Pure Passion: Saving US Horses from Slaughter
Hidden Pond Equine Rescue in Brentwood, New Hampshire
WRITTEN BY Linda Buchanan Allen, Freelance Writer
Maggie slipped into the world sometime during the night. For days, we’d been watching the mare Louise for signs that she was close to giving birth—but Louise munched hay quietly in her stall. Then early one morning, Maggie was there: fuzzy caramel-and-cream body wobbling on stilt legs, stretching her neck toward her mother’s udder for milk. Soon she was bouncing around on tiny feet. Maggie seemed normal. The vet came for a routine check of her vitals. All appeared well until one final blood test: with the devastating news that Maggie’s immune system was compromised. She had not been able to absorb enough colostrum from her mother’s first milk. Without the antibodies to fight infection, Maggie would die within days.
Maggie needed two transfusions of plasma to set her system right. It was going to cost $2,000. We had to try. At Hidden Pond Farm Equine Rescue, we don’t give up easily. Founding director Phyllis Elliott made an appeal on social media. People from all over the region responded. The vet arrived prepared to spend the evening. Several of us volunteered as amateur assistants. We set up a hospital room in Louise and Maggie’s stall. Hunkered in hay and shavings, we took turns holding Maggie’s head and legs while a thread of fluid trickled from the plasma bag down a plastic line into her neck vein.
Maggie survived. Today she is the HPF Equine Rescue mascot, galloping around her paddock with Louise. She bucks and whinnies, snatches treats and gives sniffy kisses to humans. She is happy and healthy. So is her mother. Two years ago, 4-year-old Louise stood pregnant in the kill pen, where horses are corralled before they are loaded onto the slaughter truck. Equine slaughter is real.
Here are the facts: More than 150,000 American horses are shipped to slaughter in Canada and Mexico every year. Ninety percent are healthy. Many are young. Some—like Louise—are pregnant. They are sent to auction by racetracks, farms, back yards, show barns, summer camps and riding schools. They have done nothing wrong. They have served their humans well. Yet if no one purchases or rescues them, they may be sold by the pound to kill buyers, and trucked to plants where they are turned into meat that is shipped overseas for human consumption. It’s perfectly legal.
Several years ago, a few horse people in Brentwood, New Hampshire decided to do something about this. Phyllis Elliott and her daughter Jessica have raised and trained horses for decades. Jess drove her trailer to an auction in Pennsylvania, and returned with horses that needed homes.
Hidden Pond Farm Equine Rescue was born. Since then, volunteers, fosters, and donors have stepped up to keep the rescue going. We have saved more than 300 horses from the slaughter truck. We all wear several hats. Now that we are an official 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, there’s more than a farm to run: social media, finances, fundraising, hosting events and more—including keeping in touch with our adopters, fosters, donors, and horses. Adults and young people work side by side at the farm, lugging hay bales, filling water buckets, leading horses to paddocks, chatting with visitors and supporters. Educating the next generation is vital to the survival of horses.
Our goal is for every horse to find its forever home, though a few, like Maggie and Louise, are Hidden Pond Farm residents—at least for now. Some just need time. They need a steady diet, to make their way in the herd, to accept and trust humans again. The rescue farm gives them that. Each horse has a story.
Franklin spent his sixth birthday crammed against other horses in the kill pen. Emaciated and riddled with lice, he was scheduled to board the slaughter truck. Franklin’s original owner had fallen ill and could no longer care for him, selling him to neighbors for their children. But the kids lost interest, and the family stopped feeding him. Then the family took him to auction, where a kill buyer bought him. Phyllis Elliott spotted his photo online, and knew immediately that he was well-bred. Now Franklin lives at Hidden Pond Farm, adopted by volunteer Dineen Corey. He’s the life of the party. He loves attention. “He is big, goofy, and extremely smart,” says Dineen. “I had to earn his trust and his love, therefore my life will be forever changed.” Franklin’s life is forever changed too.
Late last year, a huge chestnut gelding dubbed Big Red stumbled off the rescue trailer and into our hearts. His ribs protruded like bent sticks, his eyes were dull as bark. Red drooped his head toward the ground, not believing there might be food near his lips. He was bred to be a fancy halter horse, and at age five had already won ribbons in the ring. But his owners had sold him, and for ten months he bounced from auction to auction. He had no idea where he was headed. He didn’t know why he couldn’t go home, or why no one fed him. Then he reached the final auction—and the kill pen. Unbeknownst to Red though, a woman had donated money toward his rescue expenses and was following his journey to Hidden Pond Farm closely. On a drizzly April day, Bethany Smith and her husband drove more than two hours from their home to meet Red at the farm. The tall gelding pulled himself up to his full height and strode out of his stall, allowing Bethany to stroke his forehead. “I loved him from the first time I saw his picture,” says Bethany. So Red loaded on the last trailer, the one taking him to his forever home. He’s stronger and healthier. And he’s no longer hungry. “I love just listening to him enjoy his food! He’s so beautiful, such a sweetheart,” reports Bethany. Red’s registered name is Unbelievable Style. He is living up to it.
Gail Kirkman runs a small lesson program on her farm in Massachusetts, and was looking for a larger pony for her students to ride. “I figured why not try a rescue,” she recalls. She initially received two mares through HPF Equine Rescue. Gail adopted one for her riding program, while a 13-year-old riding student fell in love with the other. Gail comments that her mare, now named Lilly, is the perfect match for her lesson program. “She’s currently fussed over by three young girls!” Gail has Lilly in professional training. “Both these mares have brought so much love and joy to my farm, we are truly blessed to have found them,” she says.
“Rescue. Big word. Big responsibility,” Phyllis Elliott observes. Rescue work is far from glamorous. It’s trudging through mud and snow because the horses need to be fed. It’s also gratitude to all who offer support. Rescue is a challenge of community. One glance into the terrified eyes of a horse that has escaped slaughter is enough to keep us going. If you want to learn more, please visit our Facebook page and our website at www.hiddenpondequinerescue.com. We welcome guests! Just send a message or call at (603) 568-6654 beforehand, so we (including Maggie) can be sure to greet you.