliff, former longtime executive director of the Humane Society of Carroll County, agrees. Now retired, she began collaborating with Howe in 1990.

“The place is an anomaly. While it’s not difficult to become a horse rescue, most don’t stay in business for long,” she said.

Ratliff, who is a member of Days End’s advisory board, marveled at how far the organization has come. In the early years, board meetings were often held in a barn with hay bales to sit on.

People continue to be turned away from programs, including one for residential interns who come from across the United States and Europe to work as live-in volunteers for several months, she said.

“These interns are invaluable. They’re like a built-in staff that puts in 40 to 50 hours a week,” she said.

One of Howe’s main legacies is a how-to pamphlet she created 20 years ago for people interested in starting a rescue, Ratliff said.

“I couldn’t say how many rescues became successful because of that pamphlet, but I’d guess 100 easily and probably a whole lot more,” she said.

A high bar

Ratliff said Days End’s success is a win for equines everywhere since it sets a high bar for other rescues to aspire to and because “there are as many reasons for abusing horses as there are people.”

Abuse can result from neglect, owners who are in over their heads, and even sadism, among many other root causes, she said.

“There are lots of other horse rescues and so many keep popping up,” she said. “But there is nothing that comes close to Days End Farm Horse Rescue in breadth, reach and impact.”

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Ochoa gives credit to Howe for instilling a philosophy that allowed Days End to set itself apart.

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Not the least of Howe’s influence on operations was her insistence that staff give on-the-spot tours of their facility, a policy that continues today.

“We’re open to the public every day for tours and that’s an unheard-of thing. Our customer service policy is we’re happy to stop what we’re doing and show you around,” Ochoa said.

Ochoa also gives credit to the horses for the rescue operation’s success, observing that “they have to be able to meet us at least part of the way” to make their rehabilitation a success.

“When you look them in the eye and you can see they know you’re there to help, those are the moments when you grow from this experience,” she said.

For information or to donate, go to defhr.org. To buy gala tickets, go to 501auctions.com/defhr.

janeneholzberg76@gmail.com

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