SAFE volunteer rider Lindsay Refvem works with rescued mare Cameo. Courtesy of Jessica Farren

Playing it SAFE around horses: Equine rescue organization moves to Redmond

When Save a Forgotten Equine (SAFE) first started in 2005, it wasn’t even an official organization.

It was originally just a group of people who pooled their money together to rescue a horse off of a feed lot. Those efforts snowballed into a nonprofit organization focused on rescuing horses that have been abused, neglected or starved. The organization also takes in horses in desperate situations such as when their owners are no longer able to care for them.

NEW NEIGH-BORS

For many years, those horses would be taken to SAFE’s rescue location in Monroe and for the last five years, Woodinville. But since February, the horses have been taken to SAFE’s new location at Safe Harbor Stables, 10407 192nd Ave. N.E. in Redmond.

“We’re new in the neighborhood,” said founder and executive director Bonnie Hammond, noting that with Farrel-McWhirter Farm Park and Little Bit Therapeutic Riding Center nearby, they are not the only equine-related neighbors in the area.

The move to Redmond took SAFE from a three-acre property to an 11-acre property.

“It’s a really nice space for us,” Hammond said, adding that they have signed a five-year lease with the option to renew for another 10 years after that.

SAFE will hold an open house from noon to 3 p.m. on April 23 at Safe Harbor. According to a SAFE press release, they will be celebrating ASPCA Help a Horse Day, a nationwide competition for equine rescues to raise awareness about the work they do year-round to care for at-risk horses in their communities.

A SAFE PLACE FOR THE HURT AND NEGLECTED

Hammond said when they bring horses into their rescue, they work to rehabilitate and train, or retrain, them to become riding horses. SAFE also works to place the horses into new permanent homes.

Hammond said the organization works with animal control agencies in King, Snohomish and Pierce counties.

“They can go in when a law is being broken or an animal is being mistreated,” she said.

If the agencies do not have somewhere to place the horse, which is almost always the case, Hammond said they will sign the animal over to SAFE. She said by taking in the horses the animal control agencies seizes, SAFE allows them to do their jobs as the agencies will not remove a horse from a site unless they are able to place them somewhere.

The horses SAFE takes in have experienced some form of neglect. Hammond said this can range from a lack of food to insufficient medical care.

When a horse has been starved, she said they have to be careful and begin refeeding it with small amounts of soaked hay every two hours to make sure its stomach can handle the food. For horses needing medical attention, Hammond said they work with local veterinarians who check the horses for injuries and illnesses and get them stabilized.

GETTING HUMANS BACK ON THE HORSES

Depending on the condition a horse is in when it arrives at SAFE, Hammond said it can take anywhere between two and three months to get a horse back up to a healthy weight. During this time, they get to know the animal and figure out how much it knows when it comes to being ridden.

“Training is a big part of what SAFE does,” Hammond said.

She said they teach the horses manners and handling skills so they are able to coexist around people. This lays the groundwork to prepare them to go under saddle, Hammond said.

While SAFE works with a trainer in Ellensburg to get their horses ready for their permanent homes, they also have a volunteer rider program.

According to the press release, members of the community work together to help the horses and volunteers provide daily care for as many as 25 horses at a time. Volunteers work in teams to feed and care for the horses. They are assigned to a weekly chore shift that lasts about three to four hours. Currently, the release states, there are several openings in the schedule that need to be filled, including weekday morning and afternoon shifts, as well as weekends.

“Seeing the life come back into the eyes of a horse that’s been abused or neglected is a magical thing,” Hammond said in the release. “It makes it all worthwhile. SAFE takes in horses that have survived horrible situations and gives them their lives back. The volunteers at SAFE all play a part in their transformation by proving the horses with clean stalls, fresh hay and most of all, the love and acceptance that each horse craves so much.”

Anyone interested in getting involved as a volunteer at SAFE can contact their volunteer manager at volun teer@safehorses.org or visit www.safehorses.org to fill out a volunteer application. Volunteer orientations are usually held twice a month and all volunteers receive training. Prior experience working with and around horses is a plus, but not a requirement, according to the release.

FINDING FOREVER HOMES

The majority of the horses SAFE rescues are at Safe Harbor, but Hammond said they do place horses in foster homes from time to time as they work to find forever homes for the horses.

She likened the process of placing horses into their permanent homes to matchmaking as they have to make sure the horses and humans they are paired up with fit well together. Sometimes, it takes a few years to find the right match.

Before placing a horse, Hammond said the prospective adopters come out to meet the horse a few times and ride the horse. SAFE also does a site check of where the horse will potentially live and check adopters’ references. There is also a 30-day trial period for adopters to see if the horse they have adopted is a good match.

“We’ll take (the horses) back into our program (if it is not a fit),” Hammond said.

She said SAFE has a cap of 28 horses. This includes the horses at Safe Harbor as well as in foster homes. The only caveat they have is if an animal control agency needs their help and they have the funding to go over the cap.

“It’s a lot of responsibility to own a horse,” Hammond said.

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