Well Trained Horses haven for equines

Sebastopol’s Well Trained Horses, a safe haven for abused, abandoned and slaughterhouse-bound equines, has been rehabilitating, retraining and re-homing these majestic creatures since 2008.

Founder and director, Susan Jan Hornstein has been rescuing two or three horses at a time for as long as she can remember, but that number increased significantly “when the bad economy met the outlaw of slaughterhouses,” she said.

“When slaughterhouses were outlawed in California (and then federally) people thought that was a good thing, but it turned out not to be such a good thing,” Hornstein said. “Prior to the outlaw of slaughter (in the United States), the transportation and method of death was controlled,” she said. “After becoming illegal, the transportation was like Auschwitz, and the method of death, torture.”

Hornstein provided a gruesome account of the horses’ fate after being shipped in cramped quarters, only to arrive to Mexico in “the worst conditions imaginable,” so they could be put to death in a fashion too horrendous to mention.

“This was beyond what I could live with,” she said, when asked what motivated her to establish a horse rescue operation. Hence, Well Trained Horses was created “because (saving) one to three horses was no longer enough,” she said.

An average of 16 horses reside on her Icssoma Farm at any given time. Horses come to her from animal care and control and individuals. Prior to their rescues, some of the horses are headed for the slaughterhouse and others have been abandoned or abused.

“You name it, we get it,” she said. “Two recently came here who were starving. Two came from a boarding facility where they had been abandoned, and we have also taken in horses who have been abused by their riders or trainers,” Hornstein said.

Pointing to a 12-year-old bay thoroughbred named Bluff, she said, “This horse here, he won over $400,000 at the race track and when they finished with him, they dumped him. If you see these animals as commodities, when they no longer can produce winnings — monetary as well as ribbons and fame — they are seen as useless,” she said, as she tossed him a couple of estate-grown apples.

Bluff is currently up for adoption, as are several others residing with him, such as Sweetness, a beautiful, pleasant horse who came to the rescue as nothing but skin and bones.

“When Sweetness came in, we all took a look at the condition of her and it was so horrific, each and every volunteer, you could see them each taking a moment somewhere,” Well Trained Horses volunteer Elizabeth Anderson said.

“I can’t think of a better use for my time and energy,” Anderson said, of her volunteer efforts at the rescue. “I have a lifelong love of horses and it’s a great opportunity to work with horses and ride horses as often as possible. The ultimate is the joy of knowing each of these horses has a safe place in the world, and is loved.”

At some point, Gabby, a 20-year-old paint/warmblood cross, formerly an event horse that was taken away from her owner by a veterinarian, will belong to Anderson, she said, noting the adoption process is underway now.  

Margie Berger has been volunteering for Well Trained Horses for about four years now, she said.

“I had moved up from the East Bay where I was doing rescue and was looking for the same kind of work here. I found Susan and Well Trained Horses and it turned out to be a perfect match for what Susan needed and what I was able to offer,” Anderson said. “What keeps you here, are the attachments you make with the horses and the people. “Everyone has favorite horses. Mine was Poppy, a big, black horse,” she said. “I was really sad when he got adopted, but Poppy is so happy now with his new family.”

Hornstein spends about 40 hours of her week volunteering with the horses and works another 40 or so hours a week at a paid job to help support her passion — rescuing horses.

She also spends, out of her own pocket, about $20,000 a year on the horses and all of their needs, which on a shoestring budget requires a minimum of $30,000, or ideally about $3,000 per horse, per year, she said, noting money goes toward feed, veterinarians, farriers, etc.

Consequently, monetary donations are needed, as Hornstein’s purse is not bottomless. She currently has 15 to 20 monthly donors, but needs more. Adoptions also help pay for the costs of caring for the horses and allow room at the facility for other equines in need of rehabilitation.

A current fundraiser called Save the Mane Campaign is happening now through Sept. 15, at Studio 132 in Petaluma.

Owner Nazanin Dehestani is donating $10 of the proceeds from every service she provides to Well Trained Horses. Some of the other stylists at her salon may choose to participate as well. Studio 132 is located at 132 Liberty St., Petaluma.

To make a donation to Well Trained Horses, or to inquire about adopting an equine, or to volunteer for the nonprofit, call Hornstein at 829-3600 or e-mail her at sj@welltrainedhorses.com.

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