I’ve had several discussions lately about exactly what happens at a sanctuary for horses. What makes it different from a “Rescue” and why do horses need “Sanctuary”?
My personal perspective comes from decades of saving horses and keeping most of them till the end of their lives. That is pretty much what being in sanctuary would mean to a horse. He would have a safe, healthy home for the rest of his life. Horses are entirely dependent upon people for their every need! So, to be safe and cherished seems like it would be every horse’s wish.
Sanctuaries can be rescues, but not every rescue is a sanctuary. To be able to take in more horses, rescues need to adopt out horses that heal or become trained. Certainly many rescues keep horses that would not fare well elsewhere, but one average sized equine will cost $1,200 per year just for hay that is fed. Add hoof care, Veterinary care, supplementation, the cost of water and electricity to run the facility, petrol to get supplies… it all adds up quickly. It is not for the faint of heart.
The horse who has known hardship will require compassion and time to recover. Sometimes, they do not stretch beyond the trauma they have experienced and the best we can offer is a quiet life with their needs being met until their life ends. As advocates of all equines, we at Dharmahorse hope for the best, comfort a horse (or pony, donkey, mule) and accept the limitations they might have as we work to improve their circumstances. With this focus, getting our horses’ lives as close to a natural one is our priority.
We see our program for horses as one that creates as natural an environment as possible where the horses interact with each other, move about freely, graze upon grass hays in feeding stations and can choose their shelter according to wind and weather. If you take authority over an animal, you take responsibility for their well being. My favorite quote is: “Love is the active promotion of the well being of the love object” – E. Fromm. We love horses.
So, a horse sanctuary is a place where each horse is honored for his/her individual personality with a conscious awareness of the reasons for any quirks or fears. It is a place where equine nature is understood and supported, knowing that horses are herd animals; they are gregarious and need other equines to interact with.
Every horse owner can make their horse’s environment a sanctuary. It is a loving concept that can mean the difference between a mediocre existence of service and an enriched life well lived. A horse who is cherished will look forward to human contact. This horse will give more than is asked of him. There will be light in his eyes and he will be curious, engaged and content.
They say that we can judge a person by the way he treats animals. With horses, we must ask ourselves if they are here to prop up our egos or are they deserving of the same consideration we want for ourselves? When we open our hearts to accept the nature of horses and see through their eyes, we gain empathy for them both as a species and each as an individual. That is when their lives can flourish as we begin to add the simple things that support them and remove the things that torment them.
Sanctuary – a place of refuge or safety.
A horse rescue is also a sanctuary by definition and a horse sanctuary is dedicated to the principles long term. A funny side-effect of Sanctuaries is that the people who participate in the compassionate care of horses are healed, themselves, by the act of caring.
Horses bring out the best in people, given a chance, and when the human opens up to the pure honesty and persuasiveness of equine nature. We are changed by our association with horses. If we have their best interests at heart, we are changed for the better.