Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 2/11/2009 (4245 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
A horse's grace is only exceeded by its strength. I love these beasts. Unfortunately, the only experience I have with horses stems from a few trail rides taken as a kid. It quickly became apparent that I wasn't going to be breaking any of Ian Millar and Big Ben's records.
Despite having respect for these great creatures, I'll never own one. They're just too large of a commitment. Some horses and donkeys can live 30 to 40 years. As much as I don't like to admit it, a pet of this species could outlive me. Naturally, there are also costs to consider. Horses aren't cheap. The feed costs alone would force my husband to say, "Whoa, Nellie!"
Bonnie Riddell knows a lot about responsible horse ownership. She and her three daughters own and operate Papa's Ranch Equine Rescue in Clandeboye. Taking care of 17 horses, ponies and donkeys isn't simple. Some days, "It seems like a gong show," says Riddell. The closing of another Manitoba equine shelter hasn't made things any easier. She's now receiving a greater number of calls about abuse and neglect. Reports of starving, sick and elderly horses arrive daily.
Owners also call when they can no longer afford to house a horse. Some can't face the fact that euthanasia of an old and much loved pet is the right thing to do. They need someone to tell them that their horse is in pain and it's time to let go. Others can't afford the veterinary bills to euthanize the horse. They look to Riddell for assistance. Occasionally, callers get angry with her when she discusses the reality of a situation. But she tries to put these responses into perspective. Riddell says her mandate is "to save horses, not to make people happy."
Aside from the abuse, there is another sad, but true, fact that weighs heavy on the heart of animal lovers -- many unwanted horses go to slaughterhouses. Riddell explains that there remains a market for horse meat in Europe and Japan. But even this market has seen the bottom drop out. She said, "Horses, once going for $1.20 a pound, are now worth five cents a pound." As abhorrent a thought at it is that these great creatures are going to slaughter, it's unimaginable that they're worth so little.
Recently, Riddell saved a 11/2-year-old pony from the dinner plate. A sympathetic feedlot worker let her buy one from him. The pony, Alex, wasn't in great shape when she got him. His hair was really long and littered with burrs. But he's doing well now. With a bit of a proud chuckle, Riddell says, "He's a little character."
Her ranch not only cares for horses, Riddell seems to be collecting goats, dogs and cats, too. One of the goats is a "guard goat... he meets you at the gate and might bunt you," she says.
Most of the inhabitants of the rescue are elderly horses. Health issues and age prevent them from being ridden. As horses are herd animals, being around fellow equines creates a healthy environment.
Papa's ranch wasn't Riddell's lifelong goal. The rescue vocation just seemed to fall into her lap. Nearly two years ago, she saved a starving elderly horse. After getting a veterinarian to assess the skinny horse's condition, he recommended euthanasia. Still hopeful, she asked if she could attempt to rehabilitate the horse. After a lot of dedication, an intensive feeding program, veterinary care and even selecting the right horse-buddy, he came around. He was her first and most difficult case.
Riddell learned a lot from this experience and she loves what she does. But the costs of running the operation pile up. Feeding a horse is expensive. Riddell says, "A healthy horse typically fills its stomach every two hours." I must have been a horse in a previous life, because I do the same thing.
To try to help pay for a $2,300 monthly feed bill (and other hefty costs) Riddell is introducing a unique adoption program that allows individuals who can't care for a horse on their own to foster one in-house. Riddell would take care of all the horses' needs and caregivers are given photos and invited to visit their horse to "give a hug, a kiss and, of course, a carrot or two," says Riddell.
Not only do costs pile up, with 17 horses and donkeys on her property, there's a lot of poop to shovel. But Riddell likes the work. On her gravestone she wants nothing but the following to be engraved: I loved cleaning the barn.
For further information on Papa's Ranch Equine Rescue, call 204-738-4998.