Rescue Me: Bear Valley Rescue (Canada)

By VIVIAN GRANT

Many people don’t realize that when they sell their horse at auction there is a VERY big risk that it will be purchased by a meat buyer. The majority of horses sold at livestock auctions do go for meat. At every auction we have attended, about 80 to 90% of the horses were purchased by the meat buyer – weanlings, yearlings, pregnant mares, mares with foals, broke horses, wild horses, healthy horses, sick horses, doesn’t matter.

~ Kathy Bartley, Bear Valley Rescue, Alberta, Canada

Bear Valley Rescue is located southwest of Sundre, Alberta, Canada, and named after the valley where Kathy and Mike Bartley run their horse rescue. The Bartleys started taking in foals and mares cast off by the PMU industry and other horses in need in late 2003, and are a registered Canadian charity.

Kathy explains how they first got involved in the rescuing of horses.

“I found out about the PMU industry and the fate of most of the surplus foals (meat). We went to an auction and found it was true, so many good horses going for meat for often next to nothing. Then we went to a horse feedlot and bought 12 horses there.”

The goal of Bear Valley Rescue is to “save horses from going for meat and find them new homes,” Kathy says. They will, however, help any neglected or abused horse. “Though the biggest problem is too many horses,” she adds.

Some of the herd.  Since Bear Valley began rescuing horses five years ago, they have adopted out about 220-230 so far, and found foster homes for about 20-30 horses with health and other issues.  We're a little overloaded right now at about 80 horses, says Kathy Bartley.
Some of the herd. Since Bear Valley began rescuing horses five years ago, they have adopted out about 220-230 so far, and found foster homes for about 20-30 horses with health and other issues. We're a little overloaded right now at about 80 horses, says Kathy Bartley. Photo courtesy Bear Valley Rescue, Alberta

Experience with horses is a must to run a horse rescue or sanctuary. However, what Bear Valley staff regularly see challenges their knowledge and expertise, as they are often dealing with horses who have never been handled, are shy, been abused, neglected, injured and often do not trust people.

Kathy elaborates. “We learn as we go along. We’ve had quite a bit of experience now with underweight horses and we’ve experienced lots of different injuries, illnesses and behavior issues.”

Kathy’s most gratifying success story centers around a horse called Miracle.

Left, Miracle when she came to Bear Valley in March, 2008.  Her winter coat does not show how skinny she was, says Kathy Bartley.  Even so, you can tell she is not the right size for a yearling.  Right, Miracle a few months later in June.  With gentle treatment and good nourishment, Miracle was on her way to a full recovery.  She has now been adopted. Photos courtesy, Bear Valley Rescue, Alberta.
Left, Miracle when she came to Bear Valley in March, 2008. Her winter coat does not show how skinny she was, says Kathy Bartley. Even so, you can tell she is not the right size for a yearling. Right, Miracle a few months later in June. With gentle treatment and good nourishment, Miracle was on her way to a full recovery. She has now been adopted. Photos courtesy, Bear Valley Rescue, Alberta.

Miracle was one of six starving horses we rescued this Spring.

She was a sorrel yearling, had pneumonia and was very thin. She couldn’t stand up by herself and once she was up she couldn’t stand for very long.

It took about 2 months before she could stand by herself, but we knew she was getting better. At first it took 3 or 4 people to get her standing and then only 2 people. Finally it was just one and you just had to steady her back end to help her up. After that she was able to get up by herself.

Miracle made a complete recovery and has been adopted out to a new home.

When you ask the first word, image or thought that comes to mind when you say “horse,” Kathy’s immediate response is, “Does it need saving?” Then her mind turns to Scout, the most influential horse in her life. “I had Scout for 22 years and had him put to sleep at age 32. We had a pretty special bond after spending so many years together.”

As with so many horses rescues and sanctuaries interviewed for this column, the one thing Bear Valley wish they had right this moment is more space.

Naturally, more money is always at the top of Bear Valley’s wish list, because how much they have also dictates how many they can save, and of course they want to to stay financially viable so they can keep going.

Saving horses will “take over your life,” but it is a richly rewarding life. Still, working to rescue horses comes with its own particular brand of heartbreak.

You can’t save them all, no matter how much you’d like to, though it doesn’t stop us from trying.

People should realize that for every horse they breed another is going for meat.

There are too many perfectly good horses out there and it’s just like cats and dogs – spay and neuter, except geld, geld, geld. Having a horse should be a life-long commitment.

I don’t know which is worse, the young healthy horses that don’t ever have a chance or the older ones that have given their lives to people and get discarded.

And of course once they become a business (breeding, racing, whatever), they’re a commodity and money starts to matter more than the wellbeing of the horse.

Our big fantasy is to win the lottery, go to the auction, and buy every horse there so for that one day at least the meat buyer doesn’t get even one horse.

Learn more about Bear Valley Rescue at their website at www.BearValleyAB.org. Buy a membership for $25.00 and receive a ball cap.

Membership is available to the general public, in keeping with the bylaws of the society. If you would like to be a member of our society, just send us your name, address and phone number, along with your email address. We’ll notify you of our annual general meeting which you will be entitled to attend and where you can vote on any issues addressed. Also we will email you our quarterly newsletters to keep you posted on happenings here at the rescue.

Bear Valley are also looking for people to adopt or foster a horse.

Most of our animals have been rescued from feedlots and auctions. We do our best to offer helpful and honest information about each animal, including known history and potential problems. Most people are quite amazed to learn that when these horses go through the auction they typically are run through without any background information. Quite often no age is given and definitely no information on breeding is provided. This rarely makes a difference anyway – lots of papered
horses end up going to slaughter.

We have some wild horses that we rescued, thanks to the financial assistance of WHOAS.

Because these are wild horses, even though they have had some exposure to people they will only be adopted out to knowledgeable homes

Your best bet is to come out and meet the horses – they will steal your heart!

Make a donation by mail or through CanadaHelps.org. See the button on their home page.

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