A race to save lives

Maryland farm rescues and rehabilitates horses who have seen the worst of humanity

Zodiac in the Anderson sling he had to be kept in for nine weeks because he couldn’t support his own weight. Zodiac, now fully rehabilitated, resides on a farm owned by Jean McKay.| Photo courtesy of DEHFR

With farms dotting much of the landscape in Howard County, the sight of horses frolicking through great open pastures is nothing new. But for many of the horses that reside at a certain 58 acre farm in Woodbine, Maryland, playing is a novelty.

Founded by Kathleen Howe in 1989, Days End Farm Horse Rescue, or DEFHR, which takes in 110-150 horses annually, started its rescue and rehabilitation mission with just one horse – a buckskin gelding named Toby.

Howe found Toby while visiting her family horse at a self-care boarding facility in central Maryland. She noticed the deteriorating health of the gelding that seemed abandoned by his owners, and, without a second thought, immediately took steps to formally adopt Toby and nurse him back to health.

With help from neighbors and friends, Toby was fully rehabilitated and given a second chance at life. This first horse was the impetus for Howe to continue her rehabilitative work in the community and to grow DEFHR from a small nonprofit to the national rescue and rehabilitation rescue it is today.

Erin Ochoa, the executive director at the farm, said the horses that are taken in by DEFHR arrive primarily through animal protection agencies in Maryland and surrounding states.

“We have taken horses from as far [away] as Massachusetts and [we] partner on large scale seizure cases where [the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals [or ASPCA] needs help in placement of multiple horses,” he said. “We see horses that are suffering from starvation, neglect, or abuse and are able to rehabilitate 98 percent of them.”

While animal shelters usually have room for multiple cats and dogs, the space needed to rehabilitate several horses at one time, such as the recent seizure of 18 horses in central Maryland, is unattainable for most places.

That’s when DEHFR steps in.

Zodiac is being lifted by volunteers at DEFHR a few days after being brought to the farm. As DEFHR’s most critical case ever, Zodiac arrived in September 2010 severely emaciated and suffering from many life-threatening conditions. Not being able to stand on his own, he had to be kept in an Anderson sling for nine weeks before he could support his own weight.| Photo courtesy of DEFHR

“These [18] horses needed immediate care. They were in the worst stage of starvation, in critical condition,” Ochoa stated.

With the cost of rehabilitative services around $2,000 a month per horse, the DEFHR relies on donations and the help of volunteers to care for the animals.

“Eighty percent of our funds come from individual donations… and about 1,200 volunteers come through each year, of which 300 to 400 are regulars,” Ochoa said. “They do everything from helping to prepare and give food to the horses, getting hay into the fields and stalls, grooming, [and] leading. It’s hands-on every single day for every single horse on the property. Our volunteers are vital.”

After the rehabilitation process, the horses then go through a 30-day evaluation process during which DEFHR trainers determine their background and then further train the horse to prepare for adoption.

Because DEFHR seeks to find homes for the horses, multiple visits and screenings between each horse and a potential owner are conducted to ascertain if the horse and the potential owner are right for each other.

Maggie Eby, who adopted quarter horse, Perfectly Platinum in February, said she worked with Days End to find the ideal horse for her riding ability and needs.

Potential adopters are required to visit and ride the horses at least twice to ascertain compatibility, provide references, and have a property inspection before adoptions can become final.

“[DEFHR] is not going to just give you a horse,” Eby said, “if anything, they’re trying to make sure that this is going to be a long term [relationship].”

Maggie Eby poses with her rescue, Perfectly Platinum before a July 2017 dressage competition. Platinum came to DEFHR in October 2016 as part of a 12 horse impoundment, and was adopted by Eby on Valentine’s Day 2017.| Photo courtesy of Maggie Eby

“Platinum is amazing,” she added. “We are a good match for each other. I have taken him to three shows… and when he gets in the ring, he is just on, like he knows that he’s the center of attention.. He has unlimited potential, and you can tell the he’s super grateful [for being adopted].”

Jean McKay, who has adopted four horses from DEFHR, including the farm’s most critical rescue ever, Zodiac Zarr, said that DEFHR “have grown into one of the most amazing leaders in the animal rescue and horse rescue business.”

McKay continued, “ I will always go to Days End for a horse…They are a voice for horses that are facing abuse and neglect… [I’m glad] somebody has the courage and the fortitude and the passion to go into places like where Zodiac was.”

(From left to right) Rescues, Classy, Willow, and Zodiac, peacefully graze in a field at their forever home. All three horses were taken in and rehabilitated by Days End Horse Rescue and Farm and adopted by Jean McKay. | Photo courtesy of Jean McKay

After seeing Zodiac at his worst when he first arrived from the retirement farm, McKay said she’s in awe when she watches Zodiac frolicking around the fields and challenging other horses to race him.

“It’s amazing that that skinny, barely standing horse is now this big powerful horse. It just makes me feel wonderful that these horses have been rescued and they continue to flourish, and I’m part of helping that to happen.”

DEFHR is open every day of the year, with farm tours available to the general public 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. every day. Visitors can tour the farm and facilities, and meet some of the horses and hear their stories. No appointment is necessary; tours last about 30 minutes.

DEFHR is located at 1372 Woodbine Road, Woodbine, MD 21797. For more information, call 301-854-5037; 410-442-1564 or visit the DEFHR website at http://www.defhr.org/.

By Lauren Finnegan, APG News