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This article was published 24/1/2009 (3132 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
CLANDEBOYE -- The bleeding hearts. Bonnie Riddell rescued her first nearly-starved horse 18 months ago. "Rusty was just a skeleton. You could see every bone in his body," said daughter Ari.
Their next horses were so infested with lice as to be almost hairless. Next, someone asked if they would board a horse, then left the horse and never came back or paid board.
Next, they took in a donkey that had never had its hooves trimmed so that they'd curled into capital C-shapes, forcing it to walk on the sides.
Bonnie and Ari are up to 15 horses and donkeys, and counting. They have turned their Papa's Ranch, 40 kilometres north of Winnipeg, into a horse-rescue operation, one of several in the province.
And it may soon get busier due to the harsh winter and the depressed farm economy in the Interlake where they live. Hay prices have doubled due to shortages caused by overland flooding last year. One farmer recently advertised four ponies and some mares for free because he could not afford to feed them anymore.
The conditions have sparked concerns that some animals may be malnourished and suffering. However, random inspections are not permitted on private property.
Bonnie grew up on a cattle ranch near Warren and has been in love with horses all her life. She didn't plan on running an orphanage for the lame, sick, neglected, unwanted and hairless horses. She just couldn't leave mistreated horses behind. "It's almost like a sickness," she said of her love, and ultimately compassion, for horses.
After all, there's no prospect of profit in rescues, just large bills and lots of work.
Those may or may not be factors that have made horse-rescue operations in Manitoba a decidedly female enterprise. A rescue operation near Hadashville in eastern Manitoba is run by a woman, as is one near Fisher Branch in the Interlake, where the woman also rents the horses for riding.
Equine Options, another rescue, was started by Victoria Morse in St. Pierre, south of Winnipeg. But Peter Rempel is now bucking the gender trend, taking over Equine Options and running it from his place north of Steinbach. Rempel picked up a horse last week that was so starved it fell down trying to walk into his trailer that was taking it away.
Rescued horses are costing Bonnie about $1,200 a month. That's essentially for feed, medicines, and veterinary bills.
Fortunately, she has two jobs: one, as a farrier (shoeing horses) for her company, Western Horseman Farrier; the other, running Matrix Environmental Services, a hog farm ammonia control service she took over after the owner, a friend, died.
"I'm a workaholic, eh?" she said, turning to her daughter. "Yeah," said Ari resignedly.
She and Ari spend at least two hours each per day cleaning the barn, putting down new straw bedding, and feeding, watering and medicating, when needed, their rescued horses. On weekends, there's extra work such as cleaning the open shelter and picking up feed.
Bonnie is in the process of registering as a non-profit organization to raise funds and offer charitable tax receipts. She is also seeking volunteer help and has a guest house a volunteer could stay at free of charge, in exchange for chores.
Bonnie said horses wind up being neglected in a variety of ways.
"I think sometimes people buy horses and they don't have any skill. They ride and get bucked off and think the horse isn't any good," she said. "Or a lot of ponies are purchased for a small child, the kids grow up, and the horses are just left."
She would prefer people euthanized their horses rather than let them starve.
"The worst cases are sometimes the small acreages with one or two horses that no one comes across," she said. "You can't just randomly drive into someone's yard and snoop."
"If your neighbour has a horse that's starving, phone the provincial vet or the municipal animal control officer," she said.
She may eventually lease out horses as Equine Options does, where you can have a horse for $500 and return it if and when you don't want it anymore.
People interested in helping can reach Bonnie at email@example.com. The website is horsesavemanitoba.com