ON SUNDAY EVENING, I met with Eyes That Smile board members Valerie Jackson and Diane Royall to see their three newly rescued foals, part of the infamous “Yakima Foals,” as they arrived at their new temporary home with member Ollie Babcock.
“The foals will go through a 30-day quarantine period, be handled, vaccinated, wormed and, if old enough, be weaned and also be available for viewing and adoption,” said Valerie, who, along with Ollie, spent a full day driving back and forth from Yakima to pick up these foals.
The saga of these foals, members of a feral band of horses, was brought to light recently because tourists driving on U.S. Highway 97 within the Yakama Reservation lands were horrified to see carcasses of dead horses — starved to death because of overgrazed land — scattered alongside the road.
Sent to slaughter
In response, individuals within the tribe are capturing the horses and selling them to the owner of a Washington feedlot who purchased them for slaughter. All horses except for foals younger than 6 months will be shipped to slaughter.
“Helping out these foals is giving me a new purpose in life and a first step toward fulfilling a lifelong dream of running a horse rehabilitation center,” said Ollie, 28, an ex-Marine, wife and mother to an adorable little girl.
She met Valerie and Diane while helping pick up fresh bales of hay offered at a lower price to those willing to pick up the bales out of a field themselves.
“As we were in the field collecting the bales, I started telling these two ladies my goal and saw their eyes light up at the idea of me joining forces with them,” Ollie said.
Soon, she and volunteer Justin Charone found themselves spending hours building a pen and readying an area to house the foals.
These are not wild Mustangs but are from feral bands of once-privately owned good horses — many registered — whose owners turned them out on open range (in this case, the Yakama Reservation) because their owners could no longer afford to feed them.
Over the years, those horses have bred and now number more than 24,000, all competing for food on the reservation’s mostly sagebrush 410,000 acres — 10 times more than experts believe the land can sustain
“The herds have become overpopulated. Many animals are starving to death in the winter. In their search for food, they are moving into rural areas and getting hit by cars and other terrible fates,” said Valerie.
She said there’s been “a lot of bad press out there surrounding this entire unfortunate situation, and both the tribe and feed lot owner are getting harassed, but harassing the people involved is only making it worse for the horses.
The fee to adopt from individual Yakama tribal members who have captured the foals is $100 (the amount they’d get at the feed lot).
For an additional $25, Valerie said, “we were given the chance to buy our foals before they went to the kill pen and got beat up by the bigger horses along the way in the stock trailers, and if you’ve ever seen how hurt and damaged those babies get while crammed in those trailers with bigger horses — who are all scared — you’d know it’s totally worth the extra $25.”
“Thankfully, we had sponsors who helped purchase these foals,” said Valerie, who along with Diane, already cares for a number of rescues on her property and so was very grateful to Ollie for offering to foster these three.
According to the Yakima Herald, the Yakama tribe is actively seeking solutions to the wild horse problem, and it is not alone. Other tribes wrestling with the issue include the Warm Springs, Apache and Navajo, which alone have 50,000 to 70,000 wild horses on their reservation.
Tribes, including the Yakama, used to manage populations by capturing horses to sell to slaughterhouses until 2006, when Congress defunded inspections for horse processing plants, effectively shutting them down.
As long as those plants remain closed, horror stories of horses being jammed into trailers and trucked over to Canada or Mexico to legal slaughterhouses abound.
Supporters say it’s important to reopen local slaughterhouses in order to provide a humane, affordable way to end a horse’s life and is better than letting an injured animal suffer or an unwanted horse starve.
Foals are cute, but they are a lot of work and have very specific needs. Like all animals, they will need a lot of hands-on work and training; it can also be expensive.
So I urge all thinking of adopting to try fostering first. Foster homes are very much in need, and because Eyes that Smile is a legal 501(c)(3), money spent is tax-deductible.
While some make large onetime-only donations, many folks are choosing the option to have a smaller amount set up as a monthly payment to this good cause.
“Those monthly donations could be $10, $20 or $30,” said Diane. “Big or small, it’s all appreciated and is a huge help in getting these horses healthy and adoptable.”
To donate, visit www.eyesthatsmile.org and scroll down to the bottom of the page to find the donation button.
■ 8 a.m. June 21-22 — Jean Iverson Memorial Show, an Olympic Peninsula Zone benefit show, at the Clallam County Fairgrounds in Port Angeles. Entry forms can be found at http://opz.weebly.com or local feed and tack stores. Discounted entry fees close Thursday.
■ June 28-29 (9:30 a.m. start June 28, 9 a.m. start June 29) — Patterned Speed Horse Association game show at Crosby’s arena, 122 Franson Road in Agnew. Phone Pam Crosby at 360-670-3906.
■ 2 p.m. June 29 — First Back Country Horsemen of Washington Peninsula chapter picnic bash and general meeting. Hosted by Dan and Debbie Dosey’s place at 3974 Palo Alto Road in Sequim.
Bring a side dish and something to drink for a gourmet barbecue. There will be a live bluegrass band, horseshoe and croquet competitions, and prizes and raffles items.
RSVP by June 26 for a head count at email@example.com or 360-461-9774.
■ July 5 — Equine Trail Sports obstacle course and trail ride at Layton Horse Camp, 2514 Chicken Coop Road, Sequim. Contact Anna Neal at 425-737-7404 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.equinetrailsports.com.
■ July 5-6 — Star Spangled Horse Show at the Clallam County Fairgrounds. Entry forms are available at Cowboy Country, 923 E. First St., and http://opz.weebly.com.
For more information, phone Sherrie Ellis at 360-460-8481 or Kyle Ellis at 360-461-0006, or email email@example.com.
Karen Griffiths’ column, Peninsula Horseplay, appears every other Wednesday.
If you have a horse event, clinic or seminar you would like listed, please email Griffiths at firstname.lastname@example.org at least two weeks in advance. You can also write Griffiths at PDN, P.O. Box 1330, Port Angeles, WA 98362.