By VIVIAN GRANT
The human participants of Equine Angels Rescue Sanctuary could not sit idly by while these magnificent horses were killed. If it was just a matter of those lives saved, that would be enough, but fortunately we have come to know the greater potential of these angelic equines. Each of these horses … has touched and uplifted several human lives along the rescue path.
~ From the Introduction for the book Equine Angels
Interview Part 1 of 2 with Frank Weller
Equine Angels Rescue Sanctuary is an equine charitable organization founded and operated by Frank Weller. Based in Connecticut, Equine Angels focus on rescuing and finding nurturing, lifelong homes for horses, mostly foals but also the mares, who are the byproducts of the Premarin(R) family of menopausal drugs made by pharmaceutical giant Wyeth.
Weller explains how the group got its name, and its start.
I remember it was a cold evening in the barn and I was trying to think of a name that people and horses could relate to. I thought that these horses are angels because of how they rescue people and the people are also angelic because of their efforts for the horses.
So Equine Angels was a must. We rescue and find sanctuary for the horses and so “Rescue Sanctuary” was added.
We knew it was right because the acronym spells EARS which the horses liked very much. It also made us warmer when we came upon this awareness. Ears, in fact, can be symbolic of horses and can also be very revealing of their personalities.
In 2001, I was doing a documentary about a horse rescuer named Helen Meredith from United Pegasus Foundation. She had bought 160 Premarin(R) foals at auction and was sorting them out, doing their coggins and health papers, and trying to feed them along the way. Helen had run out of volunteers for some of the time and so I put the camera down and started to help out. Not the ideal move for documentary work, but I had to help her. The energy of all those foals was amazing. I still think of it, literally, as a “fountain of youth”.
The next year, we helped fund raise to save more Premarin(R) foals. We brought in enough to save 500 foals that year which we co-ordinated through United Pegasus Foundation in California. We also began to find quality life-long adopting homes for the PMU foals, and some mares, as a newly established 501(c)(3) based out of New Milford.
The PMU mares and foals are usually draft crosses. They are excellent adoption candidates because they are sturdy, stoic and loving. The two most important things are that the foals get established by spending as much time with their adoptive “moms” as possible.
Richard Gere gave out one of our first ever Equine Angel awards in Greenwich, Connecticut.
In the last six years, we have successfully completed over 250 adoptions into those loving and forever homes.
Equine Angels have continued to be motivated to save these mares and foals from slaughter, and that would certainly be enough. Weller has found that there is much more to the experience.
Another miracle, however, happens along the way. All the folks that touch that foal or mare, either physically or in spirit, are uplifted by the experience. Volunteers, transporters, donors, well-wishers, foster families, and, especially the adopting families, all report the peace, joy and love they find along the rescue path. Our motto has become, “Rescues Rescue Us” because that is how it works!
After going to auctions for the first year, Equine Angels felt there must be a better way to acquire the foals. They decided to reach out to the farmers directly, and came to a win-win-win arrangement.
The farmers keep the foals with the mares instead of sending them to slaughter auctions in September. The mares and foals stay in the fields and the farmers do not have to spend time rounding them up and taking them to auctions. The foals had more mom time — typically an extra 6 weeks — which means more milk and better psychological balance.
Weller says other important factors are the eventual adopters end up with a better family member. The rescuers suffer less “burn-out” and can better assess the foals and mares in the fields as opposed to a traumatic auction (traumatic for equine and rescuer).
Selecting horses to rescue is where an already tough job gets even tougher. How do you choose the foals, knowing the ones you do not face auction, transport to slaughter and a grisly and terrifying death? Not many horse rescuers are willing to tackle that question because of the complexity of the emotions involved, but Weller is.
It is hard to think that we cannot rescue all the foals and that we must leave some behind. We are frequently asked, “How do we pick the ones to rescue?” That answer may differ depending on the situation. In this last rescue, just two weeks ago, we took all the foals that were left behind. All the other foals had been chosen by other rescues or private parties. We are glad for their efforts. Those left behind, however, were in even more desperate need of rescue and that is mostly what we do; take all the leftovers. Our book, “Equine Angels: Stories of Rescue, Love, and Hope” will show you how wonderfully they turn out as athletes, ambassadors, therapy horses and, most of all, great family members.
The farms and feedlots we don’t get to are still on our minds. We will do our best to go back and get as many as we can do justice to. The horses still in need remind us of the time when a foal coliced and died during our first year in Canada. It was a foal from the auctions and we mourned for about 15 minutes before we realized how much the remaining foals still needed us to feed them and continue their adoption process. The lesson they taught us is that we have to concentrate on the ones that we can save as we still cherish the ones that God has another plan for.
Equine Angels transport the horses from Canada to the USA in late October and then start to adopt and foster them after stringently qualifying interested families.
Weller talks about what else being a good family to a rescued foal or mare must be willing and able to do.
The second important ingredient is training. We owe it to the horses and their new families to provide guidance with natural training techniques. That really goes to how we qualify people too. We look for education, facility and commitment. Applicants may be lacking a little in the first two, but if they have commitment, then they will excel. Only 1 in 15 interested applicants, by the way, qualify to foster or adopt.
(c) Tuesday’s Horse. For reprint permission contact us at tuesdayshorse | @ | fund4horses | dot | org
Read Part 2 of our interview with Frank Weller, where he tells us about Toby, the first PMU foal he rescued, and the impact the young colt had on his life.
Buy the book inspired by Frank’s work with these magical mares and foals. Proceeds from “Equine Angels” goes toward saving more of these miracle horses.
Ray of Light Farm, Rescue and Animal-Assisted Therapy Center
Photography for Equine Angels and of Frank ‘n’ Foal above by Donna Cloutier.