Greener Pastures for Rescue Horses at the Horse Protection Association of Florida

DSC_5896How they’re saving equine lives and why they need YOUR help

By Elizabeth Putfark

If you drove up to the Horse Protection Agency of Florida (HPAF) on any average morning, you might not notice anything unusual. Like most large equestrian facilities, there’s a steady stream of horse and human traffic moving in and out of stalls and pastures, escorted by a cohort of friendly canines. Rosy-cheeked workers are laboring at stall cleaning, horse grooming and food prepping, and everywhere life is buzzing with activity.

What you might miss on a first glance is the fact that the horses frolicking at pasture haven’t always been so lucky, nor are the workers your typical equine professionals slaving for an extra buck or hours in the saddle.

This is a rescue operation, and its purpose is anything but recreational. Every horse on the 149-acre Micanopy property arrived in life threatening condition – victims of abuse, neglect and malnutrition. Under the leadership of executive director Morgan Silver, volunteers commit their time to making these horses look and feel as unlike their starving former selves as possible.

Merlin

Merlin

“Marion County has more horses than any one county in the United States – supposed to be about 55,000,” explains Morgan, who’s lead HPAF into its 25th year of operation. “We get the ones that are either abandoned or starving because no one wants to feed them anymore.”

Just inside the main barn, there’s a wall of before-and-after photos celebrating survivors who got a second chance through HPAF. Morgan knows every horse’s name and story by heart.

She points to a photo of a skin-and-bones young Thoroughbred that was found with 21 other youngsters starving in a field on Thanksgiving weekend. “Very typical of what we get here” she describes. “People see somebody sell a horse for a quarter of a million or a hundred thousand dollars and think, I can get me one, and breed a baby. They don’t realize that only happens to people who have already put two million in to get that quarter of a million out!”

Morgan says she mostly blames the overbreeding that happens in racing and competition industries for the overpopulation and ensuing neglect. “People are breeding for speculation – thinking this horse is fine, but maybe I breed her and sell for a profit,” Morgan claims. “They’re not interested in investing in the horse itself – not in its training. And if you don’t educate a horse and get it broke, nobody’s going to want them when they’re 12 or 15 years old.”

Morgan coaches volunteer Wayne in lunging technique

Morgan coaches volunteer Wayne in lunging technique

Many of the stories from Morgan’s victory wall have happy endings, but the sheer number of photos stapled along the aisle indicates the depth of difficulties facing equine rescues likes HPAF.

Pointing to the photo of an emaciated 24-year-old chestnut mare, she describes, “Her feet were so bad from malnutrition when we got her that we knew she wouldn’t be able to support a healthy weight. With a horse like that, the best we can do is to feed them up, get them comfortable and at least let them have a happy couple months before putting them down.”

Morgan says she mostly blames the overbreeding that happens in racing and competition industries for the overpopulation and ensuing neglect. “People are breeding for speculation – thinking this horse is fine, but maybe I breed her and sell for a profit,” Morgan claims. “They’re not interested in investing in the horse itself – not in its training. And if you don’t educate a horse and get it broke, nobody’s going to want them when they’re 12 or 15 years old.”

Many of the stories from Morgan’s victory wall have happy endings, but the sheer number of photos stapled along the aisle indicates the depth of difficulties facing equine rescues likes HPAF. Pointing to the photo of an emaciated 24-year-old chestnut mare, she describes, “Her feet were so bad from malnutrition when we got her that we knew she wouldn’t be able to support a healthy weight. With a horse like that, the best we can do is to feed them up, get them comfortable and at least let them have a happy couple months before putting them down.”

The struggles of horse rescues like HPAF begin and end with money. “Most people think we get funding from the state, or free feed and hay, and that couldn’t be more false,” Morgan explains. “We’re run totally by donations.

“Our operating costs are $1,000 a day, and right now we have enough money for 30 days.” Morgan laughs with exasperation. “So I pray a lot!”Photo 2

In addition to funding, HPAF is always looking for committed volunteers to keep daily chores going. Unlike their horses who mostly come
from a similar set of dismal circumstances, their volunteers arrive from all walks of life.

“I’ve been a horse person all my life and just wanted to groom and be around horses,” says volunteer Gloria Crossman. “I read in the paper that they needed volunteers, and even though it’s a 45-minute drive, it’s only one day a week for me. “I’m a nurse,” she admits, “but I would rather volunteer here!”

Another pair of volunteers are snowbirds who winter in Florida before returning north each spring. “We’ve ridden before but not often enough to matter,” Pam Hawkins says of herself and husband, Wayne Hawkins. “We had a lot to learn, but Morgan has taught us so much. We groom horses, turn them out, soak alfalfa cubes, muck stalls, paint fences, drag fields, change lightbulbs – whatever! It doesn’t matter to us – we’re here because the horses are important.”

Retirees are the most common volunteers at HPAF, although Morgan says she also gets some college students from UF and Santa Fey and would love to get more. Right now, she even has a pair of young interns from Sweden.

“The main thing is getting people who are consistent,” Morgan explains. “We put a lot of training into our volunteers, so it means a lot for them to keep coming back, even if it’s only once a week.”DSC_5936

The training put into horses and volunteers comes from Linda and Pat Parelli’s bestselling Parelli Horsemanship program, a brand of natural horsemanship that teaching even amateur horsemen how to speak to a horse in its own language of gestural communication.

“There’s a lot of natural horsemanship programs out there,” Morgan admits, “but I find that [Parelli’s] is the most learnable and the most duplicable. There’re a lot of people who can do really great things with horses, but their method isn’t easy to learn. The average amateur can follow Parelli’s step-by-step program. It’s even on DVDs they can watch at home!”

The most important part of teaching horses and students about natural horsemanship at HPAF is that it provides continuity when horses move to their new adoptive homes. In fact, Morgan says they prioritize those adoptive families who commit to keeping their horse in the Parelli training program through the transition, and so long as it continues to benefit the horse.

Horses adopted through the HPAF are not available for resale or breeding, so it’s crucial that adoptive families show them the same kind of commitment they’re shown at HPAF.

“The thing about people who are doing Parelli is, they don’t give up on their horses,” Morgan states emphatically. “That’s what we’re looking for.”

And indeed that’s the attitude that prevails at the HPAF, even on chilly winter mornings and hot summer days, when funding runs low, runs out or looks dubious for the future. No matter what it takes, the board of directors plans to keep this place running against all odds. Because at the end of the day, they’re the kind of owners every horse deserves.

They don’t give up on their horses.

DSC_5825The HPAF is always looking for volunteers, donors and new members to serve on its board of directors. If you are interested in getting involved, visit their website at hpaf.org, or contact Morgan directly at 352-466-4366.


After serving four years as executive director, Morgan is adamantly searching for an heir who wants to focus on fundraising and community sponsorships as much as she wants to focus on each individual horse’s training. The HPAF is also hoping to find IT help in the near future to assist in keeping their website up-to-date and their advertisement fresh and interesting. Whatever your talent, they’ll put it to good use!

 

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