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Lending a helping hoof

“I have such a passion for abused and neglected horses. It just breaks my heart. I want to volunteer and help in their healing process,” said Shelly Jones as she introduced herself to Boots, a once-starved quarter-horse who was taken from her owner by a deputy near Salem and nursed back to health in Equamore.

Jones had a horse when she was young, but couldn’t afford to keep it. Now living in Grants Pass, she plans to help raise funds for Equamore, a 22-acre sanctuary just east of Ashland, where 60 abused horses can be fed and loved — and live out their lives relaxing happily and doing nothing, just cropping grass and wandering about in small herds, as is their nature, says Equamore board President Ruth Kennedy.

They held a big on-site fundraiser picnic Saturday for local donors, who pay 60 percent of the $30,000 a month overhead. After munching on garden burgers, potato salad and baked beans, supporters wandered from stable to stable, reading the history of each horse and how they got rescued, snapping pics and chatting with other supporters — with many joining the ranks of new sponsors.

“All donations we get are private — no government money and very few grants,” says Equamore Executive Director Linda Davis, who started the program on Highway 66 on 1991. “I live here. In early years, I took in a few horses. There is no shortage of people who love horses, but there is a shortage of people who can make a lifelong commitment to care for them” — and that’s why they keep having fundraisers as a way owf life.

Davis bought the property in 1979, later setting up the foundation. She trains and cares for them and “the donors are compassionate people and see the injustice of how some animals are treated.”

Touching and talking to Gandalf, a Percheron, through his fence, Brenda Depner of Medford says, “We donate. I love horses. I feel so bad for the way some of these horses have been treated.”

Gandalf, his sign explains, was part of a herd of Percherons assembled by some guy in California who wanted to live out a fantasy of “The Ring,” but instead, in competition for mares, alpha males attacked lesser animals viciously. Gandalf survived.

Volunteer J.W. Lyon, a board member, says about 60 percent of their horses come as the result of law enforcement spotting or hearing about them, but, says Davis, most police need some education on what problems to look for and what to do about it.

Not all horses can be taken in, says Kennedy. Equamore is a sanctuary, not a place for adopting out, she adds, as so many “have issues” from their neglect that they are “just dangerous to people. It takes a lot to turn a horse into a predator, as their instinct is to turn and take flight” at any sign of trouble.

About 15 percent of the horses are gentle enough that they can be used in classes to teach children care, grooming and pre-riding lessons, says Lyon.

Kennedy notes, “I’m passionate about horses. We push back against the cruelty of the world. It’s a massive exercise in kindness that happens to be directed toward horses. It’s a lot of work and it’s both heart-breaking and heart-warming. You can watch the calming effect of being here.”

Equamore is a neologism formed of the Latin words for “horse” and “love.” On their website, www.equamore.org, you can meet resident horses and learn how to donate or sponsor one creature. The site notes that Oregon is number two in the nation in its animal cruelty laws, according to the Animal Legal Defense Fund.

Donors can sponsor an individual horse for about $500 a month; sign up for “Buy-A-Bale” program to help defray the cost of 17 tons a month of hay (an average horse eats 20 pounds of hay a day); help with vet bills, which are thousands a month, or medications, which are hundreds a month for all animals.

John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

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