In the eight years since it’s inception, South Jersey Horse Rescue has rehomed over 91 previously unwanted or slaughter-bound horses. Nestled in the Wharton State Forest in Weekstown, New Jersey, SJHR is a 501c3 non-profit that relies solely on donations and volunteers for its survival. The sanctuary provides forever homes for animals too old for adoption (there are horses as old as 35 and 40 at the rescue) and for those horses with the potential for a second act, SJHR rehabilitates and trains the horses until they can be placed in a new home.
“We take on the horses that nobody wants,” says Debra Smith, an SJHR board member and volunteer, “We pay the bills and it’s hard sometimes because when the donations don’t come, we pull the money from our pockets.” The rescue is currently home to 18 horses, minis, and donkeys. Many of the animals have common stories, unwanted after young riders leave for college or when their owners can no longer afford them; others come from the kill pens at nearby auctions.
“It’s getting worse,” says Smith of the situation at the auctions. She told the story of a woman who bailed out two horses from an auction, only to have one die coming out of the kill pen as it was in such bad shape; another horse foundered while in quarantine. There was talk of putting the mare down but SJHR arranged to have the horse transported to their property once she was well enough. After diligent veterinary and farrier care (she has special mahogany shoes that cost $500 per shoeing) she now moves about comfortably and lives a happy life at SJHR.
Smith told another story where they rescued a mare, pooling $875 to purchase the horse and keep her off the Canada-bound truck. Spared a gruesome fate, the mare is currently in quarantine and will be heading to a new home in upstate New York.
“There aren’t enough people that understand the torture the horses go through at the kill pen, on the trucks, and during the slaughter process. I try to educate everyone I meet about this problem and encourage them to keep sharing that knowledge,” says Smith.
Because of SJHR’s efforts, many horses are now thriving who were marked for slaughter, from a beautiful stallion nearly put down because he was mistakenly deemed dangerous to a pony rescued from the kill pen for $425 now working as a lesson horse for children learning to jump.
There are 5 regular volunteers who all have full time careers yet dedicate their free time to keep the rescue afloat. A local University sends groups of volunteers once a month, as many as 30 at a time, to help at the farm. Local 4H members also pitch in and the rescue works closely with autistic children and individuals with PTSD. “There’s such a beautiful connection between these individuals and the horses,” says Smith.
SJHR recently collaborated with the Police Athletic League (PAL) in Egg Harbor Township. PAL approached the rescue last year for guidance on launching a riding program and horse sanctuary. SJHR Director Ellen Strack provided advice on barn design and trained PAL staff members about horse care and barn management. Four of SJHR’s rescues now live at the new PAL facility that will officially on May 13th.
For anyone interested in adopting one of SJHR’s rescues, be prepared for a rigorous vetting process. “We take applications and do a farm check prior to adopting out any of our horses,” says Smith, “after 30 or 40 days we conduct a welfare check on the horse, ensuring it’s still in good weight and has had any needed veterinary and farrier care. I have had to remove horses for a variety of reasons.”
There are numerous ways to help South Jersey Horse Rescue, from providing items as simple as manure forks and wheelbarrows, to dedicating a few hours to clean up and repairs, or best of all, sponsoring an individual horse on a monthly basis. SJHR’s website features a wish list of their current needs. SJHR holds fundraisers throughout the year, the next of which is Haircuts for Horses where Ms. Smith (who owns a beauty salon) will provide low cost hair cuts at the farm and donate all proceeds to the rescue. SJHR will also be present at the Animal Rescue Adopt-A-Thon 2017 at the Horse Park of New Jersey coming up on June 4, so if you plan on attending be sure to stop by their table for more information about the rescue and horses for adoption.
By Ashley Fairfield-Remeza
All photos courtesy of Debra Smith