Where horses get a helping hand

At Indiana Horse Rescue, equines of all sizes and breeds coexist contentedly.

Charlie and I took a Sunday drive recently, not for its own sake but to find the tucked-away place in southwest Indiana we knew to be home to a unique community of horses. We wanted to personally check out Indiana Horse Rescue (IHR) Southwest – one of six facilities owned by the Hoosier nonprofit – before making the contribution we instinctively wanted to after reading about it in the local paper.

After multiple stops for directions and many miles on narrow gravel roads, a barn finally came into view, backed by acres of gently rolling pasture dotted with grazing animals.

We knew that IHR bought the farm in May 2007 after dozens of horses were found living there without anything close to adequate food or clean water, in blatant violation of animal protection laws. Plans to move the starving and diseased animals to IHR facilities elsewhere in the state changed when the owner agreed to sell the property.

Volunteers helped clean the filthy barn and care for the animals where they were, ushering in a long process of healing. The healthy-looking animals grazing outside provided a partial answer to the question that had brought us here – how were the horses doing now?

At the office in the barn, a volunteer, Megan, met and introduced us to the animals still quartered inside – those who continue to need intensive care, feeding, training, and big doses of human kindness. The building, longer than a football field, with dozens of roomy, windowed stalls, had the clean, airy feel of an open-air cathedral. In addition to grains and vitamin supplements morning and evening, they enjoy what Megan called a "luncheon" of hay. For our visit, they had an additional midmorning treat of apples and carrots and the attention of two more pairs of hands.

IHR's beneficiaries include the original corps of rescued horses as well as others that have subsequently arrived from other farms and stables. From the pert little miniatures, Prayer and Preacher, to the big Belgian-Paint mix, Elly May, all sizes and breeds coexist – ponies, quarter horses, Standardbreds, Appaloosas, Arabians, former racehorses, show horses, and saddle horses.

While many came from situations of abuse and neglect, some were given up by competent and caring owners for a host of reasons best boiled down to "no longer able to care for this horse."

IHR has never said no to an animal in need of a temporary or even permanent home, but its goal is adoption by caring and capable new owners.

Some horses have very special needs to be met and habits to be changed. Megan explained that Murphy, an ex-race horse, can't be left in the pasture for long periods or "he'd run his weight right off." He was inside now for fattening-up.

Rocket, a little brown and white miniature, came to IHR Southwest after his elderly owner died. Thin and grieving upon arrival, he is still trying to adjust to his loss, but he didn't hesitate to chomp on an offered carrot.

Rusty, Sully, and Nana, all blind, shared three adjoining stalls, and, I sensed, more than a few secrets. Roman Missy, a show horse whose former owner moved to attend college, sees only shadows. But no judge ever knew it, so well does she follow voice commands.

Some horses were friendly, others shy and anxious. Phoenix, a colt, is gentle, playful, and entirely unpredictable, according to our guide.

Cricket, normally pastured, was in the barn today with a problem that was being tended.

We walked out to meet Elly May (aka "Miss Boss" to the other horses). She is ready to be adopted like others at IHR Southwest, but needs to be with equine buddies willing to accept her leadership.

As we walked back toward our car after writing a check and asking about joining the cadre of volunteers, Charlie turned to me. The place had surpassed all our expectations.

"I'll drive," he said, "you start writing."

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