Sweet Justice!

Jake Rider, the owner of Howdy, Lily, and Cody who was charged with 11 counts of animal cruelty was finally sentenced.

He will be spending six months in jail and has been ordered to not own any animals for seven years.

Would we have liked to have seen more? Sure, but we’re happy that the court clearly felt his crime was a serious one.


My aunt referenced the title of this post in a phone message she left for me about how glad she was that we were able to connect on a recent visit, even though it was only for a few hours.  Her message couldn’t have come at a better time.  I was grateful for it for three reasons; for one, it made me laugh. I’m not sure whether she realized it or not, but it was quite a unique spin on the old “glass half-full” adage. Two, of course it was great to hear from her. And three, I really needed to hear such sage advice at that moment.

I know I’ve mentioned it before, but it’s worth repeating: With the current state of the economy our rescue has really been struggling.  Donations have been, and continue to be, far below what we need.  Until recently I’ve been pretty immune–not that I haven’t realized where we are, but I’ve been able to keep a pretty level head and maintain my focus on the here and now.  Although my job title at People Helping Horses is “Volunteer Coordinator,” I support the organization in many different capacities. For the last several months I’ve been working on grant proposals.  And for some strange reason, I actually kind of like doing it too. This is a good thing.  Maintaining my focus on procuring grants has been great for me, the simple act of imagining how much each one could help our organization keeps me from fretting over the decline in donations.

The general grant processing time is about six months from submission of your application to notification.  I began writing grants in February, so the results are trickling in.  Honestly, the news hasn’t been what I had been dreaming up in my head.  The main message has been not that our organization isn’t worth funding, but that’s there’s just not enough money–and, in many cases, no money. I got one of those letters yesterday from a group I was really counting on a few hours before my aunt called.

We’ve got a cup. Despite the disappointment of not receiving all of the grants I’ve been dreaming of, we still have a cup. The Tulalip Indian Tribe gave us a grant that came when we really needed the money.  The Stillaguamish Indian Tribe donated the use of  a pasture, which is saving us thousands of dollars on hay, shavings, electricity, water, and labor.  And of course, even though donations are significantly down, we’re still getting donations!  And of course, we have our phenomenal volunteers. Their time and effort is not only saving money, but inspiring everyone at the barn as well.

So, there you go.  When you think of it from that perspective, at least we have a cup.  At least we have a safe barn for our rescued horses.  At least we have a place where kids living with disabilities can grow and learn. We have a cup, and in good intentions, great people, and the desire to make this world a better place for all horses, ours is overflowing.

Thanks for the cup, Aunt Terrie.


Let’s face it: We all have the best of intentions when we bring home leftovers from a restaurant. But sometimes—most of the time–they get shoved to the back of the fridge and forgotten.

Sadly, the same is true for many senior horses and those retired from riding. We owners are full of good intentions, but when a new horse comes along, so often the old languish and deteriorate, much like that pasta puttanesca hiding in your Frigidaire. The old are seen as an inconvenience at times, especially if the horse begins to have complications requiring extra feed, medication, or special shoes. People see these horses as useless because they can’t be ridden. But are they really?

Leigh Shambo, an advocate for the older horse if there ever was one, is a clinician and owner of the Human-Equine Alliance for Learning. She distributes a monthly e-newsletter that I look forward to reading each month. In it, Shambo tells the fascinating and heartwarming stories of how horses have helped people HEAL. She is practicing proof that horses can help people work through their problems without ever getting on their backs. Here is an excerpt from her website:

Leigh Shambo’s psychotherapy practice and educational workshops incorporate horses to guide clients in search of self-awareness and better relationship skills. An accomplished equestrian coach with a master in social work, Leigh attracts clients interested in personal growth, psychological, spiritual and energy work.

“The most meaningful work for horses today is to guide us in a new language of connection—to nature, ourselves and each other,” says Leigh. She is a skilled facilitator who teaches people about self-awareness and relationships through guided interactions with horses. The horse activities focus on a “horse whispering” model that is easily practiced by people with little equestrian experience, and is also rich with subtle dynamics that bring added insight for those with years of horse experience.


So what does all this have to do with horse rescue? Everything! So many of our rescues come to us with physical and emotional baggage, ready to begin the healing process and move on to a more balanced and humane life. It is not a short or easy road but a very rewarding one to be sure. Note, I did not say anything about riding in their future.

