In their brown-and-white coats, Rocky and Quincy appear healthy and strong as they play together on a sunny afternoon at Day’s End Farm Horse Rescue in northwestern Howard County.
It’s been a journey for the brothers, said Director of Development Caroline Robertson, one that hundreds of horses have gone through at the farm over the past 29 years.
The horses came to Day’s End, one of the state’s horse rescue centers, from Crandon, Wisc. in November, after the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals found them and 12 other horses and 38 dogs on a farm, where they were alleged to be suffering from malnutrition and neglect and their owner was arrested on animal-cruelty related charges, according to the ASPCA.
Now, as they finish their rehabilitation and training at Day’s End, they are awaiting adoption.
Located on 60 acres in Lisbon, Day’s End specializes in rehabilitating horses that arrive often in emaciated states after being rescued by law enforcement and other groups from Maryland and around the country. The farm matches the horses with a new owner, with a 94 percent adoption rate, according to Executive Director Erin Ochoa.
The farm also does education outreach with schools and families and training for animal control officers on horse handling.
A “national model” of a rescue farm, as Maryland Horse Industry Board Executive Director Ross Peddicord described it, Day’s End has partnered with with the Maryland Horse Council in the nation’s first equine transition service.
The program, “Maryland Equine Transition Service (METS),” is a mobile assessment team to work with owners who need assistance in caring for a horse or in finding a new home.
Made possible by a three-year grant from the WaterShed Animal Fund through The Right Horse Initiative, a national organization aimed at increasing horse adoptions, the program will be based at Day’s End and will work to match unwanted horses with adopters through a network of rescue organizations and farms across the state, according to Jennifer Purcell, one of the leaders of the program.
Purcell said the idea for the program came after the Maryland Horse Council was the first in the country to officially support the Safeguard American Food Exports Act of 2017, which would ban the sale and transport of equine for human consumption. The legislation is before a House of Representatives committee.
There are no operational slaughterhouses in the U.S., but thousands of horses are shipped annually to Canada and Mexico for slaughter. Data are hard to capture on the number of horses shipped across the border each year but the Department of Agriculture estimates that 125,608 horses were sent for slaughter in 2015, the last full year for which statistics are available.
The stance, she said, led people in the industry to question how unwanted horses should be dealt with instead. METS was their answer.
Day’s End was an ideal partner for the program given its longevity and high adoption success rate. Purcell called the farm one of the most respected in Maryland, where there are less than 10 dedicated horse rescue facilities.
“Maryland Horse Council decided that they also had to come up with an alternative for where horses are going to go,” Purcell said. “How are we going to be able to say to owners, ‘Don’t take your horse to auction because there’s never a guarantee they’ll find a safe home,’ so we need to be able to give them alternatives.”
METS, which is expected to formally launch in the summer, will be managed by former Day’s End Equine Health Director Brittany Carow, who is now moving into her role with the program.
“We’re hopeful [METS] is going to have a big impact on horses in Maryland that need homes and intervention,” Carow said.
The program will also help staff to gather more sophisticated data about where in the state unwanted horses are coming from and what breeds are most affected, information that is lacking in the state, Carow said.
Unwanted horses are a major issue in a state that is home to a $1 billion horse race industry. In the last several years, Peddicord said the problem and attempts to stop the “slaughterhouse pipeline” has become “issue number one” in the horse industry. Maryland has the nation’s highest density of horses with an equine population of 79,100, according to the Horse Industry Board’s most recent census.
Ochoa said she believes METS will help more owners to safely re-home their horses and keep them out of auctions and slaughterhouses, the fate, she said, of many horses whose owners do not know their options. METS will work with these owners to assess horses’ health and market them for new homes.
Horses, with an average life span of 30 years, change homes an average of seven times during their lifetime, according to Ochoa.
“Our spaces are really reserved for animal control, and we’re full. But [for the past 10 years] our records were indicating that between 100 and 150 owners were looking to give horses to us,” she said. “So we knew there was a need here in Maryland for where these horses go. The last thing we want is for horses to sit in backyards or be given to auction.”
Peddicord said the issue also stems from the high cost of maintaining a horse, at least $1,200 a year.
“It’s a problem that is consistent, will always be here and in hard economic times it’s exacerbated because people can’t afford a luxury item like a horse,” he said.
Day’s End, he said, excels at the work to bring unwanted horses out of sometimes horrific situations and rehabilitate them, making them a strong partner organization for METS.
“Most people get into horses for the sheer joy and pleasure of being around horses; [Day’s End is] in it at the other end when animals are unwanted, abused, neglected and then they rehabilitate and rescue them, and that’s really hard work,” Peddicord said. “They deal with the dregs of the animal world.”
Day’s End’s ability to do this work is thanks in large part, Ochoa said, to the roughly 1,200 volunteers who help its 15-member staff each year with everything from feeding horses their individualized meals and supplements to daily grooming.
The farm, which houses 76 horses and has a capacity for 80, relies on small donors, who make up 80 percent of its $1.4 million yearly operating costs. The remaining 20 percent comes from fundraising and grants, Robertson said.
Now in its third facility and each time growing in size, Ochoa said the staff is in the midst of planning more renovations for the farm, including an intensive care room.
During each horse’s average 10-month stay, Ochoa said the staff works to help often emaciated horses regain weight, sometimes hundreds of pounds, and retrain them so they can be adopted, often as recreational horses.
“Who knew a farm that took castoffs would end up being a beacon for the horse industry?” Peddicord said. “It’s amazing. It’s bad work and they’ve turned it into a wonderful thing.”