By Jonathan Hoffman
Ever wonder what happens to the horses, mules, or donkeys that are abandoned by drug runners after they transport their load north? What about the horses that are simply turned loose by their owners to fend for themselves on the open range? Well, if they are lucky, they end up at Horse'n Around Rescue Ranch and Foundation.
Horse'n Around is an outfit dedicated to the rescue and rehabilitation of equines , which includes horses, mules, and donkeys. It is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit registered with the Arizona Department of Agriculture, and located in Hereford, Arizona. Co-founders, Theresa Warrell and Steve Boice have been rescuing equines from abuse and neglect since the 90s when Steve took two old donkeys from the Bureau of Land Management.
The mission statement on their website reads: “We are dedicated to rescuing equines, restoring their health and wellness, and providing a nurturing and natural environment where horses can be horses.”
What do they mean by “horses can be horses”? Theresa and Steve have some very definite ideas about how horses should be treated and kept. For example, they do not believe in shoeing horses.They believe that the application of shoes with nails perforates and weakens the natural hoof. In fact, those who apply to adopt a horse are informed that if they plan to put shoes on horses they should look elsewhere to adopt. More generally, they believe horses to be active outdoor animals that need to graze freely and interact with each other. Their horses are not kept in stalls or small paddocks; instead, they live in pastures where they can "be horses”.
Steve’s understanding of horses comes from a lifetime of working with all sorts of stock. He is from a long-time ranching family that took over the Empire Ranch
near Sonoita, Arizona
from the Vails in the 1920s.
“I grew up on that ranch; it was my playground. I’ve always been around cows and other livestock,” Steve explains.
He is currently a member of the Empire Ranch Foundation's Board of Directors, and has also served as one of the leaders of the Tucson Rodeo Parade Committee. Regarding the rescue operation, he said, “We’re at peace with it. We’re doing a good thing. The financial part is crazy. Sometimes I look at it and I don’t know how we are going to survive, but we do! We have lots of good volunteers, and lots of people helping us out with fund-raising.”
It's hard to say exactly when it all began, but a telephone call back in 1991 from the BLM asking about taking in two old, unadoptable donkeys could very well have been the beginning. Shortly thereafter,Theresa and Steve rolled out Horse'n Around with a ribbon cutting ceremony. Their love of the animals, the ability to provide for them, and perhaps an inability to say "no" to an equine in need, led inevitably to their herd of happy horses. The non-profit incorporation of Horse'n Around Rescue Ranch and Foundation was formalized in March of 2010.
The two donkeys, Hershel and Slo Mo, spent their retirement years with Steve. On another occasion, when preparing an entry for the Tucson Rodeo Parade, Steve and Theresa rented a draft horse when one of their drafts was temporarily lame. He was standing in mud, manure, and urine with only one shoe. After the parade, "Hector" moved in with Theresa and Steve, got his feet back in shape, and now lives on their pasture with close to 50 other horses. Sometimes abused or neglected horses seized by the state are "awarded" to Horse'n Around. In 2010, a paint mare, now named "Painted Beauty" with severe wounds to her front shoulder and leg came to Horse'n Around. In just a few weeks, her wounds healed, and she was on her way to recovery. Steve does not know the actual cause of her wounds, but they are consistent with being dragged. Theresa said, “All the vets that looked at her said, ‘Oh, that’s roadrash.’ The story was that a stallion attacked her, but that’s not how a stallion attacks.” She also suffered from poor muscle development, but after two years of care, she’s in good shape.
Some might ask, “What is wrong with letting a horse go in open range to fend for itself? Are there not wild horse herds that thrive?” Of course, there are wild horse herds, and yes, they do thrive, but they are wild horses. A horse that has spent most of its life in a stall, with breakfast delivered to its trough, has neither the wits nor the physical condition to thrive in the wild. It is typical for a rescue horse that has been abandoned in the open range to be undernourished (sometimes to the point of starvation), have damaged feet, and suffer wounds in need of treatment. Tender hooves get damaged, unfamiliarity with the environment leads to wounds, and not finding any troughs full of grain leads to malnutrition. Steve has actually put horses in the pasture who did not know how to graze, they had to learn.
