About two decades ago, Kathleen Schwartz says, she felt sorry for a 20-year-old horse named Toby who was so weak and sick from years of neglect that he was not expected to survive much longer.
At a time when Howard County animal control was not equipped to handle abused or neglected horses, Schwartz nursed Toby back to health and cared for him for about eight years until he died. Soon after encountering Toby, she began caring for other ill horses as a family project.
Kathleen and her then-husband Allan Schwartz established Days End Farm Horse Rescue in 1989, and the nonprofit animal welfare organization has rapidly expanded to become one of the primary horse rescue facilities in the state. Days End has cared for more than 1,000 abused or neglected horses impounded by animal-control bureaus across the state, and it is recognized in Maryland and nationwide for its horse rescue and community outreach programs.
Because most of the funding for Days End's $1 million budget comes from donations, the organization holds spring and fall fundraising carnivals each year. The carnivals also allow Days End to showcase horses ready for adoption and to educate the public about what the farm does.
The 15th spring carnival was held Saturday. Schwartz said the fair draws about 800 to 1,000 people annually. As country music played in the background, children and adults from around the state came to see the horses and participate in family-oriented activities that included a petting zoo and games for children.
Days End, on Frederick Road in Lisbon, relies on hundreds of volunteers and a small staff to rehabilitate horses and prepare them for adoption. Days End also focuses on spreading awareness about equine issues, promoting animal welfare education and assisting in animal disaster rescue efforts.
"Education is very high on our focus, and we do a lot of youth education," said Kathleen Schwartz, Days End's executive director. "We know that if people are better educated about horses, they won't get involved with horses without knowing what it takes to care for them."
Days End is caring for more than 70 horses on its 20 acres, which is 25 more horses than it normally has. The organization got the 25 extra horses in December from the animal-control impoundment in Washington County.
The horses, many of which arrive at the barn extremely thin and weak from neglect, usually stay at Days End about six to nine months. Once they are fully rehabilitated and trained to be comfortable around people, Days End posts adoption notices on its Web site.
Those interested in adopting a horse are expected to donate from $500 to $1,200, depending on the horse's age and capabilities. Staff members inspect the farms of potential owners and once the adoption is approved, they conduct follow-up visits on all adopted horses for three years.
Days End also has a foster care program to help establish a bond between horses and people. Under the program, the horses stay at Days End and are visited regularly by a foster person or family.
Lisa Shifflett of Westminster has been fostering one of Days End's horses for two months and came Saturday for the carnival and to visit the animal. She first read about Days End on its Web site.
"This is a way for me to give back to them," she said. "I like how they try to train any kind of horse and how they focus on educating people." Shifflett said she also is fostering the horse to re-establish her involvement with horses to benefit herself and her toddler son.
Betsy Brewster and her husband, Dana Brewster, both of whom used to work on a farm and own horses, came from Annapolis to visit Days End for the first time Saturday. Brewster said she learned about the organization through the Internet, and "now I check their site once a week because I like to read their stories about their horse rescues."
As Days End continues to get more horses to care for, the 20-acre property that the organization is leasing is becoming overcrowded. Schwartz hopes to move to an area with at least 30 acres, but she has not found a piece of land that meets the organization's needs.
Brittney Carow of Mount Airy, the assistant farm manager, has been working at Days End for 10 months, after volunteering there when she was in high school.
"I came back to work here because of my love of horses. I've been around horses all my life, and I'm really interested in animal welfare," she said.
Days End has more than 700 volunteers, ranging from adults to children and longtime horse owners to people with no experience with horses.
Vickie Allin from Bethesda in Montgomery County owned horses for 30 years and has been volunteering at Days End for three years.
"I've always wanted to volunteer here, and now that I've retired I have the time," she said. "Days End does amazing, lifesaving work."
Dahlia Cain, who is entering high school, began volunteering a few months ago.
"I have always loved horses, and I wanted to do something fun. I came in with almost no experience with horses but every time I come here I learn something new," said Cain, who lives in Frederick.
Schwartz said her primary goal for Days End is to invoke greater respect for animals. "I hope that people who visit leave with a feeling of compassion for animals, and hopefully they will carry that throughout their life."
Information on Days End Farm Horse Rescue: www.defhr.org, or 301-854-5037 or 410-442-1564.