From challenging beginnings to a forever home: horses find their field of dreams
Photo:Longtime volunteer Mike Daleiden leads Jori to a pasture for an early morning turnout. Photo courtesy of FODHRA
by Lynn Meredith
BATAVIA—When Willy, a 21-year-old thoroughbred gelding, arrived at Field of Dreams (FOD) Horse Rescue nine months ago, he was severely emaciated with a dull, patchy hair coat. He had been left in an outdoor paddock all by himself and had no recent veterinary care. With the love and dedication of the all-volunteer staff and the five other horses who live there—including a 45-year-old donkey named Orlando—Willy gained a whopping 500 pounds and learned to trust that people would actually feed, groom and clean him.
Willy’s success story is everything that FOD is supposed to do. Not only was he rescued and rehabilitated, but he was also adopted out to a new owner. Along the way, the volunteers learned valuable lessons on what it means to work with and love a horse and what they can get back from the experience.
“It’s immeasurable. You can’t put words to it,” said Craig Knight, president of the non-profit headquartered in St. Charles. “Everyone does it out of love of animals and the realization that in Northern Illinois and Southwestern Wisconsin, there is a need for services. The horses come from challenged beginnings. We make sure that they are never going to have that happen to them again. We are going to respect them for the proud animals they are. We find them their forever home.”
Two shifts of volunteers work seven days a week, 365 days a year to nurture these rescued animals back to health. Annually, in the United States alone, 140,000 to 160,000 horses are produced through breeding. For various reasons, many are neglected, abused or simply unwanted. When race horses or show business horses aren’t fast enough, get injured or can’t perform at the levels required, they no longer make money for their owners. When that happens, some are prone to be neglected, put down, or shipped to Canada or Mexico and slaughtered for their meat. In other instances, people discover that horses cost a lot more money than cats and dogs and live for 30 to 40 years. They find they no longer want, or can afford to, to care for the animals.
“That’s where FOD serves a niche market in the equine business,” Knight said. “We get numerous calls of ‘Come collect my horse.’ We’d love to rescue every one, every one that we can.”
But caring for a rescued horse is not cheap. It costs $600 to care for one horse for one month. That amount includes insurance, medicines, farrier and vet services, good quality feed, and the services of a licensed waste hauler. The organization has no paid staffers and needs to raise funds to care for the horses. It holds a fundraising dinner and silent auction in the fall and other fundraisers throughout the year. In a new program called “Equine Essentials,” people who want to give money directly to the care of the horses can pay for feed and hay for all the FOD horses on a weekly, monthly or yearly schedule.
Once a horse’s physical and emotional problems are resolved, he or she is available to be adopted out. FOD takes great pains to ensure the horse will be cared for properly after the adoption.
“We want to see where they are keeping the horse, their horse knowledge and if they know what they are getting into,” Knight said. “FOD retains the right to look in on the horse after the adoption. If it is not cared for in the way they said they would, we have it in the contract that we can take back the animal. Our biggest fear is someone wants to adopt, gets in over their head and the horse ends up neglected.”
Often, as was the case of Willy, an FOD volunteer will adopt a horse and board him at the FOD stable. Right now, three horses are available for adoption: Ginger, a 27-year-old Morgan mare who has healed from injuries after a dog attack, TJ, a 7-year-old thoroughbred chestnut gelding who retired from racing due to an ankle injury, and Jori, an 8-year-old thoroughbred mare whose owners could no longer care for her.
“Adoption is a long-term commitment. It is our hope that all our horses will be adopted out,” Knight said.
FOD provides careful training in the care and safety of working around horses. Four times a year, it conducts volunteer orientation sessions to aquiant potential volunteers with the facilities and requirements of the work. Volunteers can choose to work a morning shift, which involves more physical labor, or an afternoon shift, which involves more hands-on work with the horses, and there is no minimum number of hours for volunteering.
Field of Dreams Equine Essentials Donation Program
Cost of care of feed and hay
for all FOD horses:
1 week: $100.25
1 month: $401
1 year: $4,812