I adopted Red, a horse in his late teens, and while many people would consider him old I, for one, do not. It’s true that, the longer I have owned Red, the more problems we have uncovered. The thing is, I don’t see them as problems; I see them as steps to healing. As each issue is uncovered and treated, he gets better and better. I have not ridden him since the end of May but I don’t miss it at all. We have spent hours together doing physical therapy, training for Parelli level 2, and just enjoying each other’s company. He was cleared for riding again in mid- August, but when I sat on him bareback a few days ago he “told” me he was not ready yet and you know what? That’s ok. There is nothing like having such a close relationship with your horse that they nicker at you when you approach the stall or come running across the pasture when they see you approach. And that is enough. Red has taught me so much about horses—so much about humankind—that I’m thankful to simply be his owner. His friend.

As rescue groups, ours included, struggle to keep their doors open in this economy, we all have to ask the hard question of what to do with older and un-rideable horses. Sunshine is a prime example of one such case. She was abandoned with a herd of horses in Concrete, Washington and has had a baby every year for an unknown length of time. Hard and thankless work to be sure! Now in her mid to late twenties, she is still happy and sound but not without physical characteristics that will probably keep her from being a riding horse again. Spending the rest of her life in our care would not be bad. She would have plenty of food and fresh water but stall life is no life at all unless you have an owner that comes to give you the attention you crave and need. Volunteers can fill some of the void, but it is not the same as having a “person.”

Sunshine deserves the opportunity to see what life can be like when an owner treasures you for who and what you are, despite your limitations—who sees past the dollar signs and simply loves you, well, just because.

Sunshine is one of six horses past their riding prime in our program and in need of forever homes. It is truly amazing to see these horses that have suffered through so much, yet still have years of loyalty and love to give. If you want more information on Sunshine or any of the other wonderful horses in our program, please email me at laura@peoplehelpinghorses.org

I had the opportunity last month to testify for King County in the animal abuse case against Jake Rider–nearly two years after we took in three of 24 animals that Rider had starved and neglected.  The case lasted for several days; however, in the end, Jake Rider was found guilty on one Charge of First Degree Animal Cruelty and ten charges of Second Degree Animal Cruelty. A bittersweet end.

Bittersweet you ask?  Yes, bittersweet.  Animal rescue groups and activists such as Pasado’s Safe Haven, who played such a vital role in the Jake Rider case, have fought vigilantly for years to enable Animal Control officers through the court system against men like Jake Rider. The laws were finally changed in July 2007 when horses and livestock could be seized  due to visible signs of neglect in addition to the failure to provide food or water on the property.

Unfortunately, seizing the animal is only the first step on the road to justice. Next stop? Convincing the Prosecuting Attorneys to actually prosecute; a whole different challenge unto itself as they face the juggling of a full docket of cases against the likelihood of winning and ultimately achieving retribution .  Too often, with ambiguous laws and no historical case records, the animal abuse charges were thrown out or pled down to lesser charges to avoid trial.

And now, now that we are finally seeing the results of our efforts and patience, the despressed economy and mandatory state and county budget cuts have made it virtually impossible for Animal Control to continue to seize horses and press charges in order to keep that docket full.  It so often feels like a particularly vicious circle, as we relentlessly take two steps forward to every step back.

I am continually asked what I think the solution to this problem is.  How can People Helping Horses help to rectify the plight of the equine?  I’ve been fortunate over the last few months to have the opportunity to speak candidly and intimately with well respected clinicians and horse people in the industry regarding this exact situation, including Ken McNabb and Lynn Palm.  While we all have opinions, some similar and some very different, it is hard to nail down a concrete solution; there’s not just one question that needs to be addressed, but many.

I do know that we have to look at the problem as a whole, not just piece by piece; we didn’t get here today as the consequence of one decision or action, and I highly doubt that we will rectify it with one answer.  It is going to take the passion, dedication, and tenacity of individuals, professional associations, corporations, and government: all working together towards a common goal to ensure that the magnificent animal we call the horse can live a quality, healthy life safe from abuse, neglect, and abandonment.

In the weeks and months to follow, I will share my thoughts and opinions on the questions we as horse lovers and professionals face; hopefully through reflection on these issues, the path to a brighter future will become clear.

