I’ll Have Another scratched from tomorrow’s Belmont Stakes and the high hopes of winning a triple crown. Any elite athlete lives with the specter of possible injury looming overhead, but this is like Michael Phelps tearing a rotator cuff the night before his first swim in the Olympics. I don’t know if the horse felt the crushing blow, he likely felt the pain in his tendons that caused him to be pulled form the race, but horses get hurt a lot. Part of it is that they are built so improbably–a huge amount of weight and mass balanced on these delicate little sticks of legs. As muscular and hard-working an animal as the equine is should be borne by elephantine gams…
For retired, injured, and old horses, some are put down quickly, some sent to pasture, some sent to rougher futures…and with the economy crippling so many families, domestic animals, especially ones as expensive to keep as a horse, are abandoned in record numbers these days. Luckily, there are horse rescue operations in many communities, and opportunities to volunteer with many of them. Here are just a few–if you are a bit of a barn rat yourself, see what similar projects you can find in your neck of the woods.
The Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary is in South Dakota with 11,000 acres of private land for unadoptable and unwanted wild horses. Their staff and volunteers have a huge commitment to the quality of life for the horses and their ability to run free.
The International Society for the Protection of Mustangs and Burros depends on volunteers on the ranch in Lantry, South Dakota, but you can help remotely as well.
Return to Freedom provides home pastureland to 400 wild horses and burros on California’s Central Coast. Their ethos is to let the horses establish and maintain their most natural habits and behaviors, so there is no effort to break the horses or train them. Volunteers jump in the second Saturday of each month to help maintain the operations to support the safe haven they have created in Lompoc.
Dude’s Ranch Equine Rescue Center has become more and more well known for their innovative “ride a horse, save a horse” program, knowing the strongest advocates for abandoned and abused horses are those who have a direct experience. Get involved at their center in Acton, California.
The Wild Horse Sanctuary in Shingletown, California, is a last chance for wild horses and burros. 80 wild horses are protected as “living national treasures” on 5,000 acres. In addition to protecting the animals, they do lots of education and outreach, and volunteers serve a wide range of purposes, from diesel mechanics to event planners.
They bear little resemblance to I’ll Have Another, but zebras need protecting too. A volunteer trip via Earthwatch, in Nairobi, Kenya, can have you working shoulder to shoulder with scientific experts, helping conserve the endangered Grevy’s Zebra species (the volunteer trip on this link is specifically geared for teenage participants).