Safe Haven — a home for unwanted horses
by Tena Starr
HOLLAND — Tara Girard has taken in 17 horses this year, all of them horses that someone else didn’t want anymore, or at least couldn’t afford. Of the ten harbored by Safe Haven Farm right now, she said that she only bought one, and he was a hard luck case, too.
The little Morgan had a concussion and a dislocated tail. She calls him “a bought rescue.”
She’s had a few of those.
Ms. Girard has been taking in unwanted animals most of her life, as did her parents and grandparents. But now she’s making it official and setting up a nonprofit.
For one thing, she hopes that she, and Safe Haven Farm, will raise awareness.
“I want people to realize there are so many horses in need. Maybe they will speak up when they drive by and see something that’s not so good.”
For another, there’s a lot of difference between taking in a stray cat and an unwanted horse. A horse is considerably more expensive to keep, and probably more trouble — especially the kind of horse that ends up with Ms. Girard.
At the moment, she said, she works two jobs to keep the rescue operation going.
On Friday, she walked through the barn, which her parents own, introducing its occupants.
Heath and Chloe were owned by people who had the best of intentions but didn’t know anything about horses, Ms. Girard said. At 12, they’re friendly but are still working on basic ground manners, like being led and having their hooves trimmed.
A bay quarterhorse mare is at Safe Haven because she’s lame and may have navicular disease, a chronic degenerative disease involving the navicular bone. Another quarterhorse mare has been adopted by Ms. Girard’s father and is being trained to ride.
All of the horses are friendly and well mannered.
“These are all really good horses,” Ms. Girard said. “They just have some problems.”
Her very first horse — one of the best she ever had, she said — was a rescue horse.
“When I got to be older I started training, and I ended up working with all the horses no one else wanted,” she said with a laugh.
Ms. Girard is articulate, enthusiastic, and compassionate. Of all her ventures, the Wings and a Prayer rescue program may be the nearest to her heart.
What she’s been doing out of the kindness of her heart, she will now do in a more official, and expanded, capacity. She will take in unwanted, abused, or neglected horses, rehabilitate them, and match them up with new owners.
“We do the rehab and re-horse,” she said. “We do whatever it is that’s needed to fit the right horse with the right person.”
Most of the time she’s asked to take horses because of what she tactfully calls their owners’ “life circumstances.” That usually means something happened so they can no longer afford a horse.
“I think the predominant reason is financial,” Ms. Girard said, talking about why most people give her their horses.
In most cases, people care, and they’re really trying to find their animals a good situation, she said.
In many cases, though, the horses have not been handled enough to be safe riding horses for the average person.
That’s where Tara Girard’s other talents come in. She’s also a trainer, and she gives riding lessons. And she plans on having a summer camp for kids this year, as well as working with human services agencies to hook up people and animals. And she also wants to give more talks to schoolchildren about how to treat animals properly. And she plans to start a 4H group, and… The list of ways she’d like to gently improve the lives of both animals and people is long.
The paperwork to establish the rescue program as a nonprofit went out last week.
This summer Ms. Girard has taken in 17 horses but placed 12. She has also adopted two retired thoroughbred racehorses.
One of them has no left eye. He lost it in a racing accident when the shoe of another horse flew off, hit him in the head, and cut his eye.
Ellen O’Brien, founder of CANTER New England, which stands for Communication Alliance to Network Thoroughbred Ex-racehorses, feared she’d have a lot of trouble finding anyone who wanted to adopt Rusty, because of the eye, but it doesn’t bother Ms. Girard.
At one time, she adopted a young Percheron who had been born with no eyes and was going to be shot.
Neglected and abandoned horses have dramatically increased in the past few years as more and more people find neither the time nor the money to care for their animals.
Ms. Girard noted that the need for good homes is enormous.
Just this month a call went out for homes for 75 registered quarterhorses in Illinois. Their owner had lost the farm and abandoned them. The horses are temporarily housed at a facility that doesn’t have enough food or shelter for them.
The problem is nationwide, and Ms. Girard isn’t above taking in needy horses from out-of-state, such as the two racehorses she recently adopted. But her focus is on horses closer to home.
The rescue farm nearest the Northeast Kingdom is Spring Hill Rescue in North Clarendon, a good distance. Ms. Girard hopes that Safe Haven will help with the local need.
“People don’t know what to do with these animals,” she said. “Not so long ago, you were maybe talking $4,000 for a good trail horse. Now you can’t give them away. I think a lot of people didn’t understand what they were getting into.”
And, people just don’t seem to have the time they used to, Ms. Girard said. “That Sunday of not having anything to do is gone.”
She’s gearing up for what she fears will be a brisk business this winter, as more people ask for help with their horses when food and money get tight.
Ms. Girard said she fell into her work by way of her family.
“My grandparents met through horses,” she said. “My mom moved here from New York to have a horse and that’s how her and dad met.”
She said she was “bitten by the bug” as well. She’s been riding horses since she could walk, but that does not necessarily lead to a life of rescuing horses.
In her case, it’s just what’s come naturally to family members.
People can help Safe Haven Farm by adopting, fostering, or donating.
Adoption is not a matter of showing up and saying, I’ll take that one. There’s an application process, and references are necessary. And an adoption contract must be signed.
Ms. Girard said she really doesn’t want to send a horse back into a situation similar to the one it was rescued from, so she does check.
Fostering is less of a permanent commitment and involves taking in a horse and caring for it, while, ideally, providing it with some of the skills it may still lack. Fostering frees up room at the farm for other horses that may need rescue.
And, of course, donations are welcome. Food, equipment, and money are extremely helpful since it’s not cheap to feed and care for a dozen or so horses.
Ms. Girard also welcomes the donation of time. The job might be nothing more than hanging out with a horse who could use some socialization.
There is an adoption fee, which varies from horse to horse. The money helps with expenses, goes a ways to ensure that the adopter is serious, and in the interest of paying it forward, 10 percent of all adoption fees go to the Halo house Foundation, which helps people with cancer and their families.
Some might find the fee and contract onerous, Ms. Girard said, but she feels that it helps both horse and new owner. If things don’t work out, she will take the horse back and help the person find another. And the owner knows that he or she is getting a healthy horse.
“They’re getting a safety net,” she said. “If there are issues with the animal, I’m very open to helping with that. If by chance they’re not compatible, it can come back I will help find another animal as well.”
“I’ve always said that they give me so much, I want to give back to them,” she said, explaining the thinking behind what she does.
contact Tena Starr at [email protected]
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