Many of the horses' wounds, particularly the abused ones, are not physical but mental. Some of the horses seem to be in a constant state of fear, and always quivering and prancing around. Steve tells of one horse that, after initial treatment and examination, was released on pasture. Over time, his anxiety went away, but it was weeks before he would let Steve get within 20 yards of him. Others may have specific fears. Theresa tells of one horse that was generally quite calm, but became enraged when anyone attempted to handle his feet. She speculated that he may have had his feet bound for hoof trimming. She also points out that you can’t get a horse to do anything if he is dead set against it. Fortunately, now that he is running around in the pasture his hooves are subject to natural wear and probably will not need trimming.
The pasture itself is a 350-acre-parcel on the east end of the Huachuca Mountains, which Theresa and Steve lease for the horses. The view is spectacular, with the Huachucas to the west, the Mule Mountains visible to the east, and Mexico to the south. The east end of the pasture is fairly flat and contains two large ponds that provide water most of the year. If the ponds do dry out, there is a windmill to the west that pumps water to a tank. The pasture's western end begins to slope up to the mountains. If the horses need a little more exercise, they can be encouraged to hike uphill by strategically placing feed and hay.
It is a delight to tour the pasture with Theresa and Steve. Steve hops out of the truck, the horses take a look, and with their hopes confirmed by the small bucket in his hand, they begin to meander in his direction. He walks among them dispensing one treat each from his bucket, continuously talking to them. Each horse has a name and a story and Steve knows them all. They are not one big herd, but in small groups of about a dozen, sometimes in pairs, sometimes solitary. Theresa and Steve document both their physical condition and positive behavioral changes. Theresa is delighted to see that a recent arrival who avoided the other equines has made one, maybe two friends. As they drive from group to group, they try to identify each horse from afar while Theresa keeps a running census until every horse is logged.
If one looks closely at the ground in the pasture, small tufts of charred grass stumps can be seen. This is a result of the Monument Fire that swept through the Huachucas and burned the entire pasture. The heat was so intense that it penetrated the ground and killed some of the grasses at the root. It was not only a difficult scramble to find temporary pasture for the horses, but the feed bill went from supplemental to the main course for most of the animals. Theresa and Steve made it through, and the grass, though somewhat thin, is back. The rescue operation is an unpredictable business, but with a great crew of volunteers and donations, they keep it going.
While some animals will live out their lives at Horse’n Around, many will leave to make room for others. Horse’n Around has an adoption program so that their happy, healthy equines can find a good home. The adoption program is available to those people who share Theresa and Steve’s philosophy of equine care.
The process begins with an application, followed by a home visit. During the visit, a Horse’n Around representative inspects the equine's proposed home and insures that it meets the requirements of the particular horse, mule, or donkey. The applicant must then visit the potential adoptee at Horse’n Around to verify there is a good match. If all is well at this point, the adopter agrees to a contract that reflects the lifetime commitment that is being made to the animal.
The animal will not be bred, as overpopulation is a contributing factor to abandonment. The animal will not be shoed, for the reasons mentioned.
The contract further states that should the new owner no longer be able to care for the animal, it will be returned to Horse’n Around. With the agreement in place, the equine leaves for its new home after the adoption fee is paid and the mandatory Horsemanship Clinics are completed.
To some it may seem like a crazy life to barely make ends meet and constantly take on problems created by others. But to Steve, “Everybody has a talent. Everybody has something he loves to do. What is it? It’s the passion. This is my passion.”
To some it may seem like a crazy life to barely make ends meet and constantly take on problems created by others.
But to Steve, “Everybody has a talent. Everybody has something he loves to do. What is it? It’s the passion. This is my passion.”
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