SARGE IS A horse who took charge of his own fate after his owners no longer wanted him and took him to an auction house kill pen.
There he stood, along with many others horses, held in cramped, unhealthy and under-kept conditions until they were auctioned for slaughter. Once purchased, he was jammed into a trailer with other horses and forced to stand in it for more than 24 hours at a time without food, water or rest as they were driven across the Canadian or Mexican border to a legal slaughter house.
Sounds awful, doesn’t it? Believe me, it’s horrific. Horse slaughter was banned in the United States in 2007. Even then, it was an inhumane way to die. A horse’s last moments are filled with abject terror, pain and abandonment.
“One day, we got a call from another rescue group asking if we could take in a beautiful copper-colored, healthy and smart horse they just took home from a kill pen but didn’t have room to keep him,” said Diane Royall, who, with friend, neighbor and fellow horsewoman Valerie Jackson, started rescuing horses that needed help in 2006.
At the time, they operated out of their own properties on Roupe Road in Sequim, doing “whatever our household budgets would allow,” they said.
The two met Sarge and agreed to take him home.
“The backstory is he came from a working ranch that sends their horses directly to the kill pen when done with them,” Royall said. “We found him to be a well-behaved gentleman. The only thing wrong with him was he was born with a slight club foot.”
She said he was crowded into a holding pen, “literally waiting for the next truck to haul him and a load of other horses off to slaughter.”
Occasionally, a lot will have people arrive hoping to purchase a horse to save it from death. Somehow, Sarge managed to escape the pen and then loaded himself into an open-door horse trailer only to have its owner promptly shoo him out.
He loaded himself into another. Again, he was rejected. So he jumped into a third trailer, where it’s said he had a look of desperation, as if to say, “Please, get me the heck out of here! I don’t belong!”
A gal who’d followed him in after witnessing his attempts to escape was approached by the lot manager who said, “That is a really great horse. He’s smart; he’s sound; there is nothing wrong with him. If you’ll take him home right now, I will look the other way.”
So she did.
In the meantime, the need for Royall’s and Jackson’s volunteer rescue work kept growing. In 2013, they founded the nonprofit Olympic Peninsula Equine Network (OPEN).
Sarge was estimated to be 17 years old when he arrived at OPEN. There, OPEN volunteer and Roupe Road neighbor Cathy Abandonato fell in love with and then adopted him.
I met Sarge when I was at OPEN to take a photo for this column. As soon as I was positioned to start snapping, Sarge would immediately put his ears forward, look right at the camera and strike a pose. I loved it. He was very personable.
I totally get why Abandonato refers to him as “the best horse ever.” And I’m only halfway teasing when I mention I wish the same could be said for a few of the people in the photo — who’ll remain nameless — who tended to look away and/or close their eyes while I was taking photos. Ha!
Sadly, not all of the horses OPEN takes in are a success story.
When I arrived, Port Townsend resident Dayna Killam was applying Pulse Electro Magnetic Field (PEMS) therapy to a little bay-colored Arabian mare who’d been returned to OPEN three times.
Originally, the horse came to OPEN after a Port Angeles Animal Control officer seized it from a bad situation. When she arrived, she looked like skin and bones with a terrible lice infestation; she also had some behavioral issues. After rehabilitation, she went out to first one then another of to what was hoped to be her forever home. Instead, she was returned both times.
Time will tell if the mare will ever be well enough mentally to go out for adoption again.
“She’s a very sensitive Arabian mare who really needs a special person with the equine knowledge to not only train her but to understand her,” Royall said.
In the meantime, they keep trying. Last week, she had PEMS therapy. Next week, she’ll receive equine acupressure treatment by Toes to Nose therapist Bridget Strumbaugh.
“We’re always open-minded to alternative therapies,” Jackson said. “Sometimes, we get horses everyone else has given up on, give them these types of therapies and have seen good results. Hopefully, it will help this mare.”
Royall reached out to me earlier this month after OPEN was contacted by an anonymous person who asked how she could help OPEN with a set amount of money.
“We were so excited by her offer,” Royall said. “Due to her generosity, we were able to have a veterinarian come out and give four horses a complete wellness exam along with floating three of their teeth.”
A horse’s teeth are always growing. Over time, sharp points develop on the teeth that become so sharp they’ll cut the inside of their mouth when chewing. A specialized type of metal rasp called a “float” is used to file the chewing surfaces relatively smooth. Done incorrectly, permanent damage can be done. That’s why it’s performed by a veterinarian; perhaps even one who specializes in equine dentistry.
“The gal came to oversee the work and ended up taking home two horses the vet thought would do the best in her situation,” Royall said. “She’s now providing those two with a wonderful retirement home on her land. She was incredibly generous.”
A week later, Royall was astounded to find a check for $1,500 donated by the same person in the mail. She said that money will go a long way toward helping to feed, provide veterinary care and even medicine to more horses.
Not only does helping people and their horses take a lot of time and energy, but it’s expensive. So OPEN depends on its generous donors and fundraising events. During the pandemic, the group hasn’t been able to host any fundraisers. Happily, it looks as if restrictions are easing up, and they can once again host events.
OPEN is hosting a fundraiser and tack auction at its headquarters on Roupe Road in Sequim on Saturday, April 24, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. This is a chance to catch some deals on equipment and accessories for riders, ponies, horses and mules. Saddles, blankets, bridles, halters, reins, bits, blankets, wraps and much more will be on sale.
OPEN isn’t a sanctuary program. It takes in horses intending to find new homes for them or place them in long-term foster care if their riding days are behind them.
“When you see a horse that’s starving, neglected or in crisis, please call the sheriff’s department directly,” Royall said. “Then the report on the animal is automatically logged in the system.”
A report then will go to the county animal control officer. In certain circumstances, animal control asks OPEN to help.
OPEN is a 501 (c)(3) equine rescue organization funded through donations, fundraising and adoption fees. Send donations to P.O. Box 252, Sequim, WA 98382.
To learn more, call 360-207-1688 or visit www.olypenequinenet.org.
For Nose to Toes Equine Acupressure with Bridget Strumbaugh, call 360-460-2953. For PEMS therapist Dayna Killam, phone 360-301-9524.
• Sept. 17-19 — Greg Eliel Horsemanship Clinic, Heron Pond Farm, 152 Douglass Way, Port Townsend. For more information, contact Christine Headley 360-286-9256 or email [email protected].
Karen Griffiths’ column, Peninsula Horseplay, appears the second and fourth Sunday of each month.
If you have a horse event, clinic or seminar you would like listed, please email Griffiths at [email protected] at least two weeks in advance. You can also call her at 360-460-6299.