-Gretchen Salstrom, Founder & Executive Director, PHH

A Little More You

“I’m here fallin’ for you
My heart’s callin’ for you
I know I never can get enough
Don’t hold back one bit of your love
Strong and steady for you
I’m all ready
Come on, baby, give me a little more you”

–Little Big Town

I had the opportunity last March to watch Linda Parelli and her horse, Remmer, demonstrate their extraordinary relationship at Lynn Palm’s annual Women Luv Horses event in
Ocala, Florida. I was completely awe struck, inspired, and desperately wishing for my own horse when she was through. The emotional impact was made even deeper by the pairing of her demonstration with music.  I am a huge lover of (almost) all music and I was taken right back to that moment in Florida when I heard “A Little More You” by Little Big Town today.

I believe Linda used this song to illustrate the relationship between a person and their horse, each needing to give their all to the other. Absolute commitment is required on both sides. This message echoes in my mind when thinking of our horse rescues and what they’ve gone through. Neglect, abandonment, and abuse. How can our rescues possibly give of themselves when they’ve received so little in return? How does one commit to something they fear?

Linda-Parelli bareback horse exihibition
I happened to be reflecting on what to cover in my post when Little Big Town’s song came on inducing images of Linda Parelli and Remmer jumping bareback and bridle less over picnic tables.  That takes commitment.  And  as the Volunteer Coordinator at People Helping Horses I know a thing or two about commitment.

When I took over the position, my personal view of humanity had been deeply shaken. Having experienced the drudgery of an overworked, underpaid, under appreciated waitress, I had become disillusioned with my fellow human beings. Slowly but surely, over the past year, I’ve been surprised and deeply moved by the undying dedication of our volunteers.  From helping with our Leg Up for Kids Therapeutic Riding to picking rocks out of our arenas, they show up. Through the ups and downs of their own lives, our volunteers are here, willing to do whatever it takes to secure a second chance for our horses. They really are giving us “a little more you.”

And in giving more of themselves the PHH rescues get the TLC they need to take the next step towards commitment. And if that’s not inspiring, I don’t know what is.

Determined to Live

I am often asked how I can handle working with animals that have suffered at the hands of humankind.  The answer? I get to watch them transform into beautiful horses and then help them find new homes.  It is truly inspiring to watch the courage they possess, because many of the ones that find their way to PHH have chosen life over death despite the odds.

One such horse is Lucky.  She was found by some locals that had gone for a trail ride only to discover two horses at the trail head with no one in sight.  They called the county, who came out and picked them up.  Although the horses were not terribly skinny, they were not without injury.  The gelding had completely “blown out” the tendons in both hind legs; meaning his fetlock joint was nearly touching the ground.  Lucky had been shot in the head just above her right eye, not to mention the very unusual growth above her hoof on the left hind.

Since the animals had been abandoned they had to be held for 14 days to see if anyone would claim them.  Not surprisingly, no one did.  The county had the bullet removed from Lucky’s head before bringing her to us.  The gelding was so severely injured that he had to be put down; one of the sad realities of being in the rescue business.  Lucky, however, was determined to live not just for herself but for the little one growing in her belly.  She was six months pregnant.

In spite of all the terrible things this lovely Thoroughbred mare has seen, Lucky is a happy horse and has been an absolute dream to have around the barn.  She came with an unreadable lip tattoo which told us that she had been started under saddle at least enough to make it to the racetrack.  With a little light riding before she got too pregnant we were able to determine that she did not have much training but was a very willing student.

Lucky gave birth to a  healthy girl we named Charm in March 2009.  Having a baby did take its toll on her body and the vet is coming this week to give her a chiropractic treatment.  She is not lame but a little sore in a few places.  We want to be sure she is not in any pain before we start riding her again.

Lucky will be eased into the training process and available for adoption within the next three months. One of the things that is somewhat unique about our adoption program is that we train all of our horses before placing them.  Sometimes we get horses in that are already broke, but we give them at least 30 days in training just to make sure.  This enables us to get a feel for the horse and what type of home they will be best suited for.  With horses like Charm, we will wait several years until she is ready to be started under saddle and placed in her forever home.

Interested in either Lucky or Charm? Here at PHH we love to see enthusiasm from a prospective adopter and involvement with the horse at a very early stage is encouraged. Nothing connects a horse and rider like time spent together learning and growing in understanding and acceptance. Email me with any questions, laura@peoplehelpinghorses.org

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